Wirral budget: council tax rise just shy of 5% amongst proposals to plug financial hole

By Ed Barnes

8th Feb 2023 | Local News

Wallasey Town Hall
Wallasey Town Hall

Wirral Council has released its latest budget proposal including a council tax rise of nearly 5% to close its budget gap.

The council last year projected a deficit of £49m which was later reduced to £38m and then £32m. This has been driven by rising energy prices and other costs as well as less income from leisure centres.

Wirral Council is required to set a balanced budget before the next financial year in April and close this gap through raising income, using reserves, and cutting services. If it does not do this, it could risk the government intervening in its finances.

The budget includes proposals for the maximum council tax rise possible without a referendum of 4.99% with 2% ring fenced for social care funding. This will raise an extra £3.3m for social care and nearly £9m in total.

For those in council tax Band D, this could raise a person's yearly council tax bill by at least £85.

Proposals to close ten libraries and relocate two others, as well as proposals to close youth groups, swimming pools and a leisure centre are not in the latest budget proposals. These were part of officer recommendations in January.

Cutting back street cleaning services as well as cuts to park and countryside maintenance are also off the proposals.

The savings, which total more than £28m, and the council tax top up will be debated at a meeting on February 15 where all political parties will be present.

The Policy and Resources committee has been given a number of recommendations for all councillors to debate on February 27. This includes carrying forward £113,000 into the next financial year to help people deal with the cost of living and passing a budget of £336m.

The committee will also recommend the council approve £337m for schools, the council tax rise by 4.99%, and raising the minimum wage for council employees by £1 to £10.90 an hour.

The proposed council tax rise has been supported by both the council's finance watchdog as well as the council's Chief Finance Officer Matthew Bennett.

Mr Bennett said: "The pressures existing in both financial years, which are significant, are largely due to external inflationary pressures over which the Council has no control."

On the council tax, he added: "It is of the utmost importance that this stream of funding is agreed in order to secure future streams of funding that will moderate cuts to key services in the future."

Mr Bennett said that if parties voted for a lower council tax rise, cuts would have to be made to leisure centres, libraries, youth services, street cleaning, and play groups. He also said finances would have to be closely monitored over the next few years due to the council's precarious financial position.

Government funding for the council includes additional funding of £12.38m for social care and a top up grant of £59m but this was still not enough to close the council's projected budget gap meaning further savings still have to be made.

While library services and leisures centres might not be closed under current proposals, several of the proposals from January are kept including £500,000 to make leisure centres more efficient, £1.1m saved by moving children in care into family settings, as well as £1m saved from adopting a "more creative approach" for preparing young disabled people for adulthood.

The government could also be charged by the council for nearly £600,000 spent on rehousing Ukrainian refugees and £4m of reserves used. £70,000 is also proposed to be saved as part of a review of top-paid employees and £2.3m to centralise some admin services across the whole council.


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