NEW powers are to be given to members of Wirral Council's ruling Labour cabinet as part of sweeping changes in the way the authority operates.

The revision means councillors will be allowed to write-off bad debt, award multi-million pound contracts and purchase land without seeking executive or council agreement.

A report to tomorrow night's cabinet meeting says the changes are being brought in under the so-called "Strong Leader" model for local government.

It says: "As a member-led organisation it is crucial elected members provide leadership to the council and its partners to secure the best outcomes for Wirral residents."

The new powers mean:

Cabinet councillors can appoint external consultants up to the value of £50,000.

They can authorise tenders for contracts relating to their "portfolio" up to the value of £5m.

They will be permitted to sanction disposal of surplus land, buildings and other assets up to the value of £2.5m.

They can give the go-ahead to purchase or lease land, buildings and "other assets" to a value of £1.25m.

They can remove restrictive covenants on land, in consultation with the head infrastructure services, if the increase in the value of the land as a result is less than £250,000.

And they can write-off bad debts of up to £1,000.

Conservative opposition group leader Cllr Jeff Green said: "This extension of powers by cabinet members - who are not directly elected to cabinet by the public -  will remove key decision-making from the democratic process and out of the usual checks and balances by the council.

"There used to be in place a system that any expenditure over £50,000 had to be approved by a council committee and large sums below that value signed-off by the chief executive.

"Allowing councillors to write-off bad debts and award £5m contracts could leave Wirral tax-payers exposed to capricious decisions.

"It will not remotely meet many residents' expectations of a transparent process."

Surjit Tour, Wirral’s head of legal and member services, said: "The new arrangements will be kept under review and subject to scrutiny as part of the usual call-in process.

"Many of the powers are already available to cabinet members although some have been extended to allow for more delegated decisions to be taken.

"All key decisions will be supported by a detailed report and published, subject to usual exemption provisions - for example, in cases where commercial or personal confidences could be breached.

"Key decisions will also be listed on the proceeding cabinet agenda and minutes for noting."