“There are no easy answers” to close the budget gap this year, the leader of Wirral Council said today.
Wirral Council is moving ahead with setting a budget for the next financial year, 2022-23, as the borough continues to battle the impact of COVID-19.
But the authority faces a potential gap in excess of £30m, under the latest prudent forecast, between funding (from council tax, fees and grants) and the cost of providing services at the current level.
As part of the budget process the authority’s Policy and Resources committee will be asked to approve plans to ask for the views of residents, businesses, and all those with a stake in the future of Wirral, about what council services matter to them most to help develop the budget plan.
Leader of Wirral Council, Cllr Janette Williamson, said, “We are preparing to start a borough-wide consultation on the budget for the next financial year 2022-23. As we hopefully move on from the worst of the pandemic we need to keep our focus on ensuring the council is in a financially sound position.
“To achieve this, we need to set a legal, balanced budget which allows us to continue to provide the vital frontline services residents depend upon, as well as protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities and pressing ahead with much-needed regeneration. However, what is already clear is we cannot assume we will continue to work in the same ways we always have done, and as a result must take every opportunity to re-think how services can be provided to improve value for money for council taxpayers.
“At the moment councillors and council officers are working hard to look at what options we have for making savings, generating income, operating more efficiently and improving our financial position in other ways, including by bringing more revenue into the council. This is a difficult process, with tough decisions ahead. We have undertaken similar challenges before, however, if there were any simple options they have been taken in previous years. So I know there are no easy answers and we will face some hard choices in the coming months as we work out how best to close the budget gap.
“I can reassure you that no decisions have been made on the budget, and this is the moment we need you to tell us what your priorities are, what services matter most to you, and where you believe the council should be focusing its efforts. To make the best budget we can for the borough we need as many people as possible, with different backgrounds, ages and views, to tell us what matters and have your say on the budget for the coming year.”
In the meantime, the council has already been working on short and long-term measures to keep costs down and bring more income to the authority. In areas such as adult social care, which faces increasing demand for services, these range from supporting development of extra-care housing to help older people stay in their own accommodation for longer, therefore delaying their need for expensive residential care, to better use of technology and remote monitoring to enable more people to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions.
Elsewhere the authority has been bringing in more preventative work, such as in Children’s Services, to try to reduce the need for repeated interventions for troubled families, and broader efforts to modernise and evolve the services right across the authority to meet the borough’s changing needs.
As well as improving, re-thinking and updating the services it provides to residents the authority is also modernising and improving its ‘back office’ systems to increase efficiency and ensure it can better deliver the services residents expect.
A special meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee takes place on October 25. If approved, the public consultation will take six weeks, and is due to take place from 2nd November to 19th December. Full details of how to take part in the consultation will be made available closer to the start. A report outlining the outcome of the consultation along with budget proposals for 2022-23 will be brought forward in early 2022.