LATEST FORECAST: Wirral Council could have a gap of more than £30m in its budget
The council leader admitted there were “tough decisions” ahead
A Merseyside council faces a huge shortfall in its budget.
The latest forecast shows that Wirral Council could have a gap of more than £30m in its budget for the next financial year.
That is around double the £16.5m gap the authority had to address this year, which saw it put forward the closure of Oxton’s Williamson Art Gallery and Birkenhead’s Europa Pools among other services, to solve the problem.
In the end, these much-loved services were not axed, with the gap closed through voluntary redundancies and a plan to increase revenue from car parking fees among other measures.
However, the mountain the council has to climb this year appears to be much steeper.
Cllr Janette Williamson, leader of Wirral Council, said there are “no easy answers” to the problem.
The Labour councillor added: “We are preparing to start a borough-wide consultation on the budget for the next financial year 2022-23. As we hopefully move on from the worst of the pandemic we need to keep our focus on ensuring the council is in a financially sound position.
“To achieve this, we need to set a legal, balanced budget which allows us to continue to provide the vital frontline services residents depend upon, as well as protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities and pressing ahead with much-needed regeneration.
“However, what is already clear is we cannot assume we will continue to work in the same ways we always have done, and as a result must take every opportunity to re-think how services can be provided to improve value for money for Council Tax payers.”
The council leader admitted there were “tough decisions” ahead.
She continued: “At the moment councillors and council officers are working hard to look at what options we have for making savings, generating income, operating more efficiently and improving our financial position in other ways, including by bringing more revenue into the council. This is a difficult process, with tough decisions ahead.
“We have undertaken similar challenges before, however if there were any simple options they have been taken in previous years. So I know there are no easy answers and we will face some hard choices in the coming months as we work out how best to close the budget gap.
“I can reassure you that no decisions have been made on the budget, and this is the moment we need you to tell us what your priorities are, what services matter most to you, and where you believe the council should be focusing its efforts.
“To make the best budget we can for the borough we need as many people as possible, with different backgrounds, ages and views, to tell us what matters and have your say on the budget for the coming year.”
In the meantime, Wirral Council has been looking at cost saving measures in areas such as adult social care, which faces increasing demand.
These steps range from supporting the development of extra-care housing to help older people stay in their own accommodation for longer, therefore delaying their need for expensive residential care, to better use of technology and remote monitoring to enable more people to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions.
The local authority is also modernising and improving its back office systems to increase efficiency and ensure it can better deliver the services residents expect.
As part of the budget setting process, the most important committee on the council, called Policy and Resources, will meet on Monday, October 25, and is set to agree to a consultation with residents and businesses on which council services matter to them most.
This will help to shape the 2022/23 budget.
The six-week public consultation is set to start on November 2 and continue until December 19.
Full details of how to take part in the consultation will be made available closer to the start date.
Words: George Morgan, Local Democracy Reporter
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