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Hundreds hear Wirral cabinet's 'challenging' budget recommendations
HUNDREDS gathered at Wallasey Town Hall tonight to hear Wirral cabinet's budget recommendations for the next financial year.
Described by council leader Phil Davies as 'the most challenging ever' for the authority, they follow a cut in funding from the coalition government, requiring the authority to find savings of £109 million by 2016.
The recommendations agreed by councillors during the heated town hall meeting follow on from a public consultation exercise 'What Really Matters'. They will be ratified during a meeting of Wirral's full council on March 5.
It adds up to a spending reduction of £42million for the next year (2013/14) and means a two per cent increase in Council tax, the first rise in three years.
Among the proposals are five days unpaid leave for all staff, the holding of elections every four years, saving £275,000, and a review of the number of meetings and committees held.
Street lighting will also be reduced.
Also on the table is the closure of one day centre for adults with learning and physical disabilites, moving its users to other centres. It would also see the closure of Sylvandale care home in Bromborough.
Demonstrators, who had marched to the town hall from Seacombe Ferry to make their views known, said this proposal would have a devastating affect on some of the borough's most vulnerable people.
One furious campaigner broke down in tears as she told councillors it would be impossible to care for her daughter without support from the day centre she attends.
It was also proposed that no children's centre, library or One Stop Shop will close.
Pensioners will continue to receive a discount on their council tax bills and £100,000 will be set aside for advice services on the impact of benefit cuts.
Also approved by cabinet is the investment of £1m of capital funding in a new state-of-the art Youth Zone and £300,000 in an innovative project to tackle poverty led by Birkenhead MP Frank Field. Investment of £50,000 will be used to enhance road safety around schools.
The 'POPIN' advice service for older people will continue.
A decision on the closure of Birkenhead dog kennels has been deferred in order to allow the Friends of Birkenhead Kennels to submit an alternative proposal for consideration. Maintenance of parks, beaches and bowling greens will also be reduced.
There will also be rationalising in provision for people with learning disabilities and young people, provision of less generous standards in some of Streetscene services and an increasing in charges for services.
The authority's sponsorship of Tranmere Rovers Football Club will end.
A government grant to freeze council tax has also been rejected, as it would mean having to find an extra £1.3m saving when the grant ends in 2015/16.
Council Leader Phil Davies told the Globe: "It's been a really challenging budget. I think it's the most difficult budget we have had to set, certainly since I've been councillor.
"The cuts from government have been unprecedented, equating to a third of our budget.
"So, it's been really difficult to ensure that we set a legal budget, balance the books, but still try to protect frontline services, jobs some of the most vulnerable members of the community.
"I have been very clear that those with the broadest shoulders must bear the greatest burden which is why this budget begins with reducing the costs of running the Council.”
Cllr Davies continued: "Some of the savings we have proposed will be unpopular and the decisions we have made have been difficult.
"We will continue to fight for a fairer deal for Wirral from the coalition government and I call upon the Leaders of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to do the same."
A Council Tax increase for a Band D property amounts to an increase of 48p per week.
Wirral conservative group leader Jeff Green urged his party to reject the budget proposals when council meets on March 5.
He said: "I'm shocked that cabinet has chosen to send the £1.3m the Government had given the council to keep Council Tax at zero, back.
"I'm disgusted that the budget has chosen to tax some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
"I remember as council leader coming under pressure from officers to try and reduce the number of adult training centres.
"I always resisted that, because they do an amazing job. Carers are incredibly good and provide a great service.
"What we'll do now is look at the cuts that are recommended and where potential savings can be made and see what can be done to protect the most vulnerable in society.
"They clearly haven't listened to the services. I'll be supporting those people who are completely reliant on the services."
Stephen McGreal, whose daughter Nicola uses an adult day centre in Moreton said: "A lot of people who use these centres go out and work ibn the local community.
"If centres like this were to close and users had to go to other centres, they could be ripped out of their communities. Their way of independent living would be lost."
Addressing cabinet, Joe Taylor Wirral Unison branch secretary, said: "What really matters is the most vulnerable people in our society."
Cllr Davies said: “These options are in no way designed to remove respite or day care services from vulnerable people.
"Nobody receiving either of these services at the moment will have them taken away, either now or in the future.
"My pledge to all Wirral residents is that no one who requires these services will have to do without them.
"While the building a service is delivered from may change, the standard of that service will be absolutely maintained, if not improved."
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