Cabinet (Wirral Council) 19th July 2012 Part 2 Budget Projections 2013/2015, Welfare Reform: Council Tax Benefit, Welfare Reform: Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans, Improvement Board

The meeting started with Cllr Phil Davies giving apologies for Cllr Tony Smith and saying that he was delighted by the news that fourteen parks [in Wirral] had been awarded a Green Flag. Tam O’Shanter Urban Farm had been awarded a Green Flag Community Award, he asked Cllr Meaden to comment.

Cllr Meaden (Cabinet Member for Culture, Tourism and Leisure) said that Birkenhead Park had won a Green Flag and that the volunteers had worked hard to achieve this. She said it was the most Green Flags awarded in the Merseyside region.

Cllr Pat Hackett declared a personal interest in item 14 (Investment Strategy Update).

Cllr Phil Davies declared a personal interest in item 14 (Investment Strategy Update) due to his involvement with the Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Cabinet agreed both sets of minutes to be signed.

Malcolm Flanagan introduced item 3 (Budget Projections 2013/2015). He said it was a regular report and highlighted the change in balances in 2.4.2 from £9.8 million to £14 million.
Cllr Phil Davies thanked Mr. Flanagan, but wanted to comment on the considerable budget challenge due to the shortfall. He asked for working budget options to be brought forward and for  a detailed public consultation from September. He asked for a report on how the Budget in future years would be affected by the recently released 2011 Census population figures? Mr. Flanagan said he was happy to note that.

Mr. Flanagan also introduced report 4 on Welfare Reform: Localised Council Tax Reduction Scheme. From April 2013 there would be a ten percent reduction in funding. If they wanted their own scheme, there had to be a consultation on it by 31st January 2013. Pensioners would be protected, which would mean any shortfall would be passed to people of working age. This would mean people who didn’t previously pay Council Tax would become liable, the timescale for this was outlined in 2.17.

Cllr Phil Davies thanked him for the report, but said it was a “difficult report to digest” as it would lead to a £3.15 million reduction in spend on Council Tax, which in his opinion just added to the difficulty with the Budget. However he went on to say they had no choice in it, it was important to consult, but he took the point made in 2.28. He went on to say that out of the options on pages 15 & 16 on balance they would like to consult on option two. Cllr Davies then expressed their view on changes to exemptions and discounts in relation to repairs, second homes and vacant properties. He claimed that by their calculations this would save £3.286 million which was slightly over what they needed and asked for a further report back to Cabinet.

Mr. Flanagan said there would be consultation and a report back in September. The report was agreed.

Mr. Flanagan then introduced item 5 Welfare Reform: Local Welfare Assistance Scheme. He said that from 1st April 2013, Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans would be transferred to a local welfare assistance scheme, designed and administered by Wirral Council. He said a consultation would be required, using a similar timescale to the Council Tax changes.
Cllr Phil Davies asked for another report and worried about paragraph 2.12 and the budgetary implications. He said they would receive a proportion of the current spend however it was regrettable to talk about cutting crisis loans for the vulnerable residents in the Borough which Wirral Council would have [in the future] to administer. He said it was crucial to have a local scheme with discretion and referred to the current increased demand on the new food bank. He asked for a further detailed report.

The Cabinet then turned to the recommendations from the Improvement Board. Cllr Phil Davies asked Cllr McLachlan to make comments about the items and key messages. She said that the document was for noting, but since its last meeting issues had moved on. There had been a seminar on the 7th July for councillors with over forty attending. Cllr McLachlan said there was a real energy and buzz about improving governance structures, but there was an issue raised about communication with councillors and engagement. The Improvement Plan was going to the Board for agreement and ratification. The report was noted.

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Author: John Brace

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