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TOUGH DECISIONS: Fears a council is “scaring” people by saying it faces a £30m budget shortfall

TOUGH DECISIONS: Fears a council is “scaring” people by saying it faces a £30m budget shortfall

Last week, the council said it could have a gap of more than £30m in its budget under the latest “prudent forecast”, Image: Google Maps

Fears that one Merseyside council is “scaring” people by saying it faces a £30m budget shortfall were expressed tonight.

Wirral Council’s Policy and Resources Committee met this evening to discuss the authority’s budget for the next financial year, but some councillors were worried about information put out by the council recently.

Last week, the council said it could have a gap of more than £30m in its budget under the latest “prudent forecast”.

Labour councillor Janette Williamson, leader of Wirral Council, said there were “no easy answers” to the problem and that “tough decisions” lay ahead.

But several Conservative councillors wanted the authority to make it clear that this was the worst case scenario, with a middle ground scenario and a best case scenario also acknowledged as possibilities in council documents.

Cllr Jeff Green, who represents the Conservatives, said that rather than scaring, or seeking to scare, the public into thinking the deficit is going to be £30m, the council should be honest with the public and set out a range of possibilities for what the situation could look like.

Shaer Halewood, Wirral Council’s director of resources, said that the report laying out all three scenarios was in the public domain.

But she added that she will speak to the council’s communications team about including the different scenarios in the upcoming public consultation on the budget.

The consultation runs from November 2 until December 19. It will ask people which council services they value most and if they have any ideas for ways in which the authority could make savings.

Green Party councillor Pat Cleary said that some parts of the borough are “better equipped” than others to tell the council which services they value, meaning there may be an “inherent bias” in the consultation responses.

Therefore, he wanted to make sure there was a ward-by-ward breakdown on which areas were responding to the consultation.

Cllr Cleary, who represents Birkenhead and Tranmere, also asked Ms Halewood to include a summary in the consultation of no longer than one page of what the strategic direction behind the budget was, so that it was easily available for people to read.

Ms Halewood said she will make sure there is something which is “succinct” and easy to read on that aspect of the budget.

Several councillors wanted to make sure that as well as the upcoming consultation, residents had the chance to respond later on in the budget setting process if proposals to make major cuts to any particular council service were made.

Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Phil Gilchrist, put forward an amendment asking for further consultation later on in the process if it is needed, which was passed by the committee.

Full details of how to take part in the consultation will be made available closer to the start date.

 

Words: George Morgan, Local Demcoracy Reporter


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