THE leader of a new council set up to reduce the council tax burden claims the electorate was misled about the extent of the potential savings.
Cllr Mike Jones (Con, Broxton), leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, says Lib Dem and Labour colleagues at the Town Hall underestimated set up costs in order “to make a case” to the Government.
Cllr Jones agrees with them that splitting the county into just two councils – serving East and West Cheshire – will deliver significant benefits for council tax payers but not for several years.
Speaking at the Cheshire West and Chester Council’s scrutiny committee, Cllr Jones claimed the former Lib Dem/Labour administration at Chester City Council, who submitted the bid for local government reform in Cheshire, underestimated set-up costs by 100%.
He said their bid also claimed the changes would pay for themselves in two years whereas, in reality, this could take up to four-and-a-half years.
“The Government figures were probably more right than the bid figures,” said Cllr Jones. “The bid didn’t include putting in place the organisation.”
Cllr Jones explained that replacing Chester City, Vale Royal and Ellesmere Port councils with one council for Cheshire West would allow management and back-room functions like IT and finance departments to be streamlined but did not know the “exact number” of redundancies.
Instead of having seven chief executives across the whole of Cheshire there would only be two.
He said action had been taken so that departing chief executives were not employed on “gardening leave” for seven months at considerable cost.
Cllr Jones wants to create an authority which is “more responsive” and “more customer focused”.
Asked whether he could deliver lower council tax bills, he said: “I couldn’t commit to that but the intention is that we will be one of the best performers in the UK in seven or eight years’ time.”
And asked if he could improve services, he responded: “I will pack up the job if we haven’t.”
Cllr Jones said County Hall in Chester was not a suitable building for the council’s headquarters but was unsure whether the authority would move out in the short or medium term.