compensation - Cllr Sam Corcoran

Cheshire East Council’s leader said the government needs to take responsibility for social care at a time when the council is facing massive budgetary pressures and has low reserves, writes Belinda Ryan.

Cllr Sam Corcoran (Lab) was speaking after Sutton councillor Chris O’Leary (Con) questioned the council’s “raid on reserves” to balance the books last year.

Cllr O’Leary, said at the corporate policy committee if it had not been for the support of Covid grants, the council’s overspend would actually have been £21.7m.

And he added “if that had been the case the raid on reserves would have left about £6m in reserves not the £14m that we’ve got now”.

Finance director Alex Thompson acknowledged the council had appropriately carried forward reserves of £6m [from Covid grant]…. and added: “Without that £6m then, yes, the figure would have had to have come from general reserves.”

He acknowledged Cheshire East “has low reserves and it has high pressures”.

Council leader Sam Corcoran said all councils would be better equipped to cope with the cost of living crisis and demand on services if the government stepped up when it comes to social care.

“Two thirds of the council’s spend is on social care, children and families, and a lot of that is statutory.

“So we need the government to assist here, not just in providing the funding but also working with us to change the rules so that we can manage the budgets better.”

He said Cheshire East had strengths and weaknesses.

“We do have a fully balanced four-year medium term financial strategy so that is a great strength,” said Cllr Corcoran.

“Where we have weakness is in our level of reserves and we do have low levels of reserves.

“When the council was formed in March 31, 2009, the general reserve was £22.9m, when I became leader in 2019 that had fallen to £10.3m. It is now, as of March 31, 2023, £14.1m.”

He questioned whether there had been “a raid on reserves” when ‘the general reserve has actually gone up by £1.5m in the last year so it’s a strange raid on reserves that actually increases the general reserve’.

Crewe councillor Jill Rhodes (Lab) was also critical of the government’s record on social care.

“The government’s response to our crisis was to allow us to raise the council tax by three per cent moving the burden from central government to our residents and we know we need that money because we need to support those vulnerable people in our area,” said Cllr Rhodes.

“Similarly we’ve got pressures in children’s care and the SEN (special educational needs) overspend, which is a negative reserve I believe, is a real issue for this council.

“It’s not just us, it’s the whole country and it needs some government action and if that negative reserve was removed then we would have much less budget concerns but currently that is something we’re having to live with.”

She said in education terms Cheshire East is one of the worst funded authorities in the country.

“If we had the rates for our children like London levels then we would be able to have a much better education system and support our children much better,” said the Crewe councillor.

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