A FORMER council worker has hit out at his "morally bankrupt" former employer for withdrawing his lifetime gym pass because of budget cuts.

Town hall bosses in Wirral gave Mike Garbutt the pass to its leisure centres after he was forced to retire after 34 years' service through ill-health.

But the 59-year-old from Wallasey, who had worked for the authority’s parks and gardens department, was sent a letter after just nine months demanding the return of the pass.

It said the withdrawal of the "Passport for Life" would take effect from this Friday, April 1.

It has now emerged Mr Garbutt is among 400 other former council staff similarly affected.

Mr Garbutt, who has suffered two strokes, said: "When I had to retire last summer from Wirral Council after 34 years because of serious health problems I was given a leisure centre pass as a retirement gift from the council.

"I thought this was very kind and would be of great benefit in helping me recover from the strokes well.

"Today I have received a letter from them saying they want it back as part of their savings.

"How morally bankrupt has this council become that they are asking for retirement gifts to be returned?

"I am feeling let down and angry.

A council spokesman said: "Wirral Council has to reduce its spending by £28m for this coming year.

"We provide leisure services throughout the borough, which require almost £5m in subsidies to break even.

"Changes to leisure concessions were made as part of the budget setting process and were consulted widely on throughout January and February and agreed at Budget Council on March 3.

“To keep the centres financially viable and open for residents to enjoy, we are removing free access to the centres for a range of groups.

"This includes around 400 former council staff who received free access passes as part of a staff reward scheme.

"While we absolutely appreciate that this is disappointing for those people affected, we believe making these changes – which amount to in excess of £500,000 savings – will go a long way towards helping us retain a good leisure offer for Wirral residents."

Conservative councillor for Moreton West & Saughall Massie, Chris Blakeley, said: "The double standards are breath taking.

"Senior directors are walking away with cheques for thousands of pounds, yet some of the lowest-paid but longest serving staff are now being told to return their retirement gift.

"Can you imagine any other employer basically going into someone's living room and removing the pensioner’s carriage clock?

"There is no evidence that this move will 'save’ money.

"We have no idea how many of the 411 retired staff use their passes, how often or if they will pay to use the leisure centre or simply go to a private gym when their ‘Passport for Life’ is cancelled. In this case, life should mean life.”