Committee proposals for Wirral’s budget-balancing to be presented to council for approval

A meeting of Wirral Council’s Policy and Resources Committee took place earlier this evening to discuss proposals to save £16.5m in order to balance the council’s budget.

The shortfall in the council’s budget was caused by a reduction in central government funding of £250m over the last 10 years. Further, a gap in COVID-19 funding that meant coronavirus related funding hasn’t covered the costs of dealing with the pandemic in the borough.

Wirral residents were consulted on the plans during December and January and it was clear that the proposals accurately reflected public opinion on the matter.

As part of the consultation, thousands of people completed an online questionnaire at a special website portal, while more emailed comments and contacted their local councillors directly.

The proposals for savings in the budget that were discussed at tonight’s meeting will advance beyond the committee stage and be presented for approval at a full council meeting to take place on 1 March 2021.

Amongst some of the savings being considered, were the closure of the Williamson Art Gallery in Oxton, the closure of Europa Pools in Birkenhead and the closure of public toilets.

Additionally, three-weekly bin collections and ending school crossing patrols across the borough were considered.

Europa Pools, Birkenhead

Under scrutiny were the Labour Group budget proposals. Labour councillor for Liscard and Wirral Council leader, Janette Williamson said that the Labour ‘will not accept closures of our beloved services’ such as museums and swimming pools.

This means that under Labour proposals, the Williamson Art Gallery and Eurpoa Pools would remain open. However, in order to assist in balancing the books, the Fun Pool would close .

Additionally, school crossing patrols would remain and public toilets would not close and bin collections would remain fortnightly.

All proposals were fully costed and would look at increasing revenue from other sources, such as for example, modest increases in the prices of bin replacements and also from corporate sponsorship and from efficiency savings.

Asset sales would further reduce the budget gap, but due to commercial sensitivity, the details of particular assets could not be released as this could adversley affect the sale price of the assets.

Under the proposals, Council funding for the funding of the Hive Youth Zone would be reduced from £400k to £300k, but councillors would look to corporate sponsorship to fill the gap, in addition to fundraising organised in-house by the Hive.

Leader of the Green Group and Birkenhead and Tranmere Green Party Councillor, Pat Cleary, said that Labour provided a ‘constructive presentation’, but had some criticisms and concerns.

Leader of the Conservative Group and West Kirby & Thurstaston Conservative Councillor Jeff Green said that there was “much in it [the proposals] that we [the Conservative Group] would agree with, but there are elements that could be improved, so well done on that.”

Cllr Thomas Usher, Labour councillor for Liscard said, “In spite of the government not making good on its promises to cover the costs of Covid, and continuing with austerity policies, we’ve put forward a budget that pays care workers the living wage, protects services that residents value such as the Williamson Art Gallery and Europa Pools and avoids any mandatory redundancies.

“We put forward a budget that doesn’t include a service shutting ofr a mandatory job loss. No other party supported this vision for the borough.”

Janette Williamson, Leader of Wirral Council said, “We’ve listened to the views of our residents and acknowledge their concerns about some of the options in the budget consultation. We have therefore proposed changes that we think will greatly benefit the physical and mental health of or residents.

We are passionate about ensuring that swimming facilities at Europa Pool are kept open and that our residents can continue to enjoy our golf courses as well as the fantastic range of events and displays on offer at the Williamson Art Gallery. We also acknowledge the amazing effort of our council workforce and our proposals also mean that no compulsory redundancies will be necessary.”

In a close vote, using the casting vote of Cllr Williamson, the committee voted to put the Labour Group propsals forward for approval to the full council on 1 March 2021.

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