CAMPAIGNERS fighting to secure funding to keep Wirral’s acclaimed Williamson Art Gallery and Museum open fear the scale of council cash cuts may be too great to overcome.

Wirral’s ruling cabinet agreed to reduce the budget for the gallery and Birkenhead Priory by a combined total of £400,000 over the next two years.

But combined running costs for the Williamson and Priory are in the region of £600,000 per year.

Williamson Art Gallery and Museum Action Group, set up to campaign against the proposed cuts, says the savings are of such magnitude they could force the closure of the Slatey Road venue.

A spokeswoman for the action group said: “We can appreciate the huge budgetary challenges faced by the council, and its need to concentrate spending on front-line services.

“Nevertheless, it seems unthinkable to force the closure of the Williamson at the very point at which it was ready to develop its resources, alter its method of delivery and provide an enhanced visitor experience.

“The council has just invested £1.3m in the Williamson building.

"Following this major refurbishment ,the Williamson now has the capacity to develop further as the key cultural resource for Wirral, making a significant contribution to its social and economic life and to the education, health and well-being of its residents.”

Oxton Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Kelly accused the town hall of setting an unrealistic savings target.

He said: “How do they expect them to function after a two-thirds reduction in their budget?

“I know council officers, heritage and friends group are looking at options to achieve efficiencies, generate extra income, or establish a possible new organisation to take over the running.

"But it seems to me the target figures have been plucked out of thin air before looking at what might be possible.

“I want the council to be clear with people who recognise the value of the Williamson and the Priory as part of Birkenhead and Wirral’s heritage, that they will not use these arbitrary financial targets as an excuse to close either facility or scupper any new arrangements”

Councillor Chris Meaden, cabinet member for health and well-being, said officers will meet with the campaign group this week.

She said: “The council is facing very challenging financial circumstances, which are affecting all services.

“We are currently exploring options for the future running of the Williamson Art Gallery, but these are being looked at very much with the intention of keeping the gallery open, not closing it down.

“A plan for future operations is currently being worked on.”