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Have Your Say on Council Budget Plans

Published: 2nd November 2020 09:06

Residents, businesses and community groups are being invited to share their views on Cheshire West and Chester Council's budget proposals for the next four years.

The six-week public consultation is open now, and closes on 3 December.

Cllr Louise GittinsCllr Louise Gittins, speaking on a video that is available to view on the Council website here.

The budget consultation, called Unprecedented Times, reflects the Council's continued focus on delivering services that residents said were important in 2020 when the current four-year budget plan was formed. However, the huge and unforeseen financial impact of COVID-19 cannot be underestimated.

Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: "These unprecedented times have made financial planning more difficult than ever. No one could have predicted just how serious the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic would be on communities and the services they depend on. The pandemic has had a very serious impact on our finances as a Council and we need strong recovery plans.

"Even before the pandemic, the challenge of supporting vulnerable children, families and adults continues to grow beyond expectations and placed more pressure on the budget. We have taken a planned and prudent approach, which was informed by your priorities and this has given us a good track record when it comes to budget planning. We hope this will stand us in good stead as we face an uncertain future."

Councillor Carol Gahan, Cabinet Member for Legal and Finance said, "We have managed our financial position carefully, but we are facing a future funding gap that impacts on how services are provided.

"There is considerable uncertainty on this position as Government has not yet set out the funding for local government, so we are unclear on the money they will make available to the Council. We also face ongoing budget pressures resulting from the pandemic. Overall, we could face a major financial shortfall over the next four years.

"After business rates and council tax are accounted for, alongside existing savings proposals that we have already consulted on, the gap remains between £34 million and £43 million, depending on the national funding available.

"We will have to make some very difficult decisions about significant savings and efficiencies to make sure we can continue to support those with the most complex needs and to deliver our residents' priorities. We will do everything we can to innovate and reduce the impact on residents and our staff, but the challenge is significant. Without additional funding from central government, we need to plan for job reductions of around 180. We plan to achieve these through voluntary means and by not recruiting to some vacancies, and in close consultation with the staff affected."

"The Council Plan, known as Play Your Part to Thrive, sets out a vision of all our communities working alongside us to tackle shared challenges. Now, more than ever, this approach is needed if we are to confront these unprecedented times and build a stronger future."

The results will be published on the Council website in February 2021 so that people can see how their views have influenced decision-making. The proposals will then be brought forward to a full Council meeting, scheduled for 25 February 2021.

Full information is posted on the Council's website, and hard copies of the consultation document will be made available in public buildings and on request. People can participate in the following ways.

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At 21:50 on 4th November 2020, Steph commented:
The one subject area that always gets overlooked is the financial risk / uncertainty associated with local government defined benefit pension schemes which year on year are costing tax payers a fortune to support the ever increasing deficit, surely it’s time for the local authorities to bring their employees into the real world of defined contribution pension schemes and save us (the tax payers) a small fortune on which we get no return.....
CO Jones
At 12:09 on 7th November 2020, CO Jones commented:
I work in the public sector and am a member of an LGPS equivalent. It is a contributory pension scheme and has been for years. It is very much defined contribution based as my pay statement will testify.

We are in the real world Steph. Are you?
Scott Morein
At 14:10 on 7th November 2020, Scott Morein commented:
The Cheshire West scheme is final salary with guaranteed increases in retirement. The accrual rate has reduced over the last 10 or so years, meaning longer standing employees will have benefits based on up to three accrual rates of 3n80ths, 60ths, and 49ths (or very generous, quite generous and generous).

CO Jones
At 15:09 on 7th November 2020, CO Jones commented:
I fit in the "generous" bracket having been in LGPS only a few years. How does it compare with other schemes in other area's of the public sector?

I pay in and my employer pays in. Isn't that the same as other pension's?

I am not sure what the argument is. Are we wanting a race to the bottom?

Scott Morein
At 16:14 on 7th November 2020, Scott Morein commented:
Hi CO Jones,
Little bit of jargon to clear up – if you are in the Cheshire West scheme it is considered a ‘defined benefit’ scheme – yes you make a payment, but the actual benefits you receive are ‘defined’ regardless of your contribution, and the open ended cost of providing the guaranteed benefits is borne by Council Tax payers. The scheme is reviewed regularly and the amount the Council Tax payer has to pay is adjusted to reflect the promises the scheme has made. It is not possible for we humans to accurately say how much the taxpayer contribution is, but it is generally accepted it is around 15-20% of your earnings.

There are variances between authorities i.e. the NHS is a more generous for more recent employees, Civil Service is similar to Cheshire West, Teachers Pensions more generous than all the above.

With a ‘defined contribution’ scheme yours and the employers contribution go into an invested pot and you take your chances based on investment performance / future inflation etc as to what your benefit might be.
Dave Carter
At 20:05 on 7th November 2020, Dave Carter commented:
Defined contribution schemes are more of a risk, but can be more lucrative, depending upon how astute the people investing your money are. Of the three schemes I have been in, the best performing (based upon the ratio of how much I get out to how much I put in) was a defined contribution scheme. TPS was the second best. The problem in the UK is that a lot of the schemes used in the private sector have been poorly managed. Leading to resentment by the people in them, directed as most such resentment is against the wrong people.
Dave Carter
At 20:09 on 7th November 2020, Dave Carter commented:
The defined contribution scheme which performed well was not in the private sector and not in the UK.
CO Jones
At 20:20 on 7th November 2020, CO Jones commented:
I just hope some of the venting is directed in the correct direction in the coronavirus aftermath and not just cheap shots at people who happen to work as civil servants in local government and elsewhere serving the public.

I would be able to understand if we were paid crazy wages but that is way off the mark in comparison to private sector equivalents.

Anyway. I love my job which is just as well as I am not going to be rich and famous. At least the pension will give me something to enjoy in retirement.

Scott Morein
At 09:53 on 8th November 2020, Scott Morein commented:
Hi CO Jones,
Not sure what ‘venting’ means in this context. Pleased you love your job – that is a bonus in itself. As to pay comparison, ONS records Public sector pay at around 10% more than the Private sector, plus there are more generous sickness / death in service benefits, and the pension is guaranteed, index linked and carries continuing benefits for surviving spouse / children. Sadly, many in the Private sector are presently on reduced pay or losing their jobs because of the pandemic.

Hi Dave,
That’s the point – it is a gamble – you win some you lose some and take your chances with personal or private sector pensions.
CO Jones
At 10:27 on 8th November 2020, CO Jones commented:
Hi Scott,

Venting in this context is the tendency for people to have a go at others because of their own poor financially planning or misfortune and the desire to blame or have a pop at others they perceive as fairing better.

I suppose it comes down to choices in life then doesn't it? I joined the Armed Forces at 21 to get out of a rut. If you had asked my thoughts on pension's, I would not have had a clue. Fast forward 22 years and I left with an immediate pension. That is a reward for 22 years service punctuated with periods of extreme terror and violence. Front line operations all over the world.

I then transferred leadership skills into a career which primarily is aimed at improving people's lives for the better. It does not pay that well but does bring other benefits. I don't work for the council but do a fair bit of partnership working with them and understand the situation around funding.

The point is the other benefits are often why people take on difficult, challenging and sometimes dangerous occupations. If you change the council pension model then you have to change the other public sector organisations as well don't you?

There is resentment at public sector pension's at crunch times like this but would it not be better targeted at the tax avoiders and evaders?

As I said, please don't make this a race to the bottom. It's always interesting isn't it the figures around pay? An acquaintance who works at HMRC has shared some interesting anecdotal information about the self employed who miraculously earn 12,499 pounds year after year.

CO Jones
At 11:37 on 9th November 2020, CO Jones commented:
My points were you cannot consider the council scheme in isolation can you Anthony? Public sector pension's have been parked in the "it's just too difficult" corner for years by successive Governments l. Not everyone is a faceless bureaucrat or manager seemingly without portfolio. There are many low paid workers on any council payroll.

The only other thing I would add is pension provision has been widely ignored by my peers in my generation. I speak anecdotally from conversations with colleagues and friends. Pension provision for many seems to sit in their bricks and mortar.

I just don't know how you go about telling someone who is 50 that has paid into a scheme for 30 years that they are not going to get anything like what they were promised in retirement.

Anthony A
At 11:48 on 9th November 2020, Anthony A commented:
I think the original point may have got lost somewhere along the way. If I am understanding what I can find online correctly the Cheshire Pension Fund (which covers Ch. West & East) has a deficit of £200m based on assets of £1.4bn. Calculations are very dependent on actuarial requirements which necessarily vary but, at face value, it means that, over time, council tax payers would need to dig into their pockets for an extra £200m to fund liabilities. If investment conditions worsen or actuarial requirements become more stringent the taxpayer would have to pick up the tab, unless benefits are cut. It seems that taxpayers pay a contribution of 21.8% of local authority employees' salary towards providing the scheme's guaranteed benefits. I suspect few in defined contribution schemes enjoy this level of employer contribution.

It is no surprise that the vast majority of private sector schemes have dumped their final salary schemes, at least for new members. I make no specific comment on the Cheshire scheme but I too worry that the more-or-less open-ended commitment that public sector final salary schemes provides is anachronistic in an era of massive public debt, not to mention such schemes' high direct cost to taxpayers. I fear that the current older generation (of which I am one) are loading too many costs and liabilities (or potential ones) on the young; it's simply unfair on them.
At 20:43 on 9th November 2020, Steph commented:
‘Anthony A” has expanded nicely on the original commentary I made on this subject, the point being that the underlying financial risk associated with local government defined benefit pension schemes is passed directly to taxpayers to subsidise, there is a reason why the private sector has done away with DB pension schemes, it is quite simply they have to manage financial risk in a responsible way, they can’t keep going back to their investors asking for more money in order to provide outdated DB pension benefits, it’s about time the public sector did the same in order to be more transparent with their budget planning and therefore help us tax payers understand where an ever increasing portion of our taxes really go....
Dave Carter
At 20:49 on 9th November 2020, Dave Carter commented:
Those pension benefits are defined, thats what defined benefit means. Having been defined, they cannot be outdated. Putting new employees on a different scheme is one thing, retrospectively reducing the benefit which was defined when an employee joined the scheme is quite another.
Dave Carter
At 20:52 on 9th November 2020, Dave Carter commented:
And I object to your use of the word "subsidised" paying the pension benefits is paying what is owed, it is not a subsidy. You don't tell your bank that you are subsidising them when you make repayments on a loan.
At 20:55 on 9th November 2020, Steph commented:
Oh and thank you to “CO Jones” for his contribution on on this thread, I found the comment which went “I just don't know how you go about telling someone who is 50 that has paid into a scheme for 30 years that they are not going to get anything like what they were promised in retirement”. This is exactly what the private sector has been doing for the past 15-20 years, they manage their employees out of DB schemes into DC pension schemes and in the process reduce the risk to the business, the shareholders and the economy in general.... just saying....
At 21:59 on 9th November 2020, Steph commented:
Dave.. your funny.. ????
Dave Carter
At 09:29 on 10th November 2020, Dave Carter commented:
Look, I am a council tax payer. I would be happy to pay more council tax to ensure that workers who worked hard for years in poorly paid jobs for the council and its predecessors can receive the pensions to which they are entitled.
Anthony A
At 10:32 on 10th November 2020, Anthony A commented:
I don't think anyone can argue that people should be denied the benefits to which they are entitled, Dave. But, looking ahead, shouldn't how that entitlement be calculated be reviewed? I am very conscious that, as well as rising public sector debt, changing demographics mean that fewer and fewer people will be funding benefits for the rapidly-growing sector of an ageing, longer-living and healthcare-demanding population. How will the diminishing younger generation fund it all?
Anthony A
At 10:46 on 10th November 2020, Anthony A commented:
Just to add: a quick google search indicates that the UK's unfunded public sector pension liabilities amount to about £5 trillion. People are worried that coronavirus has pushed current national debt north of £2 trillion. But, in reality, with unfunded pensions the debt is £7 trillion. Where's the cash going to come from? Your and my children and grandchildren? What a miserable prospect for them.
Dave Carter
At 17:23 on 10th November 2020, Dave Carter commented:
Current payments are funded from current contributions. Thats how most of these schemes have always worked. Current contributions include the employer contribution, which is funded from taxation for public employees, as it should be.
At 21:53 on 10th November 2020, Steph commented:
Anthony A has hit the nail on the head, and back to my original point I made at the top of the thread, the councils should (as part of the budget planning proposals) be sharing their plans on how they are going to start managing the future financial risk associated with the DB pension schemes, in reality the council leaders, financial planners and debt management teams will continue to avoid it like the plague, at the current time and on the eve of a major financial downturn they should be addressing this as a top priority as the financial risk and associated future burden it has developed is unsustainable.... end of..

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