Well yesterday the Conservative & Lib Dem Cabinet “unveiled” their Wirral Council budget for 2011/2012. Labour’s (opposition) budget will arrive by noon on Friday the 25th February.
Next Monday (1st March) the full Council will vote on the budget, although with 41 (yes I know it’s 42 including the Lib Dem Mayor but generally he doesn’t vote as he’s supposed to be politically neutral as part of his office) “progressive partnership” councillors to Labour’s 25 24 (edit – I sometimes forget Cllr. Knowles had switched from Labour to Tory and the independent Cllr Kirwan isn’t still with Wirral Council) councillors, I’m sure even Labour can do the maths and realise Labour’s budget will be defeated next Monday (with no need for Budget Part 2 on the evening of the 9th March) by around seventeen votes.
Can you see which bits of the Budget are from the Lib Dem side and which from the Conservative side? Yes you can see “the seams” between the two halves as we continue to be two independent political parties with minds and policy making processes of our own. If you look really hard you can see the bits influenced by yours truly and others (for example the 4-year rolling programme for 20 mph residential zones discussed last year by the party when Cllr Quinn was Cabinet Member for Streetscene and Transport) now carried forward by Cllr Rennie.
One Lib Dem policy coming into play is the pupil premium which means about £5 million extra for Wirral Schools to spend on children on free school meals, looked after children and service children. You should’ve heard the “wails of anguish” at the Wirral Schools Forum from headmasters/headmistresses from the more prosperous parts of the Borough when they realised £5 million would be spent on improving the educational chances of the most needy! Clearly Wirral is a place of large social divides and the extra money will be a welcome boost to the schools in Bidston & St. James.
So what may you ask is “in the budget”? Well, first to deal with the elements of the council tax that are made up by Merseyside Police’s budget and Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service’s budget. Both Merseyside Police and Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service froze their contributions from Council Tax compared to last year (2010/2011).
Due to increased costs and inflation (as well as a high proportion of its costs being on staff), Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service will be cutting some jobs. Their Chief Exec/treasurer explains the situation in a self-styled “podcast” (I don’t think he quite knows what a podcast is but I have to give them a few marks for trying), which unfortunately with my browser Firefox either opens a blank black window or six video windows of him at once creating an echo effect so I’ve uploaded it to Youtube (which has slightly better audio quality than five echoes).
For the purposes of any copyright lawyers out there, as the work has been made previously available to the public (and still is on Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service’s website at this location), this is classed as “fair dealing” under s.30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and is being done for the purpose of news reporting (and making sure you can hear what the speaker says).
Quite why councillors on Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service left it to an officer to record a video to explain the cuts is a mystery I’m sure my humble readers can enlighten me on in the comments section (or maybe I’ll just ask Cllr Ellis, Cllr Niblock, Cllr Rennie or Cllr Roberts next time I see them).
The Merseyside Police Authority’s Budget meeting was today when the Merseyside Police Authority set their budget for 2011/2012.
Due to reductions in their budget, Merseyside Police will see a drop in police officers from the current 4,348.8 full-time equivalent officers at the end of this financial year to 4,178.8 full-time equivalent at the end of 2011/2012. There is also going to be a reduction in police staff anticipated to be 163. A councillor at the meeting did ask what the reduction in actual police officers would be for Wirral. The Chief Constable replied that the criteria used would be population, levels of crime, deprivation, the effect of the night-time economy and the professional judgement of Chief Officers within each local authority area.
As a result of the changes to the budget, the planned Wirral Area Command Centre on a derelict piece of land near Birkenhead North railway station will now not go ahead.
Cllr Kenny said it would not set a precedent as each application would be decided on its merits. Cllr Kelly said he was not overly convinced that a loss of a small unit would be harmful to employment prospects. He asked for advice regarding reasons for approval and said it had been better in Claughton as there had been evidence of marketing. He said he had sympathy with the ward councillor.
An officer referred to the second paragraph of the Policy Context part of the report. He said they should be careful about releasing land designated by the UDP without proper justification.
Cllr Gilchrist said it wouldn’t be that attractive as a commercial property. Cllr Johnson said that it would enhance the street scene and that they were halfway there as there was living accommodation upstairs.
Cllr Salter said that when had been a lad it was a shop and that the upstairs had always been residential. An officer said that approval of item ten had been after evidence had been supplied that it had been marketed for commercial uses. The applicant for item ten had followed the correct process. He said approving would cause officer’s difficulties. Cllr Harney asked if the residential use predates the planning laws. The answer given was that a well established use becomes established.
Cllr Mitchell said it should be deferred for further information, so proof could be obtained regarding the ward councillor’s comments. Officers had asked twice but the information was not forthcoming.
Cllr Kenny was convinced it should be approved. Cllr Realey seconded approval. Cllr Gilchrist seconded Cllr Mitchell’s motion to defer the matter.
Eight councillors voted for approval with four against. There was a condition added that it had to be implemented within three years which was agreed by all. The Chair thanked people for coming.
Cllr Kenny sai he understood planning officers. However just a few yards away were residential properties. He said it was similar to item 10 and he had no objection to the application. He said exceptional circumstance dictated approval.
Cllr Mitchell asked about proof. An officer said there was a difference between items 4 and 10. He said no material had been put forward and that it had had a mixed commercial use in the last two years. He said the ward councillor was referring to letters regarding a residential use. He said there was no evidence of marketing for a commercial use.
Cllr Realey referred to the site visit and asked about the Smith & Sons letter. The officer replied that the Smith and Sons letter was in reference to marketing for a residential use.
Cllr Salter referred to the empty units on the Argyle Industrial Estate. Cllr Elderton recognised the officers were correct subject to conditions. He said he was minded to say there was adequate evidence to approve but he didn’t want to set a precedent. Cllr Mitchell said he had listened carefully. He referred to the February 2000 designation as industrial use. He said it was the “thin end of the wedge”. He said they had gone against the UDP regarding useful employment.
The committee then considered item 4 – Change of use to two self contained ground floor apartments with single storey extension and rear staircase in Argyle Street South, Tranmere. The officer said that it was an application for a residence in an industrial area and there was not sufficient justification.
Cllr Phil Davies (ward councillor for Birkenhead and Tranmere) asked the committee to agree to the application. He said he understood the land was primarily for industrial use and referred to the site visit the day before. Right across the road were residential popular terraced properties. Most were occupied. However this property had been vacant for two years. He said it was difficult to let as a commercial property and that there were already two flats on the first floor on the periphery of the industrial area. He said the applicant had found out that there were seventeen vacant units on the Argyle Industrial Estate and that there was not a demand for commercial property. He said it this application was refused it would be left vacant.
There was already vandalism and with no commercial tenant the vandalism could continue. He had been shown letters from an estate agents showing they would have no problem letting it as a residential property. It was close to the train station and Town Centre and there were exceptional circumstances.