Smoke and mirrors over funding for Cheshire East Council’s Community Budgets

At last week’s meeting of Cheshire East Council’s Corporate Scrutiny Committee, the  Conservative proposals for "Community Budgets funded from New Homes Bonus" unravelled when it was stated by council officers that the £2m allocation was actually funded from a change in accounting policy (MRP) in 2017/18, rather than directly from the New Homes Bonus Fund.

Cheshire East will receive £8m of New Homes Bonus this year (2018/19), which is included in the normal budget arrangements and makes up over 3% of the Council’s net funding. In the past, the New Homes Bonus has been added to general funds and used to assist with holding down council tax increases. The majority of New Homes Bonus money will continue to be used through the normal budget process. The Conservatives are now proposing in the budget consultation to allocate £1m in 2018/19 and in 2019/20 to community budgets.

There was virtually no response to the public consultation on this item with only 1 or 2 responses mentioning it. Therefore, why are the Conservatives so keen to set up a new £2m fund rather than putting the money through the normal spending regime? Indeed, Cheshire East Council has a history of setting up shiny new 'community funds' with a loud fanfare. The Council set up a 'Your Money' fund under Cllr Michael Jones's leadership. It was money from that fund which was used to pay Core Fit/Amanda Morris Ltd; the police are investigating.

Cllr Joy Bratherton, Labour Councillor for Crewe East said; ‘Behind the PR smoke and mirrors, the reality is that this money should be used to prevent or reduce cuts being implemented across Cheshire East Council’s services.  The idea of a separate fund gives opportunities to Conservative Councillors to allocate funds in a way that makes the biggest political splash in the run up to the 2019 elections, rather than using funds based on need.

Cllr Brian Roberts, Labour Councillor for Crewe West said;  ‘This scheme is setting money aside and then looking for ways to spend it, rather than looking at need. Indeed, part of this new  fund could have instead have been used to help pay for evening and weekend bus services for at least the next three years across Cheshire East. But no, it is effectively a ‘kitty’ for the Tories to spend in those wards where their councillors are under threat in May 2019.’

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