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Posted by: John Brace | 18th May 2011

What’s happening on Wirral Council? Views from Labour and the Tories

The national print media have finally picked up on the dilemma facing the Liberal Democrat councillors on Wirral Council ahead of next Monday evenings’ adjourned Council meeting to decide.

So far all we know from part 1 on Monday evening is that the Mayor is Cllr Moira McLaughlin, the Deputy Mayor is Cllr Gerry Ellis and that Cllrs Harney, Green and Foulkes will be Wirral Council’s representatives on the Merseyside Police Authority Appointments Committee. However this was all thoroughly predictable.

Certainly the defection of Cllr Niblock from Lib Dem to Labour will upset the careful calculations by officers as to committee allocations and outside body allocations for the Labour Group and the Lib Dem Group, which will have to be revised by Monday evening.

Cllr Niblock was only the Liberal Democrat councillor from Wirral on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority last year. I have been in touch with him in the past about solutions to the problems of deliberate grass fires on Bidston Hill. Since then the Community Patrol have been issued with packs to put out small grass fires. Cllr Niblock used to live in Bidston & St. James until the house he lived in was demolished (as many have been in the last few years). For many years until he moved he was the only Lib Dem councillor living in Bidston & St. James ward (representing Bromborough) and as we lived a few blocks away we used to sometime bump into each other at the bus stop outside the bus depot from time to time.

His mother was a critic of Cllr Foulkes (Labour’s leader) on both the local Area Forum for Bidston & St. James/Claughton ward (she served as the Older People’s Parliament representative) and if I recall correctly also the Local Strategic Partnership Assembly. When she retired I remember her saying to Cllr Foulkes that she thought he would be glad, due to her robust criticism of him during meetings and that she’d been “a thorn in his side”. She was well liked and many councillors attended her funeral.

I wish Cllr Niblock all the best in his new political group and I’m sure he will follow in her footsteps as he tends to be someone that like his mother speaks from experience and enthusiasm. This is in contrast to some councillors on Wirral Council who give long, hard to follow, dreary speeches which lead to the listeners and the speakers being more confused about the issue than when they’ve started.

In 2009/2010 he received an extra £14,660 for being on Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority (and probably a similar amount in 2010/2011 in addition to the £9,094.58 he gets as a local councillor). However with the reduction in Liberal Democrat councillors, the four places representing Wirral Council on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority will go to two Tories and two Labour councillors, instead of two Tory, one Labour and one Lib Dem.

Clearly if Labour put Steve Niblock forward as one of their two representatives on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority he will face the same accusation that former Cllr. Denis Knowles did; that he is switching parties merely to do with a position on an outside body (which comes with a generous allowance). However in this case it would be Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority instead of Merseytravel.

If this is the case and he becomes one of Labour’s two representatives for Wirral Council on Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority, had he stuck with the Lib Dems he would’ve seen a drop in his income as their allocation for Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority was reduced from one to zero. We will see what happens on Monday.

More about Labour’s position including a quote from Cllr. Niblock is in this article in the Independent where it discusses the situation on Wirral.

Cllr. Jeff Green’s view (Leader of the Conservative Group) can be read in a blog post entitled “Random thoughts from the Twilight Zone”.

What happens next is anybody’s guess at this stage. Clearly after 103,162 people voted this year it comes down to nine Lib Dem councillors to decide. However with one in seven voting Lib Dem this year, over 14,000 Wirral residents, it is clear that with no party gaining a majority that the Wirral public wants parties to work together to solve Wirral’s problems over the coming year. The Lib Dems just have till next Monday evening to decide if that is Labour or the Conservatives.

What is known is that whatever party (or parties) are in control and in charge of drawing up a Budget for 2012/2013, more cuts are coming. The Budget projection given by the Council’s Director of Finance Ian Coleman on the 13th January shows that £26.5 million worth of savings need to be found by March 2012 based on the assumption that Council Tax next year will be frozen again. Around half this amount (£14.1 million) is due to a reduction in grant funding to Wirral Council by the Coalition government. The rest is due to increased requirements, such as a predicted rise in people claiming benefit (eg Housing Benefit), pay inflation, the amount to Merseytravel going up and similar items.

If Council Tax was increased next year by 5%, it would only help the Budget by £3 million due to the loss of a Council Tax Freeze Grant equivalent to a 2.5% Council Tax rise.

With a Lib Dem/Tory government and Lib Dem/Tory council for this last year the influence that Bidston & St. James Labour councillors can bring to bear on the decision makers and holders of the purse strings is less than it was under a Labour government or Labour/Lib Dem council. However at the local level some amounts of money are being delegated to the Area Forum (which locally covers Bidston & St. James/Claughton), such as the Empty Shops funding and small amounts of other money too. As Labour councillors make the decisions at the Area Forum level and appoint their own party members to other positions on the Area Forum panel, they can decide on where some money is spent.


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