Wirral Council has brought forward a broad range of savings proposals to streamline council services and help bridge a gap of £27million gap in next year’s budget.
The savings options total £20 million following the recent announcement of the draft Local Government Settlement and further funding from central Government.*
The council is legally obliged to set a balanced budget or risk Government intervention, and the measures being proposed are intended to put the authority on a stable footing for the long-term.
The following budget proposals will lay the groundwork for the council to provide fewer but much more high-quality services, all within its financial means, in future years and to allow for investment in those areas and services which will best benefit the people of Wirral.
At present no final decisions on any of the budget proposals have been made. The next step will be for members of the council’s cross-party Policy and Resources Committee to consider these proposals before a final decision on the budget will be made by all members of the council in February.
*This was updated 12 January 2022 following information about additional funding from the Draft Local Government Settlement.
Budget saving proposals for Neighbourhoods 2022/23
The Neighbourhood’s department is made up of the everyday functions that are key to the wellbeing of local areas and local people. The department includes a wide and varied range of universal, front-line services.
The budget proposals for this area include:
PROPOSAL: Review of Leisure Service
This proposal includes a full-service review of the council’s Leisure Services Division to consider all elements delivered and focus on removal of unnecessary cost and duplication, improved commissioning, and a lean target operating model.
It is likely that there will be staffing implications as a consequence of the review, the totality of which cannot be identified at the present time. Any reduction in staffing numbers would be attempted to be achieved through EVR/VS, redeployment and/or retraining.
PROPOSAL: Highways Operational Services - Income exploration
This proposal will explore the commercial opportunities and internal promotion of the various services available through Highway Operational Services in order to create additional income generation. It will also seek to further expand other departmental work requests within the council from Assets, Education, Parks & Countryside, and third party works currently undertaken for service partners such as NHS and Wirral Older People’s Parliament.
PROPOSAL: Closure of Europa Fun/Leisure Pool & Enhanced Gym Offer
This proposal includes the closure of the Leisure Pool ('Fun' Pool) at Europa Pools (wave machine, swimming pool features, flumes, etc). The option does not include the closure of the centre nor competition swimming pool which would continue to remain open. The service would also seek to repurpose the Leisure Pool, using the space to create a larger indoor gym offer and therefore increased income.
Saving: £246k plus £20k increased income from Gym offer
PROPOSAL: Increased Catering Across all Leisure Sites
This saving proposal would see an increase in income generation at the Sail Loft site through maximisation of customer numbers and sales. Further income could be generated through expansion of the service at different sites across the borough.
PROPOSAL: Outdoor Water Sports Offer at West Kirby Marine Lake
This budget option is an income generation scheme that would utilise the Marine Lake for new outdoor activities. These activities have become popular during the pandemic as people have sought alternatives to indoor activities whilst restrictions were in place.
Additionally, there will be more opportunities for residents to become involved in new sports activities, as well as having the potential to attract additional customers at the Sail Loft site.
PROPOSAL: Catering Pod at Leasowe Leisure Centre for Football Traffic
This proposal will look to establish an outdoor catering offer (catering pod) at Leasowe Leisure Centre. An extension of the council’s expanded in-house catering offer, the unit will primarily serve the high footfall football league traffic during the months of September – May. There is also scope to expand operation by re-locating the unit during the remaining months of the year.
PROPOSAL: Permanent Closure and Demolition of Woodchurch Leisure Centre
This option is for the closure of Woodchurch Leisure Centre. Due to the condition of the site, its low usage levels comparable with other sites, the required level of investment and the subsidy it carries, is proposed that the centre is then demolished to make way for a growth in outdoor leisure provision. The site adjacent to the Leisure Centre will see the construction of a new 3G Artificial Grass playing pitch and accompanying pavilion during the 2022-23 financial year.
PROPOSAL: Temporary Closure and Remodeling of Bidston Tennis Centre
The option would see the closure of the Tennis Centre (indoors) in Bidston for a 12-month period whilst a facility upgrade takes place at the site within the core of the building. It has been identified by an independent leisure consultant that the facility mix within the building does not complement local need or local demographic. Consequently, a redesigned centre will meet the needs of the local population and provide additional income. The new development would take out 3 indoor tennis courts and replace with extensive soft play and gymnastics offer. A second new 3G Astroturf pitch would also be built within the outside grounds of the site in a funding partnership between the Football Foundation and the Council with further income potential.
PROPOSAL: Review of Golf Offer
This proposal will seek to generate savings through the closure of the two lowest income generating 18-hole golf courses, two leisure based recreational New Brighton sites and introduction of a new pricing/membership model for municipal golf. Brackenwood and Hoylake golf courses will close, along with Wallasey Beach and Kings Parade leisure sites. The two remaining golf courses will still provide a sufficient ‘golf offer’ to the residents of Wirral whilst substantially reducing the financial subsidy to the authority.
PROPOSAL: Exercise on Referral Programme
More about this option: Wirral’s Leisure Services Team has a pool of qualified professionals who will be commissioned by health partners to provide patients with an opportunity to engage in a structured programme of physical activity or exercise by working with a qualified exercise professional to provide a positive introduction to being active.
PROPOSAL: Reprovision of the Library Service
This saving is associated with the development of a new operating model in libraries which will consolidate and realign the current libraries estate and resources to provide a comprehensive and efficient service for all who wish to use it.
The new operating model will retain four central libraries and four community libraries, as well as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) only provision co-located in community assets. The home reader service will remain for residents who cannot access a traditional library, as will the council’s digital library and online offer.
In addition, the service will invest in a Mobile Library with a 3,000-book capacity to ensure hard to reach communities have access to a library service.
The saving will be achieved through library closures, service realignment and a staffing restructure.
Full details of the new Libraries Operating Model will be available online from 10 January.
The current library service runs at a high cost, many libraries are underused, staffing is stretched and there is a shortage of funding for books, IT facilities and building maintenance and modernisation. The total footfall in Wirral’s libraries has decreased by nearly 30% and this is coupled with an almost 50% decline in active borrowers, and a 57% decrease in book loans over the last decade (excluding COVID-19 impact). If this proposal is taken up there will initially be appropriate consultation on the option. If approved the new operating model will retain four central libraries and four community libraries, as well as RFID-only (self-service) provision co-located in community assets. The Home Reader Service will remain for residents whose needs are greatest and cannot access a traditional library as will the council’s digital library and online offer. This will allow the service to focus its resources providing a consistent offer to residents at the remaining sites. The new service will also include a Mobile Library to ensure extended provision including to hard to reach and potential new communities have access to a library service.
At present no final decisions on any of the budget proposals have been made. The next step will be for members of the council’s cross-party Policy and Resources Committee to consider these proposals before a final decision on the budget will be made by all members of the council.
PROPOSAL: Floral Pavilion – New Operating Model
This option would reduce the operational budget for the Floral Pavilion Theatre and Conference Centre, whilst increasing the amount of income generated by the venue. The venue does attract a subsidy however this has diminished in recent years due to improved management and this trend of working towards a leaner operating model with greater income potential is expected to continue.
Saving: £350k - £400k
PROPOSAL: Standardisation of Residents Parking Permits
This proposal will look to standardise charges for residents parking permits for existing and new residents parking schemes to cover all operational running costs including the council’s set-up, maintenance, administration, and enforcement costs for existing and new schemes.
PROPOSAL: Fleet Efficiencies in Transport - Going Green
This budget saving option is to appoint an independent expert to undertake a no-cost 'Green Fleet Review'. This review will examine the existing fleet in terms if vehicle choice, fuel economy and recommend mileage reduction strategies.
PROPOSAL: Capitalisation of Highways Salaries
All highways and transport approved schemes for 2021/22 are funded from the Combined Authority allocation for Integrated Transport Block (ITB), which is £1.15m. It is anticipated that the new City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement allocation for Wirral over 5 years from 2022 will be between £5m and £11m.
Revenue savings can be achieved by increasing capital recharges – that is staff time spent on individual schemes.
PROPOSAL: Highway’s Maintenance Contracts
This proposal will see a reduction in the highway lining and the street furniture budgets. This will include seating, guard rails, signs, and bollards.
PROPOSAL: Streetlighting Service Savings
Due to the introduction of the new LED lanterns programme, savings can be made through ceasing night-time lighting inspections. In addition, the capital investment for illuminated signage has enabled us to replace all the illuminated bollards with reflective surfaces, therefore savings can also be made within the illuminated signage budget.
PROPOSAL: Car Park Maintenance - 1 Year Budget Reduction
This proposal will see a revenue saving from the car parks maintenance budget for 1 year only. A budget will remain for essential safety repairs to potholes etc.
PROPOSAL: Transport Efficiencies
This proposal will include a review of the in-house fleet, such as the outsourcing of the tyre fitting supply, repair, and fitting service. A management restructure is also planned in order to realign the service and create workforce efficiencies.
PROPOSAL: Special Educational Needs (SEN) Transport Review
This proposal focuses on the outsourcing of the in-house SEN adult transport service. Savings are based on the average cost of the current external provision compared to in-house provision, plus outsourcing of tyre supply, repair, and fitting service.
Saving: £0 in 22-23 then £118k in 23-24
PROPOSAL: Eco and Forest School Income
The council provides a well-established and highly regarded Eco Schools programme and has been developing a Forest Schools initiative. Such provision is currently offered to schools free of charge. This proposal sets out an opportunity to implement a charge for parts of these programmes.
PROPOSAL: Tree Management Team Commercial Offer
The primary purpose and function of the Tree Risk and Inspection Team is to inspect and manage the council’s tree stock (both highways and parkland) and mitigate any risk associated. However, there is some capacity within the inspection team to conduct tree inspections and provide management advice for partnering organisations and other landowners.
Income: £25k income
PROPOSAL: Market Rental for Park Café
This option will seek to increase the income received from rents, specifically for the rent of a café at Royden Park by a commercial operator.
PROPOSAL: Income Increase on Allotments
This option would seek to increase the income received from allotments by increasing the annual fees charged to allotment holders.
PROPOSAL: Increase in Charges for Waste and Environmental Services
This proposal would see an increase in charges (income) for a range of services provided by Waste and Environmental Services (including garden waste collection service subscription, skip permits, collection of bulky items, collection of waste and recycling from schools and cost to supply a new wheelie bin), as well as freezing the litter bin budget for one year and annual contract efficiency savings.
PROPOSAL: Removal of Vacancies in Environmental and Waste Team
This option seeks to approve a post for early voluntary retirement (EVR) from the Waste and Environmental Services Team, plus not filling of existing or new vacancies.
PROPOSAL: Suspension of Climate Emergency Initiatives
This saving proposal would see the suspension of the budget for climate emergency action plan projects, for the period of one year. External funding will be sought to continue environmental projects where available.
PROPOSAL: Remodeling of Street Cleansing, Plus Special Events
This option would see the removal of the additional community permanent presence street cleansing service in some areas of the borough, as well as the removal of the budget for cleansing of special events e.g., River of Light, Cycling Tour of Britain, Giants etc. Removing this budget would result in cleansing costs for special events being charged out to promoters/organisers.
PROPOSAL: Cease Overtime Budget in Parks
This Savings option would review the use of the additional hours budget, given the reduced maintenance and cessation of green spaces.
PROPOSAL: Redesign Parks Service Reducing Maintenance and Service Costs
This option will focus on service reduction and maintenance in parks. It will include the cessation of public firework displays, a reduction in maintenance cuts from 10 to 8 per annum, ceasing maintenance in open spaces including up to 10-15 local parks, and ceasing maintenance of 50% of the remaining parks. Local parks which also have play areas, football pitches or bowling greens etc have been excluded from this list.
PROPOSAL: Income Strategy - Cemeteries and Crematorium Service
This option would provide increase choice for bereaved families with regards to burials and memorials and offer corporate sponsorship opportunities within Wirral’s Cemeteries and Crematorium grounds for funeral directors.
Income: £53k income
PROPOSAL: Review of Anti-Social Behaviour Team
This option will involve an alternative service delivery model and reduction of one post. The Team will continue to prioritise the statutory functions and consider the impact on the Community Safety Strategy.
PROPOSAL: Review Engagement Officer Secondment
This proposal will seek agreement to not backfill an Engagement Officer for one year secondment to Regeneration.
PROPOSAL: Reduction in Community Patrol Service
This option would see a redesign of the Community Patrol Service to an Out of Hours / High Demand service only (the CCTV and Control Room Function will remain 24/7, 365).
PROPOSAL: 50% Reduction in School Crossing Patrol Service
The service has 80 established sites but traditionally carries a number of vacancies due to difficulties in recruiting to the role. This option will require the permanent deletion of the 18 vacant sites plus the closing of at least a further 25 sites to be achieved by reprioritising of sites into highest risk areas / highest number of peds crossing.
Saving: £100k (22/23) £40k (23/24)
PROPOSAL: Cessation of Constituency Team and Remodeling of Section
This saving presents the deletion of the Constituency Team and Redeployment of officers where possible. The saving will be achieved through associated staffing reductions.
PROPOSAL: Introduction of an Overnight Camper Van Parking Charge in New Brighton
This option will focus on income generation from introducing an overnight parking charge for leisure vehicles (motorhomes / campervans) on the coastal areas of New Brighton.
There is currently no charge for overnight parking. New Brighton has seen regeneration and an increase in tourism in recent years. The proposal will help to manage overnight parking in this area which has also seen a significant growth particularly since the start of the pandemic.
PROPOSAL: Deletion of Vacant Posts
There are a number of vacant posts across the Neighbourhoods Directorate. This option would see these posts deleted to achieve the savings.
PROPOSAL: Reduction in The Budget for Office Related Expenditure
This proposal is made up of a reduction in Neighbourhoods budgeted expenditure for office related expenses such as printing and paper services, lighting, electricity, heating, etc.
PROPOSAL: Review of the Neighbourhood Services Directorate
A fundamental review of the Neighbourhood Directorate will take place in order to drive efficiencies and realign service. This will be achieved through an EVR process that will commence in early January.
Statutory services within this Directorate will not be affected by the review.