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Tory fury over Wirral neighbourhood funding cuts
3:35pm Monday 17th September 2012 in News
CUTS designed to halt a major budget overspend by Wirral Council have “gone too far” according to a leading local politician.
It has been revealed that included in the cuts is stopping the funding for Wirral’s are forums- possibly up to £1m.
Tory group leader Jeff Green said the ruling Labour group and the town hall’s new chief officer have got their priorities wrong - as they have also agreed to pump £200,000 into improving the council’s human resources department.
Councillors were informed of the decision to slash funding to the neighbourhood groups by an email from chief executive Grahame Burgess, who took the helm in at the beginning of September.
In it, Mr Burgess states that based on spend over the past three months if urgent action is not taken, the authority could face an overspend of around £17m by the end of the current financial year. It continues: “We have had to take immediate action, which includes freezing all non-essential spending and releasing reserves we no longer require.
“I feel one particular difficult decision which you will wish to be aware of is that council have taken the extremely difficult decision to suspend the ‘Neighbourhood Funding’ grants programme until we are in a position to make a definite decision on whether we can still afford it.
“This includes bids from community organisations as well as the additional programme of road safety works which have been scheduled with colleagues from technical services. [20 mph zones].
And it concludes: “I know that you have all spent considerable time working with community organisations, residents and council colleagues on this programme of activity. Regrettably, the financial realities that the council is facing mean that it is currently unavoidable.”
But Cllr Jeff Green is unhappy, both with the method of communicating the forum cuts and with the town hall’s apparent priorities.
He said: “When the council has just announced its intention to spend £200,000 on HR officers, to cut the neighbourhood funding is outrageous.
“And there’s not much transparency in the decision-making process when we all get told in an email that it’s been deemed a‘non-essential’ cost and therefore is suspended.
“A lot of people have put a lot of work into bidding for this funding, which could be anything up to £1m, and it’ll come as real slap in the face for them.”
Council leader Cllr Phil Davies hit back, saying: “For too long this council has failed to take decisive action to tackle the budget problem caused by swinging cuts to our funding from the Government Jeff Green supports.
“If we fail to properly examine all our spending we will abdicate our responsibility to those residents who need our services the most.
“This funding has not been ‘slashed’ - it has been suspended until we can ensure that our budget position is both legal and responsible and that we have consulted properly with residents on the best way forward.
“Doing nothing would be grossly irresponsible and this is just cheap politics, not the mature debate we have been promised.”