Mick Whitley, Member of Parliament for Birkenhead, has condemned the Government’s failure to avert the “potentially catastrophic” funding crisis facing Wirral Council and called for the poorest communities in the local authority to be shielded from any further cuts to frontline spending.
The council recently made a successful application to central government for exceptional financial support, but now faces significant pressure to implement additional spending cuts.
Writing to Michael Gove – the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities – the Birkenhead MP slammed the Conservative Government’s “shameful abdication of responsibility” in not doing more to support local authorities grappling with funding shortfalls.
In 2020, Mick Whitley was joined by his fellow Wirral MPs in urging the Government to write off all local authority debt – totalling £84 billion nationwide – allowing them to meet the costs of the public health crisis.
But he warned that Covid was only part of a wider picture, saying that “before the pandemic, councils across the country had been forced to endure a long decade of savage cuts. Now we face the bleak prospect of local authorities teetering on the edge and struggling to provide even the most basic of services.”
A report into the financial situation at Wirral Council by the professional accountants’ association CIPFA identified a “prevailing culture [. . .] to avoid difficult financial decisions”.
In response, the MP for Birkenhead said that “instead of laying the blame at the door of local councils that have been starved of funding, the Government must accept responsibility for a crisis entirely of its own making. Austerity is a political choice and councillors and council officers should not be demonised for attempting to spare residents its very worst excesses”. Since 2010, local councils have lost 60p out of every £1 the Government provides to fund essential services.
Wirral Council is due to set a budget in coming months, and while the details are not yet known, a rise in council tax is considered likely. Mick Whitley argues this will lead to a “grotesquely unfair situation where taxpayers will see their bills soar while services are decimated. Ordinary people must not be made to pay the price of Westminster’s failings.”
Leading poverty charities have warned that increases in council tax could trap many low-income earners in a cycle of debt and exacerbate a spiralling cost of living crisis.
While Wirral Council has been awarded some levelling up funds from central government, the Birkenhead MP described this as a “drop in the ocean, which will do nothing to address issues with day-to-day spending on services. Broader, change to the whole system is needed. If Ministers are serious about building back better, then they must equip councils with the funding and resources that are so desperately needed”.
Speaking to birkenhead.news, Mick Whitley also urged the Council to put the needs of the most deprived communities at the heart of its response to the current funding shortfall.
The MP said, “my constituency is home to some of the most deprived communities in the country and my constituents have borne the brunt of spending cuts in the past.
“Services like libraries and leisure centres are a vital lifeline in areas plagued by high levels of joblessness and health and educational inequalities. Preserving these essential resources must be an absolute priority for the council going forwards.”