Congleton: Cheshire East Council will go bust if they follow last year's spending patterns

By Belinda Ryan - Local Democracy Reporter

19th Jan 2023 | Local News

A Cheshire East Council bus sign in Congleton. (Image - Alexander Greensmith / Congleton Nub News)
A Cheshire East Council bus sign in Congleton. (Image - Alexander Greensmith / Congleton Nub News)

The council Congleton pays most of their taxes to has to change their spending budget.

Cheshire East has to make savings and cuts otherwise it will go bust and the government will be called in to run the council, a councillor warned.

Wilmslow councillor Mark Goldsmith (Ind) was speaking during the debate on the budget at Tuesday's meeting of the economy and growth committee.

His stark warning came after Conservative councillors said the proposals in front of them were a 'fait accompli' and complained members had had little or no input in the process.

Dane Valley councillor Andrew Kolker (Con) said: "I'm a bit alarmed about the process around the whole MTFS (budget), including this committee."

He said it was his impression committees formulate policy 'and yet there are many things coming from the MTFS to committee that are presented as a fait accompli and they certainly haven't been debated in committee before the MTFS, for example libraries, the Tatton budget'.

He added: "We should have been consulted way before this point as to whether we wanted to move libraries or what we wanted to do with libraries."

Committee chair Nick Mannion (Macclesfield, Lab) stressed the committee's debate at Tuesday's meeting was part of the consultation process.

"There is nothing to stop anybody here outside this meeting contacting the finance team with a specific budget proposal," he said, saying it could then be proposed to the full council, which meets in February, as an amendment.

Deputy committee chair Mark Goldsmith said, with inflation running at 11 per cent, if council tax is increased by the maximum five per cent that leaves the council with a budget shortfall of £20m.

"So if we do exactly what we did last year this year, we will be overspent by £20m and we will go bust and we will have to call in the government to run the council," he said.

"So we have said to the officers, how do we make the numbers stack up? How do we make that balance? And they then come back with the ideas and recommendations that you're seeing."

Cllr Goldsmith said some of the suggestions had been questioned.

"But we are in a position where we have to make savings, we have to make cuts," he said.

"Because if we don't, then we will go bust and the government will appoint somebody who will come in and pretty much cut everything that isn't mandatory as well.

"None of us joined [the council] to do this, we don't want to have to do it, but we are in difficult times and extraordinary times and this reflects that, so we are having to make the best out of two really bad options. It's the least worst outcome."

Among some of the savings which fall under the economy and growth remit is a proposal to move Macclesfield Library into the town hall.

Councillors were assured this was a proposal at this stage – and this committee was not responsible for any decisions on library services, this was purely about the building.

The council is also looking to only spend on building maintenance 'where there is a specific health and safety risk that must be mitigated'.

And it will review occupancy and restrict access to some floors in its buildings to reduce costs.

Even doing this, it is estimated next year the impact on the budget, in respect of buildings, will still be an extra £440,000.

Other cost cutting proposals include plans to reduce staffing and not fill vacancies.

And there is a move to increase income and efficiencies at Tatton Park to save £28,000.

Cllr Kolker argued the proposal to cut back on building maintenance was a false economy – although he was told that would be for one year.

Feedback from the committee will be go to the full council, which will set the budget at its meeting on February 22.

The public consultation on the draft budget closes on January 30.

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