WIRRAL council faces an unprecedented need to save £77m this coming year – twice the figure which had previously been thought.
As the authority published the results of its massive consultation with people and organisations across the borough on budget priorities, its chief executive Graham Burgess admitted the scale of the problem is larger than had been revealed.
The consultation had focused on the need to find ways to bridge an anticipated budget gap of £39m next year, as part of a deficit totalling £109m over the coming three years.
But a series of one-off costs will almost double this year’s burden, adding £38m to the amount the council needs to find.
These include bad – or “toxic” – debts originating from social services which should have been written off but were not, totalling around £10m – although some money has been held in reserve to cover these, bringing it down to around £6m.
So-called “bad budgets” which led to the council’s spending freeze last year, but which still represent £16m and expected costs of redundancies of £5m, plus the costs of equal pay settlements which is expected to be around £11m.
The authority is currently negotiating with the department of communities and local government over “capitalising” some of the money to cover the one-off payments, but no resolution has yet been agreed.
Mr Burgess said these “should not be a continuing problem” and council reserves will help, but admitted the situation remains grave.
The chief executive said: “There has been a fantastic response and understanding from the people of Wirral for the problems we face. What has surprised me is the amount of acceptance from people for the need to make cuts.”
He highlighted parks’ friends groups who had campaigned against removing maintenance, but had then started to “engage” with the council to find ways to make the necessary savings and “mitigate” the impact of cuts.
Mr Burgess said: “I will be doing a report for cabinet on February 18 which will set out all the budget options, following the consultation.”
A final decision will be made when the full council meets on March 5.
WIRRAL council officers spoke to more than 25,000 people, attended 200 events and garnered some 6,500 responses to their consultation “What Really Matters” on the budget priorities.
Chief executive Graham Burgess said it is thought to be the biggest such consultation carried out by an English council. The consultation found broad consensus in areas such as cuts to the mayoralty, only having elections once every four years and cutting the number of committee meetings and stopping sponsorship of Tranmere Rovers.
But possibilities of cutting council tax discounts for pensioners, charges for collecting garden waste and cutting school crossing patrols attracted disapproval.
Also unpopular was removing maintenance of parks while plans to even out parking charges across the borough found approval – 63.5% accept it “under these circumstances” – as did those to increase the use of “assistive technology” to allow them to be more independent, with a small charge.
Plans to close three council care homes was strongly opposed by 45.2% and 50.5% were against reducing short breaks for children with disabilities.