SCHOOL meal prices, charges for meals-on-wheels and burial and cremation costs could all rise as Cheshire West and Chester Council struggles to plug a financial black hole.
Swingeing government cuts mean Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) needs to save £45 million over four years – including £12 million in the next financial year.
But council leader Mike Jones has pledged to protect frontline services wherever possible and said the council had saved £99 million since 2009 without damaging services.
With the UK struggling to escape recession and further funding cuts expected, many councils are slashing jobs and services.
Speaking exclusively to the Leader on the financial challenge, Cllr Jones said tough decisions would have to be made but he was determined to protect the most vulnerable residents.
However, he warned people would have to pay more for some services to maintain key services.
“One of the primary roles of the council is to look after the most vulnerable and that includes the elderly and children,” he said.
“We are expecting our elderly population to double over the next 20 years, yet the money available from the government is falling.
“We have got to be really innovative because otherwise we will have to stop providing these services, and that would be awful.
“We are looking to reduce subsidies and believe the person that is using the service should pay the appropriate cost.”
CWaC’s draft budget for 2013/14 sets out the council’s plans for balancing the books.
Subsidies for school meals, leisure services and meals-on-wheels are among those earmarked for cuts.
Schools face being asked to pay more for ICT, payroll and music services and other proposals include removing and dimming street lights, reducing staff training budgets and reviewing rents on council-owned properties.
“We are going to protect frontline services but are looking at changing the way we deliver them,” said the council leader.
“We are not closing libraries, we are keeping swimming pools open and we are building new leisure centres to reduce costs.
“We are looking at ways we can actually improve the service we deliver but reduce the costs.”
Cllr Jones said planning the budget had been difficult because the council did not find out how much government funding it would receive until December 19.
“We must remember that we were told this was going to happen in 2008, regardless of whether the Conservatives or Labour were in charge,” he said.
“We have been working on the budget since early last year to ensure we are making decisions in a positive and proactive way.
“Our key focus is on reducing waste, bureaucracy and inefficiencies.”
Cllr Jones said the council had reinvested £39 million of the money saved since 2009 in improving services.
“We are in a good position because of very prudent finances we have had in place,” he said.
“I believe the draft budget is the best way forward to ensure we make savings and keep frontline services open.”
Residents are being asked to provide feedback, with the budget due to be finalised at the full council meeting at the end of February.
If the proposals in the draft budget are not approved, CWaC has warned council tax could increase significantly, unless alternative savings can be found.
Feedback can be made via www.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/budgetconsultation and must be received by Monday, January 28.