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Labour urged to drop cuts in community funding
Wirral’s ruling Labour group has been accused of making secret decisions over cash cuts imposed over a series of community projects.
The much-vaunted “all in this together” spirit of co-operation between Tories and Labour since May’s local elections is set to come tumbling down when full council meets later this month.
For the Conservatives are furious that a cabinet ruling to freeze all “non-essential” expenditure has brought a halt to a wide-range of neighbourhood funding schemes which had been identified as priorities for local communities.
But council leader Cllr Phil Davies said the move was only a temporary measure while the authority takes all steps necessary to address a current budget overspend of £17m.
Neighbourhood projects caught up in the freeze include introducing 20mph zones in all residential streets, steps to tackle fly-tipping, improving street cleanliness and reducing dog-fouling, cleaning up children’s play areas and fixing pot-holes and pavements.
A Conservative notice of motion to go before a meeting of the full council on Thursday disagrees with the administration’s view these items should be classed as non-essential.
Group leader Cllr Jeff Green said: “The decision to shelve these schemes was made behind closed doors.
“We do not believe local communities should pay the price of the Labour administration’s failure to control departmental spending or achieve the savings it agreed and had identified in its own strategic programme.”
He said if there are resources available to spend £200,000 on expanding the council’s HR department, and an extra £300,000 to spend on new executive directors, - plans for both were revealed last week – then Labour should “think again” and reverse its decision to cut neighbourhood funding.
Councillor Davies said: “The freeze was a decision that had to be taken if we were to avoid setting an illegal budget.
“I cannot stress enough that these projects are not by any means ‘axed’. They have been paused, put on hold until we get control of the finances.
“Jeff Green is plain wrong to say the decision has been made in secret. All the guidance and the definition of what is ‘non-essential’ expenditure has been published.
“It’s a bit rich to hear the Tories complaining about cost-reduction measures.
“They should be asking their own secretary of state to reconsider the draconian cuts he’s imposing on councils across the country and point out to him it’s Northern authorities like Wirral who are suffering cuts far worse than those in the leafy South.”
Councillor Davies said there was a pressing need to improve the HR department’s capacity in order to cope with enormous changes coming in the next three to five years as the local authority sees its overall budget reduced by £100m.
He said the introduction of three new strategic directors will not increase expenditure as they will streamline the organisation and “make savings further down the senior management structure.”