Cllr Michael Jones is the Leader of Cheshire East Council.
Cheshire East is officially the best place to live in the North West. Economic factors such as high employment and above average household income contribute to this.
Moreover, Cheshire East is still growing – with more than 30,000 new jobs predicted to be created by 2030.
As a council, our focus is on putting residents first and in fact residents contribute 62 per cent of the funding for the Councils services – which is very high for such a large unitary council.
To support local people, the council has frozen Council Tax for five consecutive years and, since being formed in 2009, Council Tax has risen by just 1.8 per cent, which compares against a cumulative increase of 31.9 per cent in the Retail Prices Index measure for inflation.
The more than 18,000 businesses in Cheshire East contribute £130 million to local government funding each year, but, due to various calculations and distributions, less than a third of this actually supports services in Cheshire East.
In promoting growth – and in particular when trying to engage businesses in supporting the local authority in maintaining the quality of life in the area – this low-level of ‘retained rates’ has been an issue.
Discussions with Cheshire, Staffordshire and Manchester councils looked at the levels of retained rates to consider options that could support growth.
The option to pool with the ten Greater Manchester authorities created excellent opportunities to retain levy payments locally – this led on to negotiations about retaining 100 per cent of growth from a pilot scheme, also with the Greater Manchester authorities.
The Chancellor’s announcement, in April, backing a 100 per cent rates retention pilot for Cheshire East and Greater Manchester was welcome news.
The potential rewards are material, even though the 100 per cent retention does not kick in until business rates growth of 0.5 per cent has been achieved.
However, under the 2014 arrangements, £2.5 million of local growth in business rates (about two per cent) would have provided less than £0.75m of funding for local services. Under the 2015 arrangements this figure would nearly triple to £2m.
This strong correlation between local growth and funding for local services has not existed under any previous approach to local government funding.
The retention of business rates remains a complex issue, with appeals and revaluations causing obstacles to accurate forecasting in the short term.
However, in the long term, Cheshire East Council is able to work with local employers and potential inward investors to develop employment land with a greater degree of return for the local people who will benefit from the development.
Business rates currently fund just 14 per cent of Cheshire East Council services. This may rise, as rates rise with inflation and government grant continues to reduce, but Cheshire East Council can work to grow this relationship with businesses and link their growth to the quality of life in the area in a way that was less likely and more difficult before April.
As an innovative council that puts residents first – and working in partnership with local people, neighbouring authorities and the Government – Cheshire East really is the best place to live, work, visit and do business in the North West.