Wirral council tax to rise by nearly 5%

Council tax will rise by nearly 5% in Wirral with the bill for the average household going up by nearly £90.

The rise is being brought in as part of Wirral Council’s revenue budget which will fund day-to-day services over the next financial year from April 2024 to March 2025. The rise in council tax will come into effect at the beginning of April.

According to the local authority, the rise is needed to help avoid cuts to frontline services and it was agreed unanimously at a budget council meeting on 26 February. At the meeting, the council’s Labour leader Paul Stuart said they had had to make tough financial decisions over the last year but the balanced budget represented a “significant step forward” for the council.

Wirral Council is expected to raise £8.61m by increasing the amount of Council Tax people pay by 4.99%, the maximum allowed by the government without a referendum with 2% going towards adult social care which is one of the biggest costs to the local authority’s budget. This rise will see the average Band D household’s Council Tax increase by nearly £90.

For those who live in properties in band A, their annual bill will rise by at least £59.83. For those in bands B, C, D, E, F, G, and H respectively, their bills will rise by £69.8, £79.77, £89.74, £109.69, £129.62, £149.57, and £179.49. This is before any rises for Merseyside’s Policy and Crime Commissioner, Fire and Rescue, and the Liverpool City Region Mayoral precepts are taken into account.

In Wirral, a number of exemptions are being extended and people can apply for council tax relief in cases of extreme hardship, care leavers and properties being renovated get a discount.

According to a report presented to councillors at a 13 February Policy and Resources committee, the rise is needed “in order to secure future streams of funding that will moderate cuts to key services in the future” with every 1% contributing £1.7m to council services. Cllr Stuart at the budget meeting said the government’s funding settlement relied on councils agreeing to raise Council Tax and the move was endorsed by all political parties.

However, when it announced its funding for councils, the UK government said it is “continuing to protect local taxpayers from excessive council tax increases,” adding, “Local authorities must be mindful of cost-of-living pressures when taking any decisions relating to council tax.”

On top of the Council Tax rise, Wirral Council will also be looking to save £12.39m over the next financial year by increasing fees and charges, cutting business inefficiencies and changing how services are provided, but no services will be stopped. It will also be reviewing the future use of the Floral Pavilion theatre.

Labour council leader Paul Stuart said, “When I became leader last May, I said we must be honest and realistic with our residents about the challenges we face when developing a plan to navigate the difficulties of the present but to seize opportunities for the future of Wirral.

“We have made difficult decisions since May and more will come. However, I believe that passing this budget tonight will mark a significant milestone in prioritising the needs of all the residents of Wirral.”

He also called on an independent panel overseeing the local authority to go now it had agreed to set a balanced budget. The panel said the council had made significant progress and it expects to stand down later this year.

Wirral’s opposition party the Conservatives praised the local authority’s current leadership, arguing cross-party negotiations had been more productive and the budget being agreed by different political parties represented a positive shift for the council. Conservative deputy leader Cllr Lesley Rennie said: “Wirral Council has changed and it certainly has changed for the better.”

While Conservative leader Cllr Jeff Green criticised past Labour administrations for financial mismanagement and pointed to previous reports into the local authority’s finances, he praised steps taken by the council since. On supporting the council tax rise, he said: “If we are to increase council tax we must be able to demonstrate that every pound taken from the public’s pockets is spent wisely and the public can see the services operated by the council have a tangible and visible impact on their lives.”

As part of its plans for the next financial year, Wirral Council said it also plans to spend over £2.2m funding improvements across Wirral with a “visible impact”. What this will be spent on is expected to be published in March and the local authority was urged to “get it off the ground quickly and we can tackle the things that people complain to us about the most.”

The budget was also supported by Wirral’s Green Party and the Liberal Democrats. Green co-leader Pat Cleary praised the budget for its policies on the real living wage, compulsory redundancies, and protecting public services.

However, he said, “The pressure on the council to do more with less is relentless,” criticising “the government’s failure to reform local authority finance and to use the unfair council tax system to fund the ever-increasing costs of social care.”

Why not follow birkenhead.news on Facebook, Twitter, and Threads? You can also send story ideas or letters to the editor to news@birkenhead.news