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New council leader sets the agenda for Wirral's future
THE new leader of Wirral Council, Cllr Steve Foulkes, has announced his cabinet of ten Labour members - banishing Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to the sidelines.
Councillor Foulkes has been highly critical of some key decisions made by the previous Tory/Lib Dem coalition.
Now his group has total control of the all-powerful cabinet it may be possible - in theory - for them to overturn some of the policies.
The closure of five respite care homes and the exodus of 1,100 council staff on voluntary redundancy terms are among the coalition's more controversial rulings and came in for a hammering from the Labour leader.
But Cllr Foulkes says he will not be rushed into anything.
Until he has been through the books and grasped the "big picture" if there are any major changes ahead, they will have to wait a while.
The new leader says he is seeking to take a "more democratic and inclusive" approach to council business.
He said: "I want to continue public consultation to help inform our decisions.
"But we'll do this by using our scrutiny committees, which will need to get out in to the community.
"That means real people talking to politicians who have an ear for what's actually going on, not an unaccountable 'task force' which was the previous administration's chosen route."
And he stressed: "In future, I want our council to decide policy by discussion, not press release."
Under "cabinet" administration, the ten councillors have responsibility for making all major decisions and need only put the setting of the authority's annual budget to a vote of the full council.
Councillor Foulkes continued: "The cabinet does have powers, but I will not be wielding those powers in such a ruthless fashion as we have seen others do over this past year.
"Nor do I want to go to war with the Government over our financial settlements.
"I want them to revisit the way they decided how much money councils receive, how it would be divided.
"We have taken a savage hit - £51m gone from the budget this year and £24m next.
"For some reason, the southern counties ended up getting a much better deal than northern councils.
"I want to tell them they got their formula wrong."
He said he has no intention of trying to prevent any of the 1,100 staff who have made the decision to leave council employment from doing so: "Clearly they have taken a major life-decision here, and it would be quite wrong for us to intervene now.
"But there was no strategic planning at all in the way the coalition handled this, so we might have to re-jig a few departments to deliver the best services we can for the people of Wirral.
"The reality of all this is that people will have to understand that their services might take longer to deliver, or they might have to be delivered differently."
The new cabinet's first meeting will be held on Thursday, and on the agenda is a review of major policy such as freezing council tax, but Cllr Foulkes suggested this part of proceedings may be put on hold for now.
"As the new administration, we are still getting to grips with the many issues that need to be addressed, and some items for discussion at cabinet may be adjourned to a later date."
However, he confirmed that one of the five doomed respite homes - Fernleigh in Leasowe - which was granted a temporary stay of execution will now be kept open on a permanent basis.
He said: "There are some decisions concerning the respite homes which would be extremely difficult to change right now.
"That's not to say it will be impossible, and I'm not ruling anything in or ruling anything out. But this we can change. Fernleigh will stay open."
The other cabinet members are: Children’s services, Ann McLachlan; community engagement, Jean Stapleton; corporate resources, Adrian Jones; culture, tourism and leisure, Chris Meaden; environment, Brian Kenny; housing, George Davies; social care, Ann McArdle; Streetscene and transport, Harry Smith.
Councillor Phil Davies is deputy leader with special responsibility for regeneration and planning strategy.