Council's plans for next financial year as it faces £13m funding deficit due to COVID-19

GettyImages-917884914 Balancing the budget

Cheshire East Council has launched its Budget Consultation Report for 2021 to 2025.

Set against a backdrop of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, increasing demand and rising costs, the consultation sets out service proposals and financial plans for the period from 1 April 2021 through to 31 March 2022.

The impact of COVID-19 has created unprecedented levels of uncertainty around the medium-term finances of local authorities in England. Cheshire East Council is no different in that respect and many assumptions underlying the consultation proposals may still be subject to change, requiring the council to be flexible and have an adaptable approach.

The budget consultation document outlines how the council is managing the financial challenges of COVID-19. Without the impact of the pandemic, the 2020/21 budget would have presented a strong base. However, the levels of demand for services, and rising costs linked to inflation, present significant medium-term funding deficits.

The council has reported a potential £13million funding deficit related to the impact of COVID-19 in 2020/21, in addition to an already identified shortfall of £12million in 2021/22.

This year, given the move towards more virtual interactions as a result of the on-going pandemic, the consultation is being produced as an online survey which will contain the background to the financial situation the council is currently facing along with the facility to review and comment on the proposals being put forward.

The council is inviting the opinions and views from residents, businesses, councillors, staff, town and parish councils, local community groups and other stakeholders. The feedback received will be used to inform the budget setting process.

Councillor Amanda Stott, Cheshire East Council cabinet member for Finance, ICT and Communications, said: "The financial impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on Cheshire East and Cheshire East Council has been huge. The council, like every other local authority, is having to deal with unprecedented financial pressures due to increasing demand particularly in adult and children's social care and our statutory duties to protect our most vulnerable residents.

"The budget setting process is inevitably going to be a challenge this year and we will have to take some tough decisions about our services and future spending.

"Council tax only raises around one third of the money needed to fund the hundreds of local services we provide across Cheshire East. Whilst central government have given councils the ability to increase council tax by five per cent (three per cent of which will be specifically allocated to fund adult social care) this is higher than was initially assumed.

"The council wants to listen to all feedback on this consultation before coming to any final recommendation about how best to balance the additional funding we receive from government and income, with the rising demand for the services we deliver.

"Our draft budget prioritises critical frontline services and investment in our recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic. We will redesign some services and continue to transform the council to ensure maximum efficiency while protecting the most vulnerable, supporting our businesses and growing our local economy through this time of unprecedented financial challenge.

"But now more than ever before, I would strongly urge everyone to play their part. We need to hear your views on our draft budget proposals, so we get an understanding of

your priorities, needs and aspirations for our services and your local community".

To have your say and take part in our budget consultation, please go to: www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/budget2021

The budget consultation runs until 8th January 2021.

Following the consultation and after feedback has been considered, budget proposals will be refined and updated before the final budget is agreed by full council on 17th February 2021.

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Cheshire East Council
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Comments

Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Mark Russell
Tuesday 8th December 2020 at 11:03 am
Now is the time for the council to cut its cloth, just like millions of businesses have been doing.

Meetings are now virtual, so why keep all the council offices? Get rid, move people on line and cut the fat from said offices. There’s £millions saved over night.
Nicola Jones
Wednesday 9th December 2020 at 3:21 pm
I am intrigued to know why COVID has resulted in a £13m funding deficit?!
Wendy Falk
Wednesday 9th December 2020 at 5:48 pm
@MarkRussell - this is on page 2, so it looks like they're considering this cost-cutting strategy already
"The council is committed to ‘digital first’ and will adopt strategies that improve access to services and create efficiencies. New technology requires investment but, overall, business cases will demonstrate that we will operate in a far more efficient way using new systems, in particular through a reduced requirement to maintain large office spaces."
John Featherstone
Wednesday 9th December 2020 at 6:46 pm
send the bill of £13 to china its, THERE FAULT
Simon Rodrigues
Wednesday 9th December 2020 at 7:20 pm
Massive loss of revenue from business rates but more houses have been built and council tax is up. Do really feel this council isn’t run very well and if time was not so short I would be inclined to investigate further hopefully others with more time an know how will do. Cheshire east council something just doesn’t feel right.
Peter Davenport
Tuesday 15th December 2020 at 10:01 am
Dear All
Several simple suggestions, which should also be directed at MPs.
1 Get rid of all credit cards for MPs ,Councillors, and council employees, as between using a credit card for a purchase, there is enough time between purchase and settling the final payment. So if the above bought whatever for the Council, the Council could pay the outstanding for the goods before the card payment is due.
Do not forget I understand all councillors get free mobiles and computers. Why.
And one could easily find more simple savings
Peter Davenport
Jon Armstrong
Tuesday 15th December 2020 at 11:21 am
I'm not sure why you think removing credit cards for council employees will reduce costs. It will just put those who don't have savings or sufficient credit themselves at a disadvantage, as they can't afford to front up the cost of rail tickets, hotels, meals, etc for several weeks until paid back through expenses.

If we expect councillors to work on computers and phones it is perfectly natural to supply them. Aside from the obvious that an employer should provide equipment necessary to perform the role, from a security and data protection perspective its essential and appropriate that these devices are under the council's control.
Mark Goldsmith
Tuesday 15th December 2020 at 10:35 pm
Hi Peter

Wilmslow Town Councillors don't get any pay or perks other than a glass of sherry and a mince pie at Christmas. Therefore, it invariably actually costs us to do that role.

Cheshire East does not give me a free mobile either, I have to pay and use my own. I do get a free bog standard laptop from them though because I get 40 or 50 emails a day, use it to prepare all my council work, post messages on forums like this one, use it to research work and do all meetings remotely on it too, which includes regularly Chairing all Licencing Committee Hearings.

I cant think of any organisation that expects workers to buy their own IT equipment, so I'm not sure why you think councillors should.

Away from that, council revenue is down because of the collective effect of many different factors. Increased job losses and lower incomes mean many have moved onto Universal Credit, so they pay less council tax. Cheshire East also pays their Housing Benefit too. We lost income from parking and leisure centres plus we have responsibility to run many of the government schemes that it is yet to reimburse us for delivering - such as shielding the vulnerable, distributing PPE, distributing grants to businesses, delivering food to families and evaluating safety initiatives in town centres after lockdown. We also have to provide PPE for our staff and give them IT equipment, so they can work safely from home. We have also had to make schools safe for both staff and pupils too.

It all soon adds up.


Cllr Mark Goldsmith
Wilmslow West & Chorley
Mark Russell
Wednesday 16th December 2020 at 5:31 am
@mark goldsmith. How much In expenses have you claimed this year?
Mark Goldsmith
Wednesday 16th December 2020 at 9:41 am
@ Mark Russell

I've claimed £40 in expenses for this financial year.
Mark Russell
Wednesday 16th December 2020 at 11:08 am
@mark goldsmith, what’s the basic allowance of £11,123 cover then?
Mark Goldsmith
Wednesday 16th December 2020 at 2:49 pm
That's pay, not expenses. It is called an allowance to avoid paying pension but it is taxable just like normal pay.

As such, it reflects the 30 hours a week I do as a Cheshire East councillor.

I am happy to give my time free to Wilmslow Town Council though. Perhaps you want to stand and do the same? There is a vacant position coming up next May, so why not give your time to making the town council run in the way you want rather than just complain?
David Smith
Sunday 20th December 2020 at 9:26 pm
Yes, Mark Goldsmith - I agree.
Let's see the other Mark - Russell - stand for the town council and get a handle on what is involved.
Although I am critical of much that is or isn't going on around here I can appreciate how some councillors give much of their time to try and solve issues that are quite demanding.
Some solutions however just seem 'out of order' and certainly do not meet with the acceptance and expectations of many residents. How to square that is the tricky bit.

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