RESIDENTS will have to pay 4.99 per cent more council tax from April, after Cheshire East councillors approved a new budget for the upcoming year.

The budget, formally known as the Medium Term Financial Strategy, sets out the council’s tax and spending plans from 2021 to 2025.

In a mammoth six-hour virtual meeting, the ruling Labour-Independent coalition defended the plans as the first time CEC has had a fully-balanced four-year financial plan.

However, opposition councillors said the blueprint was ‘high risk’ and ‘neither kind nor fair to our most vulnerable residents’.

Independent finance cabinet member Cllr Amanda Stott said: “We know that the increase in council tax levels will affect households, so I want the new committee system to look at the council support scheme for low-income families.

“Many the savings in adult and children services have been deferred to allow more time to review the impact of Covid-19.

“We worked hard to develop and consult on plans for the future. We did this with very little certainty from the government on future funding.”

Much of the meeting was characterised by members clashing over who was to blame for both the £20 million of cuts in the budget and associated council tax rises — with Labour members saying the government should pick up more of the bill in funding adult social care, as Cheshire East spends 68 pence in every pound on the services.

However, Conservative group leader Cllr Janet Clowes launched a scathing attack on the MTFS.

She said: “The public will have to pay the maximum council tax rise having been consulted on something different. This is not open and transparent.

“This budget is not kind, nor fair, for our most vulnerable residents… and those residents under the most financial stress will be asked to pay for it.

“It perhaps is balanced, [but] in the past, we have focused on three-year [plans]. Four years is a very long time and I would be surprised if we didn’t have to change it along the way.”

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Rod Fletcher described the MTFS as ‘high risk’.

He said: “I believe the proposed MTFS is high risk and the Liberal Democrat Group is concerned by some of the proposed cuts.

“The MTFS again shows savings from reviews yet to take place.

“[It] shows increased income from car parking charges over the coming years. How will this income be realised? Does this mean charges on car parks that are currently free?”

Despite the concerns, the budget passed by 42 votes to 36, and the linked council tax rise by 45 votes to 33.

It means that along with the 4.99 per cent tax rise for the upcoming year, further increases of 1.99 per cent are planned from 2022 to 2025.

However, with a full-council election set for 2023, it may be the case that the financial plans will look very different by the end of that period.