A row has erupted between Wirral council’s political groups over comments about money paid to consultants and social workers.

Cllr Bernie Mooney has demanded an apology from Conservative group leader Cllr Ian Lewis after he claimed consultants hired by the Labour-led council make “no noticeable benefit for services whatsoever”, but cost £2.6m.

On Friday, she said because the majority of that amount actually goes towards paying social workers, he had “stooped to a new low”, although Cllr Lewis was in unapologetic mood.

Cllr Mooney, who is a member of the cabinet for children and families, said: “I’m calling on Cllr Lewis to apologise to the hundreds of social workers who every day support and protect the most vulnerable youngsters across Wirral.

“When he says they make ‘no noticeable benefits for services whatsoever’, Cllr Lewis has stooped to a new low by denigrating the staff who do some of the most difficult and testing work anywhere in the borough.

“It was a desperate attempt to grab a headline in the local media. The leader of the Conservative group should think long and hard about his choice of words before playing politics with our social workers. He should do the right thing – retract his comments and issue an apology.”

Cllr Lewis said his opposite number had thrown up a “smokescreen in an attempt to deflect attention” from “outrageous” sums paid out to consultants.

His original comments on Tuesday saw him criticise the use of roles such as “interim assistant director of delivery”, for which he said the council had paid £900.43 per day.

In his view, a 10% cut in consultants would save “more than the parking charges will raise”.

He added: “She and I both know that the amounts paid for agency staff in social services are wholly separate from the likes of the £900 a day it costs for the ‘Interim Assistant Director Delivery’ or the £472.50 a day it costs for the ‘Communications and Investment Lead’.

“I stick by my choice of words – taxpayers in this borough are being fleeced because of Labour’s over dependence on management consultants.”