Wirral Council budget to go forward for final approval on 27 February

Councillors have rejected plans to close libraries, playgroups, and leisure facilities at yesterday evening’s Wirral Council meeting.

The Policy and Resources Committee meeting took place in front of a packed room in Wallasey Town Hall, Seacombe.

At the cross-party committee meeting, councillors were discussing whether to give approval to a budget proposed by the Labour party, which is the largest party in Wirral.

Every local council is legally obliged to set a balanced budget. A balanced budget is simply when revenues are equal to or greater than total expenses.

County Councils Network (CCN) has said that; “Only one in five of England’s largest councils are confident they can meet their legal obligation of setting a balanced budget next year, with a new survey revealing the extent of planned service reductions due to soaring inflationary pressures.”

Council leaders across the country warned that “everything is on the table” in reducing local services according to research carried out by CCN. Additionally, CCN found that “highly valued everyday services would also see reductions.”

Wirral is not in a unique situation. Around the country, many local authorities are struggling to produce a balanced budget.

This week it was reported that most English top-tier councils are having to raise council tax by 4.99%. Conservative-led Croydon Council has applied for special dispensation to increase its bills for residents by 15%, while Thurrock is looking to increase by 10%, again, another Conservative authority. 

Campaigners fighting to save Wallasey Central Library, pictured at the Town Hall

Council Leader, Janette Williamson, introduced the budget and said, “This has been one of the most difficult years I have known in my 11 years as a councillor.

“Of every pound we used to have to spend, we now have just 40 pence. That’s £225 million in cuts from central government, just here in Wirral. It’s not just us, though. Local authorities everywhere are on the brink of collapse. All because a Tory government is wedded to a destructive ideology of austerity and our local Tory party hellbent on talking Wirral down, resorting to personal attacks and negativity.

“Yet here, we are told by their party representatives in Wirral that we have more than enough money if only we spend it wisely. Like their new deputy chairman – 30p Lee – they are living in cloud cuckoo land. Their own councils can’t manage on what they are given, and let alone the devastating cuts we have had to face here.”

Closing the introduction, Cllr Williamson said, “I know time is short and we have a lot to get through tonight, but more than anything I’d like to thank all those residents who have taken time to contact me and to show me how much you value the services in your community.

“Labour has and will keep fighting on your behalf. So, I as leader of both the Council and the Labour Group present this our balanced budget here tonight and ask that other parties vote in the best interests of all our residents and save the services they love.”

Cllr Janette Williamson, Labour leader (second left) and Liscard and Cllr Paul Stuart, Labour Seacombe (right) with Friends of Wallasey Central Library 

The plans to close libraries in Beechwood, Eastham, Greasby, Leasowe, Moreton, Rock Ferry, St James (Birkenhead), Seacombe, and Upton, as well as relocating Birkenhead and Wallasey Central Libraries, have been abandoned.

Additionally, closures of the Addy, Gautby Road, and Beechwood playschemes, as well as the Hive and Pilgrim Street, have been ruled out. Moreover, proposals to shut down two swimming pools have been scrapped.

Now that the budget proposals have been agreed, it is now scheduled for a final decision on February 27.

It is expected that all councillors will discuss the proposals on that date, and the budget is expected to be approved, as the Liberal Democrats and Greens, who had voted with Labour to advance the budget, are likely to provide their support.

Main image: Leasowe Labour Cllr Angie Davies, with campaigners fighting to save the Addy, pictured at Wallasey Town Hall

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