More than 1,800 people and groups have had their say on the council's priorities and budget
18 January 2016More than 1,800 people and groups have had their say on Cheshire West and Chester Council’s priorities and budget for the next four years.
The Let’s Talk consultation invited views on the Council’s Plan for 2016-20 and how these should be funded, taking into account that reductions in Government funding will leave the authority facing a significant shortfall.
During the course of the consultation it emerged that the Council’s financial position has worsened as a result of the central Government settlement announced in December.
More than 1,000 people filled in the Let’s Talk questionnaire and 366 people had a go at setting the Council’s budget using the online simulator tool.
A further 330 people attended a Let’s Talk event and more than 130 community and interest groups representing people of all ages from across the borough gave their views.
Officers are now analysing the feedback gathered during the 12-week consultation. Although it is too early to give specific detail, some key themes are starting to emerge.
There was widespread support for the 10 priorities set out to make Cheshire West and Chester a place with thriving residents, flourishing communities and a prosperous economy.
People were asked to indicate the importance of each priority on a scale of one to 10 and all attracted an average score of between seven and nine.
Making vulnerable adults and children feel safe was ranked the highest, closely followed by compassionate and joined-up care. Respondents broadly agreed that the top four priorities were extremely important.
Views on the other six priorities - which include vibrant and healthy communities, and a great place to do business - were more varied with some people feeling they are important and others stating they are not as important.
The budget simulator results suggest that people would prefer to see the greatest budget reduction in Corporate Services and Places Services and the least in services for Children and Adults.
People indicated that they are prepared to pay more to ensure key services are maintained, especially for vulnerable people. When asked how to fund these services, respondents supported an average council tax rise of 2.40 percent through the budget simulator.
Increasing income through raising fees and charges for services such as car parking, commercial rent, and cemeteries, crematoria and registration services was also supported. The suggested average increase was 5.61 percent.
However, there was significant concern around the possibility of introducing parking charges in areas of the borough where parking is currently free.
Councillor David Armstrong, Cabinet Member for Legal and Finance, said: “The aim of Let’s Talk was to have a conversation with as many residents and businesses as possible - and the people of Cheshire West and Chester have really stepped up to the plate.
“The response level has been very encouraging and I would like to thank everyone who has taken part and helped to make this one of the most successful consultations the Council has held.
“There is a great deal of work now underway to analyse the feedback to ensure all views are represented, to help inform the important decisions we will soon need to take. The consultation responses show us the direction in which our residents want us to go.”
At the time of the Let’s Talk consultation launch, indications were that Government funding reductions would leave the Council facing a £47m shortfall by 2020.
However, the authority has since received its provisional funding settlement from central Government which has resulted in a worsening of the financial position, largely due to a greater reduction in the Revenue Support Grant and the New Homes Bonus grant being reduced by at least a third and the shortfall of £47 million over the next four years is regrettably set to grow.
Councillor Armstrong added: “The Council has been working out in detail its provisional funding settlement from the Government which was received once the Let’s Talk consultation was underway.
“A greater cut in the Revenue Support Grant than was expected and the New Homes Bonus grant being reduced by a third will lead to an extremely challenging budget.
“We will keep people informed as we have to make some very difficult and tough decisions.”
Final proposals will be considered at the Council’s annual budget setting meeting on 25 February.