Local MPs have issued a stark warning to Michael Gove about the funding crisis facing Wirral Council. The four Wirral MPs have called for urgent financial support for the cash-strapped council.
Mick Whitley, Angela Eagle, Margaret Greenwood, and Alison McGovern met with the Levelling Up Secretary in Westminster on Tuesday 29 March to warn him that millions of pounds worth of cuts to frontline spending in Wirral will devastate the life chances of their constituents.
Wirral Council is facing a funding shortfall of £18.29 million. A raft of proposals were recently agreed by the council, including the closure of 9 libraries.
The MPs told Mr Gove that cuts to frontline services will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest and that it was time for the government to accept responsibility for a “crisis of its own making”. Since 2010, the council has lost more than £220 million in direct government grants.
Speaking in a debate in Parliament, Wirral West MP Margaret Greenwood said, “The Government have a choice: they can either continue down their current path of squeezing local authorities of every resource possible, or they can take another path and invest in people and communities.”
Wallasey MP Angela Eagle highlighted the impact of council tax rises alongside these cuts, saying that despite “the decimation of services, increased charges for the use of what local facilities remain, and a mass sell-off of local authority buildings…residents in Wallasey will continue being asked to pay more [. . .] for lower levels of services.”
The MPs also cautioned that cuts would jeopardise plans for the redevelopment of Wirral. In a joint statement to birkenhead.news, the MPs said, “from the redevelopment of Rock Ferry waterfront, the East Float Wirral Waters Development, Seacombe Corridor Masterplan, and the ambitious regeneration of Birkenhead town centre, there are positive developments coming forward in Wirral thanks to the hard work of local councillors and Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram.
“However, huge cuts by central government to the funding of public services threaten the quality of life of many in the borough at the very same time that we are facing a cost of living crisis and risk stifling the economic recovery that we all want to see.”
Mick Whitley, whose constituency of Birkenhead has been awarded £144 million from various sources such as the Future High Streets and Levelling Up funds, said, “after four painful decades of our town being ignored by Westminster, we’re finally getting some of the investment we’ve long deserved. But what’s the point in having a brand-new town centre if my constituents can’t afford to enjoy it?
“Tax hikes and cuts to frontline services are making every day a struggle for my constituents. It’s time the Government stopped giving with one hand and taking away with the other.”
Michael Gove was recently criticised for failing to address widespread concerns about looming cuts on a visit to Birkenhead. Only days before, he had unveiled the long-awaited Levelling Up white paper. This was long on words but short on any new money and was roundly condemned for failing to deliver on the Government’s lofty promise to “level up” left-behind communities.
Labour’s Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy accused Ministers of pursuing “regeneration on the cheap.”
The four Wirral MPs said that while the Council had no choice but to approve the recent budget, it was still not too late for the Government to bring forward emergency bridging support which would avoid redundancies and “catastrophic” damage to essential services.
They are also calling for the upcoming Fair Funding Review to be genuinely fair, and to ensure that any new long-term funding settlement takes into account the particular challenges facing Wirral – including an ageing population and high levels of deprivation.
Image: (L-R) MP for Birkenhead, Mick Whitley – MP for Wallasey, Angela Eagle – MP for Wirral South, Alison McGovern – MP for Wirral West, Margaret Greenwood