Wirral Council leader Phil Davies spoke today of a “glimmer of hope” on Wirral’s multi-million pound budget shortfall following talks with a Government minister.
He met with parliamentary under secretary of state Nick Boles to discuss the borough's predicament as the authority prepares to slash up to £109m from spending over the next three years.
Councillor Davies acknowledged: “Clearly the government are not going to give back millions of pounds; but they were amenable to looking at what I would term ‘flexibilities’ around the budget.
“I am encouraged that the minister both recognised the scale of the budget challenge facing Wirral Council and by his commitment to allow his civil servants to work with us to explore what flexibilities could be made available to us.”
The council leader explained Merseyside Waste Authority had significant reserves that it wanted to give back to local authorities, which would return around £5m to Wirral.
But, he said, because of current budget ruling peculiar to Merseyside, the council might find itself in the “ludicrous position” of having to hold a referendum on freezing council tax before it could benefit from the offer.
The local authority is also pressing for further flexibility in dealing with “bad debts” of around £6m - mainly relating to adult social care.
Councillor Davies said: “These flexibilities would definitely help with the budget challenge. They would not be sufficiently generous that we wouldn’t need to make a significant amount of savings. “But the minister was very sympathetic.”
Councillor Davies led an all-party delegation at the meeting, which was organised by Wirral West Tory MP Esther McVey.
Tory group leader Cllr Jeff Green said: “I was impressed that the minister took the time to listen to our plans to resolve our current financial problems.
“I was equally impressed by his willingness to ask his officials to look into our request for flexibility as we seek to restore stability to the council’s finances.”
Councillor Tom Harney, leader of Wirral Liberal Democrats, commented: “Mr Boles appeared to have a good understanding of our predicament and I am optimistic we will work with his fellow ministers to find a way forward.”