AN EXTRAORDINARY step has been taken in the battle against Government austerity with leaders of Wirral's major public services agreeing to pool their budgets to form a massive £2bn fund.

It is believed to be the first time in the UK that such a move has been attempted.

The unusual proposal will have to overcome potential legal hurdles - and it is estimated it could take up to five years to complete.

But council leader Phil Davies said he is confident it can be achieved.

The scheme was formally agreed at a "Wirral Partnership Summit" held this week.

Representatives from the health sector, education, transport, training and skills,police and emergency services agreed to work on integrating budgets, resources and services to meet the local authority's "2020 Vision" pledges.

Councillor Davies stressed the plan is not entirely focused on funding and for it to be successful public and private sector bodies need to "come out of their silos" to work together for the common good.

He said "This is huge progress - a national first we believe - and will bring real, tangible benefits in the day to day lives of Wirral residents.

"By working together, pooling resources and integrating services we can make sure every penny of the £2bn of public money invested in Wirral goes further.

"With Government cuts and creeping austerity – pragmatic and progressive leadership is what Wirral residents expect."

Asked whether the pooling of public sector budgets will be legally sound he said: "It is already happening in several areas including health and social care.

"It is our ultimate aim to have a pooled budget by the end of the five-year plan.

"There may be some legalities and rules we will have to get around, but I am confident it can be done.

"The public sector is facing massive cuts - Wirral Council alone has to find a further £120m of savings - so in our view this is the only way forward."

He added: "When we launched the 2020 Vision we said we would be bold and we have taken a completely fresh look at what the public sector does and how it does it.

“The world is changing, our residents’ expectations are changing and public services must change with them.

"The role of our partnership, is to use our collective resources to improve the quality of life our residents."

Dr Pete Naylor, chairman of Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “There is a huge challenge facing the NHS, local government, and our partners in the coming years.

"If we continue to deliver services the way we do now the demand for services will outweigh the available funding.

“Our vision as partners is to re-shape health services and social care in Wirral while supporting people to take more responsibility for looking after their own health."

Paula Basnett, chief executive of Wirral Chamber of Commerce said: "We recognise the importance of the 2020 Vision and are committed to supporting this plan.

“We have a wonderful opportunity to make a real difference but it is important to ensure the 2020 Vision is successful and achieves its goals."

Wirral Met College Principal Sue Higginson said: “The recent opening of Wirral Met’s new campus at Wirral Waters demonstrates the value of positive partnership working.

"We will continue to work with employers to develop a well-trained workforce that will improve the local economy and provide local employers, and people investing in the area with the skills to develop their businesses.

“We work with hundreds of employers across the City Region and it is entirely appropriate the first new building to open in Wirral Waters is our campus, which is dedicated to developing skills for work.”