THE leader of Cheshire East Council’s Conservative opposition believes the Labour-independent administration should have done more with its first draft budget.

Proposals for the first non-Conservative budget in the authority’s history have been revealed – with the council’s budget for 2020-21 set to grow by £18.9 million to around £300 million.

It sets out how CEC could balance the books next year, but Cllr Janet Clowes feels more attention must be paid to the years beyond 2020-21.

And the Conservative member for Wybunbury believes the spending plans included for the environment are modest considering CEC wants to become carbon neutral in six years.

She said: “Well done to the new administration on bringing forward what seems, on early examination, to be a balanced budget for 2019-20.

“However, there is little information in the wider financial strategy about how the significant pressures already identified for 2020-21 will be met.

Knutsford Guardian:

“There is little direct investment in environment and climate-related projects that all groups pledged to support to help CEC meet its carbon targets and, interestingly, little attention has been paid to the ambitious manifesto plans that the Labour Party and indeed individual independent councillors put in their election literature.

“That is perhaps understandable because it is when setting budgets that the new Labour–independent coalition will have realised just how difficult it is to balance the books whilst providing over 500 statutory and essential services to Cheshire East residents.”

CEC expects to rake in an additional £4.3 million from a 1.9 per cent tax increase next year, plus an extra £4.3 million from the two per cent social care precept allowed by Government, £4.1 million from additional new homes and £1.3 million from business rates.

Central Government has also awarded a £5.1 million grant for social care for 2020-21, which Cllr Clowes describes as one of two ‘windfalls’ from the Conservatives along with the precept – although details on how social care should be funded beyond next year are yet to be announced.

Cllr Clowes added: “The major concern must be that while the end of year budget looks robust, there is little attention about how the pressures in years two and three will be met.

“In short, this budget has relied on a strong inherited financial position and has focused on using these windfalls to achieve a short-term balanced budget without considering the opportunities for forward-thinking, finance-raising projects that will protect the budget in future years.”

READ > CEC leader Cllr Sam Corcoran discusses budget plans

Consultation on the draft budget runs until January 6, before the final budget

plans are considered in February.