Wirral Council leader asks chancellor to return diverted money

Wirral Council Leader, Janette Williamson has written to Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nadhim Zahawi asking for the money diverted from Wirral to be returned, and for an additional £3.3m, equivalent to the anticipated council tax increase for the coming year, so that the council can freeze bills for all residents.

Last week former chancellor, Rishi Sunak, admitted to changing public funding formulas to ensure more prosperous towns receive “the funding they deserve” by diverting funding from “deprived urban areas.”

Video footage was published last Friday by the New Statesman Magazine that was filmed on 29 July at a meeting of Conservative Party members in Tunbridge Wells, a relatively affluent area in south east England.

The video showed Mr Sunak saying, “I managed to start changing the funding formulas, to make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserve because we inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone.

“I started the work of undoing that.”

Labour’s Lisa Nandy said, “Rishi Sunak is openly boasting that he fixed the rules to funnel taxpayers’ money to rich Tory shires.

“This is our money. It should be spent fairly and where it’s most needed – not used as a bribe to Tory members. Talk about showing your true colours.”

In her letter (in full below) Cllr Williamson said that Wirral Council had central government funding cuts of £224 million since 2010.

Following is the full letter that Cllr Williamson today sent to Mr Zahawi:

Dear Mr Zahawi,

As the leader of Wirral Council, I am writing to you today declaring a cost of living emergency in Wirral and to ask you for funding to help our residents as a matter of urgency.

This week we learned that the man vying to be the next prime minister, Rishi Sunak, deliberately diverted funding needed desperately by people here in Wirral to affluent places such as Royal Tunbridge Wells. 

This is at a time when the people of this borough are living through what can only be described as a cost of living emergency. 

We are trying to mitigate that emergency as best we can. But 12 years of government cutbacks have meant that just as the worst cost of living squeeze in decades has arrived at our door, we are in the most difficult position in terms of being able to protect people from its ravages. 

Former chancellor George Osborne used to say he was ‘fixing the roof while the sun is shining’. But the cutbacks to vital local government services were akin to stripping the roof while a storm gathered on the horizon. 

You might argue the emergency we currently find ourselves in was unforeseen. But what could have been foreseen was how difficult it would become for councils to deal with turns for the worse in people’s living conditions, given how they have been denuded of funding in successive budgets. 

We have lost £224 million since 2010, and as a result, the powers we have at our disposal to make a difference in people’s lives have been greatly undermined. 

This week I have been speaking to families who cannot afford to put food on the table, workers who are already having to miss meals because their wages don’t last until payday, and parents who are serving up cold meals because they are worried about putting the cooker on. That’s before we get to the older people who are terrified they won’t be able to keep the lights on this winter, let alone the heating.

We are an area with strong communities. People do what they can to help each other, and we have brilliant council teams and voluntary organisations. But thanks to a lack of government funding, these services are already stretched to breaking point already, and the residents I speak to daily tell me they have no way to budget for the sharp increase in energy bills and food prices predicted this autumn.

This is having a detrimental impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and causing human distress and suffering.

Wirral Foodbank supported 8,765 people between September last year and June this year, an 11% increase from last year. This included 2,986 children. Many of those attending food banks here are working, yet they don’t have the funds to meet their basic needs.

People I speak to daily fear they will be unable to keep up with rent or mortgage payments this winter. They are facing the genuine possibility of losing their homes.

And you must understand that we, as a council, are doing everything in our power to help our communities. In our budget, we voted to turn down the heating in council buildings and put the £113,000 saved into a ringfenced pot to help our most vulnerable residents as energy prices began to soar.

We have ensured that the poorest households receive help with their Council Tax bills by putting nearly £1m into our annual budget – but it is simply not enough.

Over the summer, we have been distributing £3 million to help children over the holidays, with schools and colleges giving families essential food to take home before the summer break.

Many families are still collecting regular supplies of food and other essentials, available throughout the summer in the form of early years food and essential hampers. Many of these children are not even of school age, yet their families are already struggling for food.

We had given out what we had, but it wasn’t enough.

As a matter of urgency, I am asking you to review the funding formulas and make sure Wirral gets the money it needs to help communities through the worst financial hardship in a generation.

We need this funding to help our residents through this cost-of-living emergency. The current funding is only just scratching the surface. We need more, and we need it now. 

I am also asking for £3.3m, equivalent to the anticipated council tax increase for the coming year so that we can freeze bills for all residents.

Because as bills go up all around, struggling residents simply cannot put their hands in their pockets again this coming year to cover a council tax increase.

If the government were to review its funding formula and provide that sum alone, it would make a significant difference. And above all, it would show the family who cannot afford to cook their food, the workers who miss meals as payday looms and those who will not otherwise be able to pay their fuel bills that this government is serious about helping those who need it most through this cost of living emergency.

I know there are plans for the future, but my residents need help now. Promises will not put food on the table or electricity in the meter.

Yours Sincerely

Cllr Janette Williamson

Council Leader for Wirral 

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