CHESHIRE East councillors are set to be handed a Ward Budget of £4,200 each to tackle issues like potholes from April in exchange for the established Local Area Highways Fund.
At the Cheshire East Council's 2021/22 budget Council Meeting, Shavington councillor David Marren (Independent), proposed an amendment to the finance plans which would see each member given "at least £4,200" to tackle highway maintenance issues in their area. He likened it to the Ward Budget scheme in Cheshire West and Chester where Councillors receive £10,000 each for community-based projects.
Cllr Marren then said “I am fed up of telling residents that I have reported a faded street sign and it has been added to a programme of improvements. I am fed up of not being able to get a grit bin to where quite a few elderly residents live.” “This amendment is about getting stuff done in our wards. It has no great effect on funding, it is a transfer of funding.” Cllr Marren said the pot will be funded from an allocation of capital grant, which is money usually earmarked for longer term projects.
Cllr Crane (Portfolio Holder for Highways) accepted the scheme provided the wording of the proposal was altered to be limited to highways works only;
“The Council establish devolved Ward Member budgets of at least £4,200 per ward member for the financial year 2021/22” :The proposal to be funded from the current allocation of Capital Grant funding to the Area Highway Groups of £350,000” and that these monies be used for Highways improvements.
Opposition councillors Don Stockton, Kate Parkinson and Janet Clowes claimed the scheme "discriminates" against rural areas.
Conservative leader Cllr Janet Clowes said:
“For those of us in single-member wards, [the fund] will go absolutely nowhere. The Area Highways Groups have worked well albeit with a still very limited budget, but to divide the fund in this way, means that the largest rural wards with the largest highways networks and usually only a single ward member, will never to be able to afford anything meaningful for £4K.
“It is a great pity that we did not have the opportunity to look at it before the meeting as Cllr Marren doesn’t appear to understand the cost of even the simplest highways project. A single dropped kerb costs £4K and in real terms, whilst the combined totals in multi-member urban wards may be useful, this marks an end to any meaningful investment in rural highways projects. In short, I think it is discriminatory against rural wards and bears no comparison with the Community focused ward budget scheme of Cheshire West & Chester (see link)
Despite her concerns, the amendment was accepted by the budget’s proposer Cllr Amanda Stott (Independent) and seconder Cllr Laura Crane (Labour).
As part of the approval, the fund will be reviewed from 2022/23 with the view of widening its scope and the amount given to each councillor.