DIFFICULT decisions will need to be made on future spending commitments in Cheshire West, as the council faces an unprecedented budget gap.

That's the message from council leader Louise Gittins, as the local authority – like many cash-strapped councils across the UK – is facing a funding black hole totalling millions of pounds.

Recently we reported Cheshire West and Chester Council faces a funding gap of £47 million over the next four years, with most of the budget pressure coming from soaring costs in social care and high inflation.

A consultation has now been launched for residents to have their say on local spending priorities.

'Considerable pressure'

The budget consultation, titled 'Funding our future', will be open until December 10. It aims to help inform decisions that councillors make in February 2024 on the overall council budget, where £941 million is spent each year.

Leader of the council, Cllr Louise Gittins, said: "Councils across the country are facing huge funding challenges – we believe the most difficult in a decade – and Cheshire West and Chester is no different. Difficult decisions will need to be made.

"More and more people are looking to us for help, and the costs of providing it are increasing, placing considerable pressure on our finances.

"We currently face a funding gap of £47m over the next four years, and this may yet increase. Unlike most other organisations, we also have a legal obligation to set a balanced budget – meaning that we cannot spend more than we receive through national funding and local income, such as council tax and business rates.

"We will continue to put all our efforts in providing the best services and support for people that we possibly can within the resources we have available – and consider any ways in which they might be delivered differently.

"But the views of our communities have never been more important. The local government sector, including our own council, is trying to overcome an unprecedented financial situation.

"We want to protect the services which matter most to our residents and businesses, and those which look after the most vulnerable people in our borough. Many continue to struggle with the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and wider support needs which affect their wellbeing and quality of life on a daily basis.

"I urge everyone to take part in our consultation. Funding our future is about the future of our communities as much as the financial sustainability of the council.

"We are a public sector organisation that exists to serve our local population. Please have your say and play your part in helping to shape our priorities for the coming months and years.”

Cabinet member for legal and finance, Cllr Carol Gahan said: “Cheshire West and Chester Council has long been recognised for strong financial management, with a reputation for engaging effectively with communities about how we spend our budget and provide the services that local people rely on.

"However, we face a truly unprecedented challenge. Our council has never before had to overcome a budget gap of this scale. A number of other councils have, in recent weeks, reported huge concerns about their ability to afford and maintain current levels of service delivery, with the support they provide to their residents and businesses at risk of significant reduction, or even withdrawal.

"We need to do everything we can to minimise the impact of our financial position within our own borough - preserve key services and think about how we might deliver some of them in new ways.

"The opinions, ideas and priorities of our local communities will be absolutely vital to helping us develop a budget that protects key services as far as possible and continues to meet the needs of the people we serve.

"This year, people can share their views in a range of ways – including by phone, email, in writing, by completing our budget survey, or by using our budget simulator which will help them consider how they would spend the council’s budget if it were up to them. I strongly encourage everyone to take part.”

To take part, visit cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/fundingourfuture for background information and ways to take part in the survey and/or budget simulator.

You can also write to: Funding our future, Insight and Intelligence, Cheshire West and Chester, The Portal, Wellington Road, Ellesmere Port, CH65 0BA or email councilbudget@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk and share your views.

Alternatively, phone 0300 123 8123 to speak to the council’s Contact Centre, quoting ‘Funding our future’.

Residents can complete a paper copy of the consultation, available in libraries. Alternative formats are also available on request.