Council sets out budget plan against a backdrop of national financial challenges

30 January 2020

Cheshire West and Chester Council has set out its plans for the next four years as it prepares to face a £91.5 million budget gap, unprecedented financial uncertainty and the increasing cost of care.

Budget proposals and a new Council Plan for 2020 to 2024 will go before the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 3 February.
These plans are made at a time of increasing financial uncertainty for all councils across the UK, a budget gap in west Cheshire of £23.5 million in the next financial year and a further £68 million gap between 2021 and 2024.

Nationally the cost of caring for vulnerable adults and children is increasing along with the demand for adult social care and the complexity of people’s needs.

The cost of placements for children in care is also escalating and, while the number of children entering care in west Cheshire has dropped by 40 per cent in the past two years, the borough has more children in care than the national average.

The Council’s proposals include a council tax increase for 2020-21 to help to fund £14.1 million investment in adult social care and £8.5 million in children’s social care.

It would be made up of a 2% precept for adult social care and 1.99% for general Council services, resulting in a 3.99% increase in total.

This equates to an extra £1.17 a week for residents in a Band D property.

Cllr Carol Gahan, Cabinet Member for Finance and Legal, said: “We have a proven track record of strong financial management and forward planning.

“This has helped us bridge a funding gap of £57 million in the past four years while still providing an enormous breadth of high quality services to all of our residents.

“In planning ahead for the next four years we face considerable financial uncertainty and unprecedented challenges.

“While the government has indicated there will be extra funding for councils, this is for one year only and there are no guarantees after 2021.
“This makes medium and long term planning extremely difficult but we are determined to do this and to focus spending on our key priorities, particularly in helping those people in the borough who need it most.”

She added: “We never take a decision to increase council tax lightly as we know times are difficult for everyone but we have a duty to deliver opportunity and growth for our whole community while ensuring we do our best to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

The budget is linked to the new Council Plan, Play Your Part to Thrive, which was developed after extensive public engagement in October and December last year.

Despite the financial challenges faced by the Council, it proposes capital investment of more than £400 million in the next four years.

This will be spent on improving service delivery to help vulnerable adults and children, delivering major regeneration projects, including the first phase of Chester’s Northgate development, and delivering 1,000 houses. Investment in infrastructure and technology will help the Council to make the best use of its resources.

The capital investment programme makes the most of external funding where possible and spending is linked to six key challenges identified in the plan.

These include tackling the climate emergency, growing an economy that delivers good jobs, supporting more children and young people to make the best start in life, enabling more adults to live longer, healthier and happier lives and making all neighbourhoods even better places to call home, as well as a challenge for the Council to continue to be modern, efficient and empowering.

The emphasis of the plan is on residents, community groups, businesses and other organisations working with the Council in a more equal relationship to tackle the challenges ahead.

Cllr Louise Gittins, Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, said: “We can’t fix all the challenges alone, it is only by building stronger communities and all playing a part that we can make sure our borough thrives.”

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be asked to make recommendations to Cabinet, which meets on 5 February. Final proposals will be considered at the Council’s annual budget setting meeting on 20 February.

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