THE leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council says her administration is ready to listen and work with residents about their needs for the next four years.

CWAC has launched the Play Your Part consultation, which aims to set the priorities for council spending from 2020 to 2024.

Cllr Louise Gittins, CWAC’s Labour leader, says she wants to ‘work together to build stronger communities’ – while having the key priorities of tackling the climate emergency, poverty, inequality and mental health.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We recognise we can’t do this on our own – we need everyone to play their part in this.

“I think in the past it was always about the council doing things to people.

“But is it right that we are always doing things to people? We need to really change and start working with and listening to residents.”

The council intends to spend £114.2 million on services to support health, wellbeing and independence and £65 million on services for children and families by 2024.

But the next four-year plan is being drawn up against a backdrop of uncertainty.

While Boris Johnson has promised higher levels of public spending since becoming Prime Minister, details on local government funding have only been revealed for up to 2020-21.

And a long-awaited Government paper outlining how social care should be funded has been delayed for more than two years.

Cllr Gittins said: “If the Government carries on the way it has done it could be an £11 million gap. If they go back to how they were before it could be a £27 million gap.

“I am always an optimist and maybe the Government will continue the way they are now and it will be more towards £11 million – but it is really hard.

“If you look at the growing pressures in adult social care budget, the cost of children’s services, the cost is going up one way and the money is going down – and that is where the main pressures are.”

Another major uncertainty is also looming with Brexit – with details still not ironed out more than three years after the referendum, and with just a fortnight until the country is set to leave.

“With Brexit nobody really knows,” Cllr Gittins said.

“We have done a lot of contingency planning around that in terms of investing in our departments so they can support businesses and communities.

“But I think with any plan it should not be set in stone – we should regularly review and update it in terms of that external environment.

“Whatever happens with Brexit will have a huge impact and we will have to monitor it very carefully.”

Other ambitions include investing £15.5 million in climate emergency initiatives like energy efficient street lighting, energy generation and transport projects.

Buses could play an important part in convincing Cheshire West residents to ditch the car, but services are infrequent in many parts of the borough.

Greater Manchester is considering franchising its bus network in a move similar to London – so could something similar follow in Cheshire West?

“I think we need to work with bus companies and we want to work with the city regions in terms of how we can link our buses,” Cllr Gittins said.

“One of the things we are looking at is the devolution bid. Transport would be a part of that and we would like to revisit that to see if we can do something so we can have more control over buses.

“But obviously we need to have clean buses. There are still a lot of old buses in the system, so it is how we can encourage bus companies to move towards cleaner buses.”

CWAC is also looking to invest £66.4 million on building 1,000 homes and maintaining existing council homes, while £24 million would go towards improving schools.

Cllr Gittins believes schools need ‘as much money as possible’ to make them fit for purpose, while homes are also a key priority.

“I always say it is not about buildings – it is about people,” Cllr Gittins said.

“But we need to have the right sort of buildings to meet the needs of our communities.”

Further cash will go towards the council’s regeneration projects, with £66.9 million set for Northgate in Chester.

Northwich, Winsford and Ellesmere Port are expected to share a smaller pot of £5.8 million for their regeneration schemes by 2024.

Cllr Gittins said: “It’s a difficult one. If we had enough money I would like to spend that much in all our towns but we have to look at what is appropriate for the different areas.

“We are managing to get external funding though – in Ellesmere Port we have got it from the LEP – so I think there is still sufficient funding there for our ambitions.

“Winsford is a really important one and we need to make sure we move forward with that as a priority.”

CWAC could also bring highways management back under council control similarly to how waste management will be next year, but only if the option would work for the council and its taxpayers.

And perhaps the most eye-catching proposal is for a new biennial art festival, which would be part of a £22.7 million package for heritage and culture.

Cllr Gittins said: “I think it is an ambition to have it. Liverpool has a biennial event that transforms the city with arts and culture.

“We are working with arts and culture groups in Chester, it is still at a very early stage and I think we have talked about it for a while, but there is a real appetite in the city to move that forwards.”

Residents can take part in the Play Your Part consultation until December 5 – unless a General Election is called this autumn.

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