Council Tax freeze to ease squeeze on rate payers


Staff reporter (Chester First)

CHESHIRE West and Chester Council’s Resources team has unveiled a two-year bonus for the borough’s 140,000-plus council tax payers.

At their budget meeting next Wednesday, members of the Executive are recommended to approve a freeze on council tax for 2014-15 and suggest the same for 2015-16.

If approved, it means that over the last four years taxpayers will have paid an average 1.65 per cent rise in council tax against a 12.1 per cent rise in inflation – a saving of £131 on a Band D tax bill.

In their report, Cllr Les Ford (executive member resources) and director of resources Julie Gill say the council’s approach to its medium-term financial plan for 2014-17 was again driven by the Government’s plan to tackle the national budget deficit.

Members are told that estimated savings of £49m – 20 per cent of the council’s current net budget – will be required over the next three years.

“Despite these financial pressures, the council is conscious of the need to ensure that increases in council tax do not increase financial pressures on local residents.

“As a result the proposed budget freezes council tax for 2014-15 and suggests we do the same the following year,” says Cllr Ford.

Consequently, CWaC’s standard Band D council tax rate for 2014-15 will remain unchanged at £1,275.23.

In 2014-15, savings totalling £24.5m will be needed to balance the books because £10.5m reduction in Government grant; inflation and costs totalling £8.5m and increased service costs of £5.2m.

An extra £2.5m has been found to fund a rise of children in care.

CWaC is a ‘corporate parent’ to 438 children compared to 381 a year ago – the result of early intervention programmes designed to protect the most vulnerable youngsters.

An extra £3m funding will help towards the cost of an increasingly elderly population – over 65s are expected to increase by 10 per cent in the next four years – and the provision of 484 extra care housing places.

Cllr Ford says addressing a three-year budget shortfall of £49m requires a strategic direction and new and innovative ways of delivering services.

“In practice,  the council will seek to indentify the best-placed organisation to deliver services and will capture the needs and priorities of its residents through a series of community conversations that will be held on a local basis.

“This approach will be supported by a desire to intervene earlier... and thereby avoid the need to provide more costly services.”

Members are asked to recommend a budget of £246m for 2014 – an estimated level of general reserves of £21.4m at March 31 and a new earmarked reserve of £2.5m to fund the interim costs associated with the Northgate Development.

See full story in the Chester Leader

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