THE threat of strikes has been averted after Wirral councillors voted to give enhanced redundancy payments to hundreds of staff who face losing their jobs.

Council chief executive Graham Burgess had strongly recommended the authority reduces its current pay-off packages down to statutory levels.

But when the ruling cabinet met last night, leader Cllr Phil Davies felt this was a step too far and offered a package to those taking redundancy worth 1.8 times their salary up to 54 weeks.

This is down on the previous terms and conditions of 2.2 times salary up to 66 weeks, but more generous than statutory severance.

The move was seen as “a positive step” by public sector unions as it also came with a promise of avoiding compulsory redundancies.

More than 200 anti-cuts protesters arrived to make their feelings known to cabinet councillors, forcing the meeting to be moved from a committee room to the civic hall at Wallasey.

Councillor Davies said: “This administration is committed to avoiding compulsory redundancies as far as possible.

“We need well-motivated people to be a high-performing council.

“But in the light of the council’s extremely difficult financial position, cabinet cannot commit to discretionary costs without identifying where the funding will come from.”

He said discussions with the Government over how the cost of severance can be met led him to understand the council can use £5m to cover the redundancy bill.

Mr Burgess warned that while Whitehall officials indicated the council could use its capital receipts to pay for redundancies, this arrangement was still to be confirmed in writing.

Joe Taylor, branch secretary of Wirral Unison, told cabinet: “I think it’s a positive move. The posts will now go on a voluntary basis.

“If the council was to go for compulsory redundancies, I would have to ballot members for industrial action.

“We have moved away from that now.”

Up to 700 staff could lose their jobs as the authority seeks to find ways to reduce its spending by £77m over this financial year.

The council has sent out more than 3,000 letters to workers informing them their positions are on the "at risk" list.

Last night's cost-cutting was the first phase of a three-year programme that will radically reduce spending by more than £100m.