Community protests against cuts at Woodchurch Leisure Centre

Central government funding to Wirral Council has dropped by around 85% between 2010 and 2020. Income from other sources such as business rates has compensated to a degree, but the overall revenue of the council was still 25% lower in 2020 than it was in 2010. 

For the financial year 2010/11, Wirral Council income from central government, council tax and rates was £450m, adjusted for inflation. Ten years later for the financial year 2020/21, and again adjusted for inflation, Wirral Council income was £338m – a huge drop of £112m.

This means that Wirral Council has a seemingly impossible task of balancing its books whilst maintaining services, such as libraries and sports facilities.

Wirral Council is far from unique with regards to cuts in income from central government and many local authorities are faced with the very same conundrum regarding maintaining services. Bristol needs to find savings of £23m, Liverpool and Lancashire each £43m, Thurrock in Essex £34m, Nottingham £28m – the list goes on.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that reducing central government funding to the areas most in need is completely at odds with government claims that austerity is over and that the Conservative’s policy of “levelling-up” simply isn’t happening.

Last Thursday (27 January) Woodchurch residents held a protest against the closure of their leisure centre attracting media attention from BBC News North West, Radio Merseyside and birkenhead.news.

MP For Wirral West, Margaret Greenwood is one of the many MPs and councillors fighting hard to save local amenities in Wirral.

Our reporter spoke to MP for Wirral West, Margaret Greenwood, who said, “The Woodchurch Lesure Centre is incredibly important because it is right in the centre of Wirral and serves a wide area. It’s used by a wide range of people and it is particularly important because people use the pool to improve their health, relax, and build their strength.

“It is important for children to learn to swim – swimming is now on the national curriculum.” It isn’t just young people who benefit, The Labour MP continued, “I know that a lot of older people use it, also people with mental health problems use it and it’s very good for mental wellbeing, so it’s massively important to have a resource like this.

“One of the big problems if it got pulled down, you just don’t get it back. And that’s, that’s the big issue.”

“This is a direct result of government cuts from the Conservative government over the last 10 or 11 years. What they want to do is dismantle, rundown, and close down our public services that are so important to people.”

The Wirral West MP concluded by saying, “I, along with other Wirral MPs, have written to Michael Gove about this and we’ve called for emergency funding to save this situation.”

Sam Dooley has been a Woodchurch resident for 70 years. Now aged 74, he walks with the aid of a stick. Sam relies on the swimming pool at the leisure centre for exercise. “The only thing I can do really is swim”, he told us. He went on to say that shutting down a local lifeline for exercise, relaxation, and socialising would be a great loss, not only for the estate, but for other areas nearby.

Talking of the Woodchurch Leisure Centre, MP for Birkenhead, Mick Whitley said, “The centre provides our young people with an invaluable opportunity to socialise, have fun, and get fit. Its closure risks undermining the important work done in recent years to improve the health of young people in Birkenhead.”

Speaking in Business Questions in Parliament, where MPs get the chance to raise issues that they believe the government should set aside time for MPs to debate, Margaret Greenwood called on the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to provide time for MPs to debate the impact of central government cuts on the provision of libraries and leisure centres. (See video in tweet below.) 

As it stands, no final decisions have been made on the proposed cuts, which will be decided at the end of February.

There is a petition (signed by over 4,000 people at the time of writing) to show support for saving the Woodchurch Leisure Centre. You can sign the petition by visiting https://www.change.org/p/wirral-metropolitan-borough-council-save-woodchurch-leisure-centre

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