PLANS to transfer management of Wirral's parks and countryside to a private contractor were given the green light at a special meeting last night.

The scheme includes a number of shake-ups to the borough's parks, golf courses and crematorium services and is expected to save the council around £4 million.

But the decision was met with disagreement from the Labour group who wanted the services to remain in the council's control.

They called in the decision, which was made by cabinet in July, and highlighted a lack of consultation with public and council workers.

However, Cllr David Elderton, cabinet member for culture and tourism, believes the changes will benefit taxpayers and improve standards across the services.

He said: "Too many of our parks and open spaces have been struggling with a lack of investment. The staff have not always had the equipment and machinery to do the job and we, as a council, have not done enough to raise standards. All that must change.

"I was really surprised that Labour councillors, who had implemented the same changes to the collection of household waste and to the borough's highways have suddenly, now in opposition, decided they are not happy.

"If the council had agreed to their request last night, it would have meant more consultants and less investment.

"However, we can now get on with the job of raising standards, investing in new machinery while cutting management costs to the council taxpayer.

The staff's jobs will be protected on any transfer and I am looking forward to working closely with the various Friends' groups and users of our parks and open spaces."

Drawn up by the director of technical services, The Parks and Countryside Services Procurement Exercise was the culmination of an extensive review that was carried out over a two-year period.

After detailed consideration of the report, cabinet approved a recommendation that the management, administration and operation of the services would be transferred to a single private contractor on a self-monitoring contract.

The council would retain a small team of staff to oversee and audit the new contract, around 230 full-time staff currently employed in open spaces across the borough being transferred.

But now Cllr Steve Foulkes, leader of the Labour group, fears the decision will have a negative effect on council staff who will no longer be working for the local authority.

He said: "I am very disappointed with the decision that was made last night. We wanted the cabinet to have another look at the report but it seems their idea of consultation is that they will make the decsion and tell people about it later.

"The services covered in the report range from our beautiful parks to our war memorials, and of course the sensitive issue of our cremation services.

"Even at this point I would still urge the cabinet to have a re-think about the situation. Those employees who will be transferred took a job working for the council and now they will be working for a private company.

"It was admitted last night that the consultation process could have been better.

"We believe that there are certain services that should always be in council control such as lifeguards, parks and golf courses.

"This whole situation is against the government's idea of 'big society'. This is not 'big society', it is just helping out big businesses."