CHESHIRE East Council is in an ‘enviable position’ compared to other local authorities when it comes to its finances.

So says Cllr Paul Bates, cabinet member for finance and communication, who has praised the work of council officers in planning for the challenges ahead.

The local authority is due to approve its Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) for 2019 to 2022 on February 21, and Cllr Bates is pleased with how CEC is managing its coffers.

He said: “We have looked to the future, predicted what is going to happen and got ourselves in an enviable position. I think there is a plethora of authorities who would want to be in the same position where we are.

“We planned three years in advance, we looked at what is going to happen and we are seeing now where the holes are going to be and how we are going to address those holes going forward.

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“There are local authorities that haven’t done the same financial planning that we have done, and that’s to the credit of the team here that they have looked at the future and planned accordingly to make sure we give the best possible services going forward.”

Cabinet members endorsed the budget this week, which includes a net revenue spend of £281.2 million and total capital investment of £450 million over the next three years – including £270 million on highways projects, such as relief roads for Middlewich, Congleton and Poynton.

But the local authority insists there are challenges in the years to come – including an end to the Government’s revenue support grant, which this year provided CEC with £5.4 million.

Alex Thompson, head of finance and performance at CEC, said: “I think what is important to recognise is that this is a national issue – local authority spending is under pressure.

“That’s partly linked into the Government withdrawing grants, but also the pressure that is on our partners as well, such as the NHS. That has a significant impact on what we will pay for and what they will pay.

“I think we’re in a very fortunate position that locally we haven’t been reliant on much Government funding historically, and our pro-growth agenda as an area has definitely supported our ability to be more sustainable than most local authorities.”

CEC expects to increase its business rates income by £5 million in the new budget, and the Government wants local authorities to retain 75 per cent of their own business rates from 2020-21.

Cllr Bates says that Cheshire East has more VAT-registered firms than Manchester – but he is unsure the new rules on business rate retention will be enough to boost the council’s finances.

He said: “There is uncertainty around funding, particularly come 2020. I don’t believe that 75 per cent business rate retention is going to cut it.

“The challenges that any local authority faces in terms of the demographics of the population, educating our schoolchildren, we have to meet and exceed the expectations and we have to find the best way of doing that.

“That is lobbying, that is fighting for fairer funding, we have to make our MPs work for the local authority as much as they work for constituents – and we want what is best for the residents of Cheshire East.

“We do a really good job with what we have got, but we could do a better job if we were given more.”

At the cabinet meeting where the MTFS was endorsed this week, Cllr Sam Corcoran, leader of CEC’s Labour group, agreed that the council faces financial pressures in the years ahead.

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He added: “If you look at the three-year summary you can see that we have a balanced budget for 2019-20, but in 2021 we have an £11 million forecast deficit.

“I am sure that by the time we come to it we will resolve that, but it is an indication of the financial pressures that we are under.

“We are not out of the woods yet – those financial pressures will continue.”

The MTFS is due to be signed off at the full council meeting on February 21.