Wirral’s Cabinet expected to start consultation on 4% Council Tax rise and £2.4 million of cuts

Wirral’s Cabinet expected to start consultation on 4% Council Tax rise and £2.4 million of cuts

                                                                     

Cllr Phil Davies at a recent Cabinet meeting
Cllr Phil Davies at a recent Cabinet meeting

Wirral Council’s Cabinet will meet next Thursday evening to discuss further cuts to Wirral Council’s budget for the 2016/17 year. Councillors are expected to agree to a public consultation on £2.5 million of budget options as well as a 4% council tax increase. Cabinet is also expected to agree to a staff consultation on budget options such as reducing the pay rise from 2% to 1%.

The consultation will run from the 18th December 2015 and finishes on the 29th January 2016. At the end of the consultation Cabinet will propose a budget to be voted on at a meeting of all Wirral’s councillors.

The nine budget options that Cabinet is expected next week to start a consultation on start on page 16 of this report to Cabinet and are:


  • Community Safety (£367,000) – litter enforcement was recently outsourced to Kingdom Security and this proposal would see the same happen to dog fouling enforcement, Wirral Council hope to increase income to the community safety service from landlords and schools.

  • Discretionary Housing Payments & Advice (£406,000) – this proposal would see Wirral Council only covering rent shortfalls to people in hardship to the amount they receive from the government, it would also see the end of Wirral Council providing welfare benefits advice.

  • Girtrell Court service re-provision (£155,000) – Girtrell Court provides short breaks for carers of adults with physical and learning disabilities, this proposal would see that service provided by the private sector instead of directly by Wirral Council.

  • Highways Maintenance and Road Safety (£320,000) – This proposal means Wirral Council would only use the money it receives for highways maintenance, only 100 out of 300 grit bins would be filled and school crossing patrols would be reviewed.

  • Leisure Centres and Golf Courses (£641,000) – Discounts and free access would be removed, such as free access for long serving Council staff, foster carers and families, free swimming for those under 18 in the school holidays and free swimming for the over 65s between 9am and noon.

  • Libraries Re-provision (£203,000) – Transferring up to 12 of Wirral’s libraries into "community ownership" (run by volunteers rather than paid staff).

  • Parks Community Partnership Working (£108,000) – Increasing the role of community organisations and volunteers in parks maintenance and looking to increase parks income.

  • Charging for the Pest Control Service (£30,000) – Charging landlords, business and residents who can afford to pay for dealing with rats.

  • Charging for the Garden Waste Service (£196,000) – Increasing the brown bin charge from £35 a year to £40 a year (but with a £5 discount if paid online).

So to summarise the proposed cuts (along with a 4% council tax increase) are to dog fouling, community safety, covering rent shortfalls for those in financial hardship, axing the welfare right service, the short breaks for carers service, highways maintenance, grit bins, school crossing patrols, free swimming for children, free swimming for pensioners, free leisure access for some Council staff, transferring many of Wirral’s libraries to be run by volunteers, having more volunteers involved in parks maintenance, charging for dealing with rats and increasing the brown bin charge by £5.

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Wirral Council launches Future Council consultation on 17 budget options for £2.5 million savings

Wirral Council launches Future Council consultation on 17 budget options for £2.5 million savings

Wirral Council launches Future Council consultation on 17 budget options for £2.5 million savings

                                                       

Future Council Wirral logo
Future Council Wirral logo

Ed – Update 14:55 9/9/14 to fix 6 incorrect links to the budget options that was helpfully pointed out by a reader.

Yes, it’s another annual consultation on savings from Wirral Council that began yesterday and runs from yesterday to the 31st October 2014. What’s this one on? This is on £2.5 million of cuts that Wirral Council need to make in 2015/16.

Although the documentation refers to £4 million of budget options this seems rounded to the nearest million (the options total £3.75 million). Out of these options about £2.5 million will be chosen (two-thirds by total value).

Here are the documents and links:

Final Full Consultation Pack (this is a 21 page document which covers all options).

The options are then in various “themes” and are below by theme (I’ve also included the amount in pounds next to each option for financial year 2015/16 if that option is chosen).

This means some of the larger savings options are almost certain to go ahead which are those involving community libraries, the all age disability service, youth and play, preventative maintenance (highways and parks), Council Tax Over 70s discount and Girtrell Court.

These six options total £2.566 million of the £2.5 million savings required.

The other eleven options seem less likely to meet with public approval as they will be opposed by (in some cases) large sections of Wirral’s society. Some of them have already been rejected in earlier years following consultation such as charging for car parks at the country parks, school crossing patrols etc.

With the options below I’ve briefly included a sentence or two explaining what it’s about.

Customer Contact

Reduce library opening hours to four hours (10am to 2pm) with these libraries opened either two or three days a week. This option does not seem to apply to the four central libraries or combined libraries/One Stop Shops whose opening hours remain the same.

Delivering Differently Theme

Close four satellite youth centres & end funding Play Scheme.

Managing Demand

Remove 41 school crossing patrols.

Income and Efficiency

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Wirral Schools Forum hears of U-turn on schools funding school crossing patrols

Wirral Schools Forum hears of U-turn on schools funding school crossing patrols

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Wirral Schools Forum meeting of 30th April 2014 in the Council Chamber at Wallasey Town Hall

Wirral Schools Forum hears of U-turn on schools funding school crossing patrols

                            

Andrew Roberts talks at the Wirral Schools Forum meeting of 30th April 2014 about school crossing patrol funding
Andrew Roberts talks at the Wirral Schools Forum meeting of 30th April 2014 about school crossing patrol funding

The Chair of the Wirral Schools Forum Richard Longster said that there were a couple of matters arising, the first being school crossing patrols.

Andrew Roberts (Senior Manager – School Funding and Resources) said, “The delivery of the saving of the school crossing patrols savings option was withdrawn at Council but the rest is part of the budget for 2014-15.”

However this was what was in the Schools Budget report when it was agreed at Budget Council on the 25th February 2014:

“There are a number of budget savings options for 2014-15 arising from working in partnership with schools. These have been progressed in discussions with schools and as part of this budget as follows:

School Crossing Patrols £415,000
This option has been discussed with Headteacher groups with a view to it being funded by schools from their delegated budgets. The crossings would continue to be managed and staffed by Streetscene, but schools individually would meet the costs of the service.”

and it was also in the Labour budget resolution that was agreed:

Schools Crossing Patrols

Cabinet believes the safety of children is paramount. In December Cabinet agreed to ask schools to take over the funding of school crossing patrols. Given the concerns expressed by a minority of schools, officers are instructed to continue discussions with schools with a guarantee that no funding is removed where agreement cannot be reached.”

So I wonder why an officer now states the savings option for school crossing patrols has been “withdrawn”?

In January the Chief Executive stated he had received legal advice that schools funding school crossing patrols was legal but Councillor Stuart Kelly disagreed giving Regulation 7 of the The School and Early Years Finance (England) Regulations 2013 as the reason why it wasn’t lawful for school crossing patrols to be funded from the schools budget.

So what happened behind the scenes over school crossing patrols to force such a U-turn? Did the headteachers refuse to fund it from their school’s budgets? Did Wirral Council’s legal department change their advice? Or did something else happen?

The Chair referred to the other matter arising relating to the minimum funding guarantee application to the Education Funding Agency to be exempt from the minimum funding guarantee.

Andrew Roberts replied, “OK, this is just to update the application for the LEA’s exemption was withdrawn to the EFA after the meeting on the 27th.”

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Tower Bridge repairs, the future of Williamson Art Gallery and school crossing patrols u-turn

Tower Bridge repairs, the future of Williamson Art Gallery and school crossing patrols u-turn

Tower Bridge repairs, the future of Williamson Art Gallery and school crossing patrols u-turn

                            

It’s time to answer some questions from readers. First there’s a topical question.

1. How long is the Tower Bridge road closed for in Birkenhead?

Ah yes, a recurring question that pops up from the Wirral motorist wanting to get from Wallasey to Birkenhead (or vice versa). The bridge closed on Saturday 15th February 2014 and work is predicted to take a week for urgent repairs to the A bridge. Wirral Council say the work is necessary due to a loose steel plate.

Last week I received a phone call from a woman who wanted to know what is happening to the Williamson Art Gallery following last week’s Cabinet meeting on the 12th February to discuss the budget and that she trusted this blog to let her know what was going on.

2. What’s happening to the Williamson Art Gallery?

Well this was also mentioned at the recent Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting too. I’ve looked through the nine page handout given out during the meeting that details Labour’s proposals to the Council meeting on Tuesday 25th February to decide the budget for 2014/15.

On page six, the Williamson Art Gallery is mentioned and I quote:

Re-phasing the savings from Williamson Art Gallery (£100,000 of saving rephased to 2015/16)
The engagement of local people and ‘Friends’ groups has been welcomed in exploring new models for funding the Williamson Art Gallery in the future. It is acknowledged that more time is required to develop the proposals. Therefore the saving of £400,000 is to be delivered over the next two years, i.e. £150,000 in 2014/15 and £250,000 in 2015/16. Cabinet strongly favours keeping the Williamson open. This will be funded from reserves in 2014/15.”

The Williamson Art Gallery is in Oxton ward. Last time there was an election there it was won by the Liberal Democrats in 2012 by a majority of 263 votes (with Labour in second place). The two major issues raised by Lib Dems in Oxton in the recent past have been the future of the Williamson Art Gallery and whether schools (or Wirral Council) should fund school crossing patrols. Strangely enough school crossing patrols forms the next bit of Labour’s budget resolution which I quote here.

School Crossing Patrols
Cabinet believes the safety of children is paramount. In December Cabinet agreed to ask schools to take over the funding of school crossing patrols. Given the concerns expressed by a minority of schools, officers are instructed to continue discussions with schools with a guarantee that no funding is removed where agreement cannot be reached.”

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