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Wirral Council loans come under fire in battle to save Williamson art gallery
CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save Wirral’s acclaimed Williamson Art Gallery and Museum have blasted the council’s decision to lend millions of pounds to other authorities.
Wirral Council emerged as a surprise benefactor to other cash-strapped Northern authorities last July.
Tory councillor Leah Fraser was taken aback to find the authority has negotiated deals to lend £35.5m at low rates of interest to at least a dozen councils.
Now Friends of Williamson Art Gallery are asking why its budget, and that of historic Birkenhead Priory, is being cut by a combined total of £400,000 - when the loans are making close to that figure in interest.
Five of the loans have already come to an end, earning the council £226,469 in interest.
When the remaining loans are repaid later this year, a further £137,879 will be earned, taking the total up to £364,349.
Alan Southall of the Friends group told the Globe he had contacted council leader Phil Davies demanding answers.
He said: "It really got my goat when I learned they're lending out millions to other authorities.
“They must have tonnes of money lying around if they can afford to lend it in short-term deals with such low interest rates.
“The interest they make on the loans might be miserly due to the extremely low rates but even so, it would keep the Williamson afloat.”
Councillor Davies said: "Many local authorities at a particular time of year have reserves just sitting there not earning any interest.
"So all local authorities borrow from each other and loan to each other – it is a standard local government process.
“It earns interest and that interest can be used to fund frontline services and is being used to give additional benefits to Wirral tax-payers.”
Councillor Davies said cash earned from interest could be used to help places like the Williamson, but that it would only act as a short-term solution.
He said: “These are one off payments so we could possibly help a service like the Williamson for a year, but then we would be back to square one – what would we do the year after that?
“I think there is a way forward for the Williamson.
“There is some speculation that the Williamson is going to close, but it is not going to close – Wirral Council is committed to working with the Friends group for the Williamson to continue."
Councillor Fraser said: “Wirral Council is not a bank. They have to serve the people of Wirral and not the money markets.
"The council has just invested £1.3m into the Williamson – they really don’t plan ahead.
“They are asking people to come up with a management plan in eight weeks.
"But they will need longer than that. They are setting them up to fail.
“Our council seems to be more concerned with using Wirral's money to help out other local authrorities, and getting back what is actually very little in the overall scheme of things."
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