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Battle lines drawn as Wirral Council's budget day looms
WIRRAL’S ruling Labour group is under increasing pressure to think again about rejecting a £1.3m Government grant to freeze council tax.
Both the Tories and Liberal Democrats are set to oppose Labour proposals to hike the council tax by 2% at budget council tonight.
But the amendments put forward by both parties for a zero increase rely on taking up the Government’s offer.
Spending reductions totalling £49m are set to be approved on the night, and the meeting could be stormy with anti-cuts protetstors expected to make their voices heard.
Tory group leader Cllr Jeff Green said: “In difficult economic times residents of Wirral must be supported - now is not the time to raise council tax.
“We welcome the government’s offer of financial support to the council to freeze council tax for Wirral residents and regret that the current administration is recommending the rejection of this £1.3m Government grant.
“We are proposing to utilise this Government grant to reverse the cabinet’s proposal of a two per cent increase to ensure that there is no increase in the Wirral council tax for 2013/14.”
He added: “We do not believe that the council’s budget should be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable people in the community as we therefore oppose proposed closure of an adult day centre.”
Lib Dem spokesman Cllr Stuart Kelly was critical, however, of a Tory move to increase council balances from £13.6m to £14.lm.
He said: “The Conservatives have made resources available to save the day centres under threat, but I would ask why they have chosen to establish yet another reserve at a time when we have record balances of £13.6m (the highest balances Wirral has ever seen) and other reserves of £53m.
“Squirreling money away in the face of youth closures, reductions in community grants and the garden tax, are the wrong priority and show limited imagination and ambition for the people of Wirral.”
Councillor Kelly continued: “In its budget Labour has got the balance totally wrong, heaping cuts and reductions on the most vulnerable in society.”
He said the sending back of the £1.3m grant and putting up council tax would have “a disproportionate impact on people on low incomes.”
He pointed out that Labour’s budget plans included closure of a day centre – with Moreton, Heswall or Eastham under threat; the closure of 11 youth centres; a charge for the collection of garden waste; and the slashing of grants to organisations like the CAB.
Council leader Phil Davies said: “The problem with the freeze grant is that it is only for a two year period – it doesn’t get added to the base budget. In two years time the grant is taken away and we have to find an extra £1.3m on top of the £109m we already have to find.
“Whereas a 2% tax increase for two years will generate £2.6m we can invest in front line services. In line with many other authorities we have decided it isn’t sensible to accept the freeze grant for this reason.”
Councillor Davies added: “ The only reason we are having to make these cuts is because of the policy being pursued by the coalition government of slashing council funding.
“It is rich of Cllr Green and Cllr Kelly to criticise when it is their government forcing us to do this. I can only respond to the hand I have been dealt by the government.”
Even if the opposition groups unite, they will still have insufficient numbers to defeat Labour, which holds a clear eight-seat majority.