Cheshire East Council reports potential budget deficit of £12.8m

20 September 2023

Cheshire East Council is set to report financial pressures of £12.8m against its 2023/24 budget. Savings have already been identified to reduce this from £26.6m.

A report will be discussed at the corporate policy committee meeting on 5 October to identify areas for the additional savings that will be needed to achieve a balanced budget.

The council is already implementing very difficult decisions that were taken as part of the process to set the budget in February. This includes the introduction of charges for garden waste collections, reductions to library opening hours and a review of car parking income.

But more must be done. Like many councils across the country, Cheshire East Council is seeing a period of financial challenge with a combination of increased demand and rising cost from inflation and interest rates. There is also increasing uncertainty associated with income from business rates and government grants.

Examples of costs that have risen at Cheshire East, include:

  • Rise in demand and cost of services. For example, children and family services have an unmitigated £11.4m budget pressure. The number of children in care has increased by around 9 per cent, alongside substantial increases in the cost of caring for each child due to complexity of need and market forces. There are significant pressures relating to special educational needs and high needs funding.
  • Rising interest rates have increased annual borrowing costs by £5.4m. Borrowing is usually related to the major infrastructure projects the council has worked on. The council has also borrowed £19m over three years to invest in the Highways Maintenance Programme, but the repayments now cost more.
  • Pay inflation, which averages nearly 8 per cent in the UK, is increasing costs for all services. This is related to nationally negotiated pay for council employees and staff working for contracted providers.

 As part of its discussion at the committee meeting, the council will outline a range of proposed financial measures, such as a review of:

  • Prices (and charges for services) to meet rising costs and inflation;
  • Recruitment – with a focus on recruiting for statutory, or income-generating roles only;
  • All council contracts with suppliers and contractors;
  • How the council accounts for spending on projects and other day-to-day spending;
  • Continued rationalisation of the council’s estate.

 These measures are needed to reduce the in-year gap and minimise the use of council reserves.

Councillor Sam Corcoran, leader of Cheshire East Council and chair of the corporate policy committee, said: “Despite development of a robust four-year budget plan with high levels of engagement, strong financial management and progress against our corporate plan, the council has no choice but to operate within a significantly challenging financial landscape.

“The Local Government Association and County Councils Network have both stated that councils in England are facing a funding gap in the billions of pounds over the next two years, with a BBC report finding that the average council now faces a predicted £33 million deficit by 2025-26.

“We are seeing demand for some council services that will be four times what we have now over the next five years. With more individuals and families needing support than ever before, the care of our most vulnerable people must come first.”

Councillor Craig Browne, deputy leader of Cheshire East Council, said, “Council officers are working extremely hard to reduce our forecasted budget gap, and by working together, our saving measures will help reduce the impact this gap has on our reserves. We cannot underestimate the challenge of achieving these savings over coming months.

“The severity of our situation means we must, again, look at everything the council delivers.

“I would urge anyone who is concerned to keep a look out for our budget consultation which will be launching in the autumn, and to help us as we develop a new strategic plan for the next four years. These two things will help us to focus on the borough’s priorities and, how we pay for it.”

The Corporate Policy Committee agenda papers and strategic review report will be published on the council website five working days before the meeting.