Council sets out clear budget plans to keep vulnerable people safe in challenging period of cuts in national funding

25 January 2019

Protecting vulnerable people despite significant funding pressures continues to be at the centre of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s financial proposals for the final year of its four-year plan. 

Early budget proposals for 2019-20 are included in a report for the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which meets on Monday, 4 February. They include investing in Adult’s and Children’s Social Care and tackling a funding gap of £21.4 million to ensure the Council continues to balance the books.

There is also a proposal to set aside an additional £200 thousand to support those struggling with the roll out of Universal Credit through the Discretionary Hardship Fund and provide additional welfare support to residents.

As demand for key services continues to grow a proposed council tax increase would allow the Council to invest a much-needed £7.9 million in Adult Social Care and £2.6 million in Children’s Social Care. A new Commercial Strategy will also help shape how we continue to support growth and investment in the borough.

A proposed council tax increase includes a 2% precept for adult social care and 2.99% for general Council services, a 4.99% increase in total. This equates to an extra £1.39 a week for residents in a Band D property.

Councillor Samantha Dixon, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “Local Government is experiencing a period of unprecedented financial uncertainty due to reduced government funding, with a number of councils now on the brink of insolvency.    
“Increasing council tax is not a decision we take lightly as we know many families are struggling, but we have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable residents and maintain frontline services despite huge cuts to our funding.

“This means we have to take difficult decisions and over the past four years we have had open and honest dialogue with residents about the tough choices we face. The feedback has been that they want us to make savings that make us more efficient and to protect vulnerable adults and children, which has shaped the Council’s plan.

“We are committed to making sure we support children to get the best start in life and to keep vulnerable adults and children safe and protected.

“The most significant costs we face are increasing numbers of children entering care and our ageing population, which puts greater pressure on social care. This increases demand for our services, creating huge financial pressures on our budget, which, if we didn’t take action, would threaten the quality of care we provide.

“We’re very aware that a number of families are finding things tough at the moment. We are absolutely committed to protecting schemes we have in place to support and protect those struggling to pay council tax bills from getting in to financial difficulty. These include the Council Tax Reduction Scheme which supports residents with Council Tax bills, the Discretionary Hardship Fund to ensure residents receive appropriate levels of financial support and the Help in Emergencies for Local People (HELP) scheme which offers welfare assistance for residents in crisis.” The Council’s proposed budget addresses a funding gap of £21.4 million and further savings of £8.5 million must be found in 2019-20. The proposals outline how the Council will bridge the gap and achieve the priorities in the Council Plan 2016-20, Helping the Borough Thrive.

Councillors will hear the report includes proposals for significant capital investment of £238 million across the borough to improve services for residents, service users and visitors over a three year period.  This includes investment in housing, transport and leisure and culture facilities.

Councillor David Armstrong, Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “The Council will be responsible for spending more than £719 million of public funds delivering services across the borough in 2019-20 and we are determined to achieve value for money for every penny spent.

“This Council continues to face significant challenges but we have a positive track record of sound financial management. This budget represents the final year of our four year plan, which had to address the £57m gap faced by this Council over the period of our administration. 

“Our budget proposals also cover initiatives to make the Council more self-sufficient in light of cuts to central government funding, including plans to reduce the Revenue Support Grant – the biggest source of money for local government which is not ring-fenced – to nil by 2020.”

Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be asked to make recommendations to Cabinet, which meets on Wednesday, 6 February. Final proposals will be considered at the Council’s annual budget setting meeting on Thursday, 21 February.
 

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