Cheshire East Council has approved its budget and strategic priorities for the next four years.
The medium-term financial strategy and corporate plan for 2021-25 were approved at full council today. These key strategic documents set out the council’s plans for spending and income, and the priorities for service delivery and investment over the next four years.
This includes an increase in the annual budget of £12 million to support older people and other adults with complex needs, as well as investing in services for vulnerable children and young people. The council agreed growth in budgets for special educational needs and disabilities services and support for the children we provide care for and care leavers.
There are also plans for a £400 million investment in new roads and capital infrastructure as well as, schools, growth and critical ICT services. This includes investment in projects to support the council’s carbon neutral aims, town centre regeneration, projects to improve walking, cycling and rail capacity in the borough, and capacity on the road network to reduce congestion and improve air quality.
This is the first time that the council has set out and agreed a balanced budget for a four-year period, matching the lifetime of its corporate plan. Both documents were developed following extensive consultation with the public and stakeholders.
The council’s revenue budget for 2021/22 is £311 million. Most of this budget, around 68 per cent, will be spent on adult social care and looked-after children. By contrast, the money available for highways maintenance services is just five per cent of the council’s budget.
Councillor Amanda Stott, cabinet member for finance, ICT and communications, said: “This is the most challenging budget we have had to put together. Covid has had, and continues to have, a massive impact on both national and local government budgets.
“In December, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced another single year financial settlement for local government. This clearly makes it harder for us to plan for the long-term. Agreeing a balanced budget for the four-year period of the new corporate plan is a real achievement, considering the financial uncertainties of the last year.
“The government’s approach to local government funding this year was based on local taxation, not central funding. This means giving councils the facility to increase council tax to cover increased demand for local services in areas, including adult social care.
“We listened to the feedback from residents, businesses and other stakeholders and achieved a balance between protecting and improving services – particularly for vulnerable people – investing in the future and giving greater financial certainty.
“Part of this was the difficult decision to increase council tax to 4.99 per cent for the first year of this plan. That was not an easy decision, and the council will review the way our working-age families are protected through council tax support. This increase includes the three per cent permitted by government for adult social care. We have set future council tax rises at 1.99 per cent.”
Leader of the council, Councillor Sam Corcoran said: “We have agreed a positive and ambitious plan for Cheshire East for the next four years. We have a sound basis to deliver our priorities that is firmly linked to the budget.
“The corporate plan includes the priority to ‘listen, learn and respond to our residents, promoting opportunities for a two-way conversation’ and the positive engagement we have seen around these plans is testament to that.
“The plan also says we will ‘support a sustainable financial future for the council, through service development, improvement and transformation’. I believe that the budget plans we have agreed provide that financial sustainability.
“I am also pleased that our plans for a carbon-neutral future were also supported through responses from the public – that ‘green thread’ continues to run through everything we do.”
Councillor Craig Browne, deputy leader of the council said: “These are not only plans for sustainability – they are plans for growth and economic recovery.
“We have seen a huge increase in demand for people-related services, with associated cost pressures as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“At the same time, we have seen falling income from our revenue-generating activities such as car parking, leisure centres and visitor attractions such as Tatton Park. This has highlighted the importance for the council to invest in economic recovery as we begin to move out of the pandemic, planning for more jobs and more efficient local public services.
“Our vision is for an open, fairer and greener Cheshire East – these plans show how we intend to achieve that.”