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Tough decisions loom for Wirral Council budget

Councillors in Wirral will face “tough and even unpopular decisions as a result of the costs of the Covid pandemic” the new leader of the authority has warned.

The council has warned it will be bringing forward a range of measures over the coming weeks aimed at tackling a total £67 million plus gap in its budgets for 2020/21 and 2021/22.

A broad range of savings options will be presented to committees in the coming weeks for them to make recommendations on, as the authority seeks to plug the financial gaps that have happened as a result of the supporting local communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Janette Williamson, leader of Wirral Council, said: “We won’t know for certain our budget position until December when the Government announces funding for local authorities and we hope there may be a favourable settlement reflecting the extra costs we have had as a result of supporting our communities and businesses through the pandemic, but legally we have to make preparations and be ready to balance our budget whatever happens.

“This is in some ways a worst case scenario but it is where we are right now and it’s important that staff, residents and everyone understands the current situation in that we face some tough and even unpopular decisions as a result of the costs of the Covid pandemic.”

All Wirral councillors will be involved in the decision-making process after a change to Wirral Council’s constitution removed the cabinet and replaced it with a cross-party Policy and Resources Committee which oversees specialist committees looking at all aspects of the authority’s work.

Over the next two years the council needs to cover a budget gap of at least £67 million  over this year and next – with additional as yet unquantified emerging pressures – and all major committees overseeing service areas will look at ways to significantly reduce spending and then make recommendations.

Although the Government has provided extra resources since the pandemic, to help meet the costs of reduced income and supporting local communities, the council still faces a perilous financial situation. Council officers are continuing, like almost every other council up and down the country, to talk to Government about future funding options.

However, this means everything that the council does is being reviewed. Even those services the council has a legal duty to provide are being re-assessed to ensure they are as efficient as possible through a massive reappraisal of all activity provided by Wirral Council.

A broad range of proposals, relating to statutory and non-statutory services, will be presented for decision makers to review at the individual Service Committees following the first meeting of the new, cross-party, Policy & Resources committee which meets on October 7, for councillors to work together to begin making decisions on how Wirral will balance its budget this year and into the future.

The council will also be seeking the views of Wirral residents and council staff on the proposals as they are developed through consultation on the budget options.

Cllr Williamson added: “This is happening primarily because we are having to deal with the impact of delays in implementing our budget savings and extra costs of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the loss of income from areas such as leisure, parking and other fees which usually support vital frontline services as a result of the lockdown over the summer and new restrictions. Wirral Council is not alone in facing difficult decisions and the increased scale of the financial challenge the borough faces as a result of Covid-19is not of its own making, but is the cost of keeping our residents safe and well during the Covid pandemic.

“Now is the time all elected representatives must work together for the good of our residents, those people who elected and put their trust in us.

“The recent changes to the way the council is run presents an opportunity for all political parties to work together on what will be a difficult budget setting process. I pledge to work with all parties in a collegiate and positive way and ask for the same commitment back.“