UPDATED: Cuts in services and claims of Government unfairness as Wirral Council reveals its budget (From Wirral Globe)
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UPDATED: Cuts in services and claims of Government unfairness as Wirral Council reveals its budget
WITH the whistles of trade union protestors outside the town hall ringing in his ears, Wirral Council's leader tonight presented his budget for the coming financial year.
It is a mixed bag of measures and includes some areas of growth, but its principal aim is to reduce overall spending by £27.5m.
Wirral's budget is based on an unconfirmed assumption the borough's council tax will increase by 2% from next April.
Labour leader of the council, Cllr Phil Davies, explained to his cabinet that he is waiting to be told precise details of the financial settlement from Government before setting any tax rises.
Conservative opposition group leader Cllr Jeff Green said Labour is "piling on the misery" for council tax-payers and should have "pulled out all the stops" to prevent another increase.
Councillor Davies said the proposals have been made against a backdrop of "draconian" central government cuts.
He warned standards in some services will need to be reduced - and the council must become a smaller organisation.
"However, we remain determined to protect our most vulnerable residents and have ensured the majority of savings come from improving our back-office processes and the way the council is managed and governed," he said.
Tonight's package included £17.3m of savings generated by "completely remodelling" the way the authority operates.
A major part of the shake-up will be merging back-office services with neighbouring authority Cheshire West and Chester Council, cutting costs by more than £7m.
This could result in around 50 redundancies at management level.
Terms and conditions governing severance packages are to change. - one of the reasons trade unionists were protesting at the door.
They are also far from happy about cuts to public services provided by their members, or reducing the number of full-time union officials on the council payroll, realising £100,000 of savings.
People aged 70 and over will see their council tax discount reduced from 7.5% to 5%, and the discount will now only apply to homes in band ranges A-to-D.
Also included in the budget were some ominous-sounding statements about "reducing the financial burden" to taxpayers of New Brighton's recently revamped Floral Pavilion Theatre.
And the future the borough's principal public cultural centre, the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, seems far from certain as volunteers will be asked to take over.
But there was some good news amid the gloom.
A range of measures valued at £7.6m will be made over the next three years designed to support pensioners, young people with learning disabilities and special guardians.
Around £1m will be spent over the next two years on improving early intervention for vulnerable adults, particularly older people.
After thousands objected through petiitons and the council's "What Really Matters" consultation to the introduction of car parking charges at Wirral country parks, the idea has been scrapped.
A major reduction of maintenance of bowling greens, parks, public gardens and beaches will not now go ahead, allowing their up-keep by the council to continue.
And there will be no more black-outs on major roads; only every alternate street light will be turned off instead of the present total shutdown.
Summing up, Cllr Davies said: "By the end of 2016, the Tory-led Government will have cut Wirral Council's funding by more than 50 per cent.
"It has done this in a way which is blatantly unfair to deprived areas of the north: Wirral has lost £109m - or £152 per person - compared to just £2 per person in wealthy North Dorset.
"The blatant unfairness of this is something I will continue to campaign against. Wirral needs a fair deal."
Councillor Green was unimpressed: "Under Phil Davies, Wirral households have seen the cost of living go up by £295 in the last year through council tax rises and other 'stealth' increases.
"Now, as usual, Labour are preparing to hit local people in the pocket with yet another tax hike.
"Setting a budget is all about making informed choices.
"We know there must be reductions to meet the massive national deficit, but Wirral Labour group has yet again decided to supplement its income through a tax rise.
"The whole show tonight was yet another exercise in Wirral Council spin."
Oxton Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Kelly condemned cabinet members after they indicated they were prepared to pull out of funding school crossing patrols.
Councillor Kelly said: "This cut was well hidden under the headline of ‘working in co-operation with schools.’
"But there is nothing co-operative about making school budgets pay for school crossing patrols.
"It takes cash out of educating children to provide a highways service, and potentially means some patrols may be lost."
Labour's budget resolution was passed unanimously and will now go forward to full council next Monday for final approval.
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