Cheshire East Council has published a budget report about its financial plans for the next three years.
Its Pre-Budget Consultation 2018-21 sets out initial proposals for how the council could target resources more effectively and save over £70m – while achieving a balanced budget.
It includes a proposal to earmark £2m from the New Homes Bonus scheme which communities would decide how to spend, according to their own priorities, and plans to close Alderley Edge Library, along with two others.
Cheshire East will now invite feedback from residents, businesses, councillors, staff, town and parish councils and other stakeholders to inform decisions. This consultation will be an ongoing process over the next three years.
The consultation takes place against a challenging national background of an overall public sector deficit – which is being partly met by big reductions in government grants to councils – and rising demand for both adult social care and children in care.
For Cheshire East, this means expected reductions of central government grants, inflationary costs and rising demand totalling more than £70m over the next three years.
The council proposes to meet this financial challenge via a mix of tax increases and changing the service they offer. The aim is to make the council financially self-sufficient – by reducing its reliance on central government revenue support grant from £40m in 2015/16 to nil in 2020.
It is proposed to increase Council Tax by 4.99 per cent which would add up to £1 per week to the average household Council Tax bill. This follows a similar 4.99 per cent increase in 2017 and a 3.75 per cent increase in 2016, after five years of Council Tax freeze.
Councillor Paul Bates, Cheshire East Council cabinet member for finance and communications, said: "Funding local services is a huge challenge for councils across the UK as revenue budgets continue to come under severe pressure. This is due to the combined effects of rising inflation, increased demand for services – especially those for adult social care and children in care – and reductions in government funding.
"In Cheshire East the number of residents receiving care and support from adult social care is increasing by four per cent a year and the number of children in social care placements has increased by 17 per cent in the last year, in line with other councils.
"This council will always prioritise services for vulnerable people, despite the financial challenges. This means other services will have to deliver savings. Robust action is being taken across the authority to reduce budgetary pressures and ensure balanced finances – as we have successfully done in previous years. And we will be lobbying the government to ensure future financial settlements will continue to allow us to achieve this, while protecting essential frontline services.
"Against this extremely challenging financial climate, however, it is pleasing to report that the council has continued to perform strongly, delivering positive results in each of the six priority areas identified in our Corporate Plan and continuing to provide value for money – delivering more than 500 services for residents.
"Cheshire East is a high-performing authority and a great place to live, work, visit and do business. Our residents enjoy good living standards and, when they need help from the council, we are consistently recognised as providing excellent services.
"We are aware, however, that local areas have differing priorities and, to support this, the pre-budget report contains a proposal to set aside £2m of income from the New Homes Bonus over the next two years. This proposal would allow local communities to determine how this money should be spent and will be very interested to hear the views of local people on whether this proposal should be set in to the final budget."
Jan Willis, council director of finance and procurement, said: "This council continues to look for innovative ways to make every pound deliver the best outcome for local people.
"We have a responsibility to work with councillors and other key stakeholders to balance the council's budgets. There is, however, a fine balance between making efficiencies and still enabling quality services to meet residents' needs.
"This consultation process presents a good opportunity to develop a resilient set of proposals that strike an appropriate balance between service offer and affordability. I encourage everyone to have their say on these proposals and the executive would welcome any new ideas that would help with the financial challenge and achieve the best outcomes for our local residents."
To view the council's pre-budget consultation report, visit the council's website.
Alternatively, pick up a copy from your local council customer service point or library. If you have any comments or queries please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline for comments to be included in the consultation report is January 12, 2018, although comments submitted after that date will still inform the ongoing consultation.