Wirral Council in race against 2026 regeneration funding spend deadline

Wirral Council said it can’t guarantee it will deliver its £73.5m investment plan for Birkenhead and New Ferry in full.

On 12 December, the local authority said an investment plan submitted to the government earlier this year had been approved. The plan outlines how the local authority plans to spend the money by March 2026 as part of an investment pilot that will give Wirral greater control over how it spends millions of pounds.

Money is expected to go towards projects like proposals to create a new Birkenhead Market in a former Argos, a new U-boat museum, new venues and community hubs, a new high street for Birkenhead, and improving New Ferry town centre following the explosion there.

At an audit and risk committee meeting hours after the announcement, questions were raised by councillor Paula Basnett about oversight of the council’s ability to deliver all 23 projects and pressures on the council’s legal, finance, and planning departments as well as those working in regeneration.

If the council doesn’t spend the money by 2026, it risks losing that money which will go back to the government. A new partnership is expected to be established to help mitigate that risk.

In response, council finance director Matthew Bennett said the council was looking at getting a delivery plan in place, adding, “Obviously there will be budgetary issues along the way in terms of whether we actually have sufficient funding to deliver all of that program as well given inflationary pressures and the like.”

He added any risks to projects would be reported back, adding, “I can’t give you a guarantee that we will deliver that project programme in full by 2026. I wish I could say that but that will probably be a bit bold of me at this point in time.”

The council’s internal auditors are also looking into how regeneration schemes are managed and said they will update councillors regularly.

At the meeting, councillors also approved the council’s accounts for 2022-23 as well as a report by independent auditors Grant Thornton where a number of recommendations had been made about changes to the financial records and managing debt levels going forward. Council officers said the local authority had low levels of debt compared to other councils but this was expected to increase next year to help fund regeneration projects.

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