Woodchurch Leisure Centre, nine libraries, two golf courses and many more are under threat after a tough Wirral council meeting tonight.
The council’s full meeting voted in favor of a £20million cut plan which will see it withdraw funding for Brackenwood and Hoylake golf courses on April 1, as well as the closure of the Wirral Tennis Center for a period of 12 months.
The budget will see the council withdraw funding for the Woodchurch Leisure Center and nine of its 24 libraries, after a months-long period in which local groups can bid to take them over under a transfer scheme. community assets.
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The budget passed by 52 votes to 11, with Labor and Conservative councilors in favor of the plan, while the Green Party, Liberal Democrats and independent councilor Jo Bird voted against.
The board set its budget for the next financial year, following two government reports released in November that criticized the authority for failing to make tough decisions and advisers specifically for focusing on political rating.
The budget-setting process has seen passionate community campaigns against the cuts, such as the proposal to close the Woodchurch Leisure Centre. Some have called the planned closure “shameful” and thousands of people have signed an online petition to save it.
Community groups will have until September 30 to present plans to save the center and the council will provide £330,000 to support any group selected to run it.
Wirral’s 24 libraries will remain open until November 1, when the nine at risk of closure will only remain open if community groups succeed in removing them from the hands of the council.
Those wishing to save Brackenwood and Hoylake golf courses, the two municipal courses that will be closed, will also have the opportunity to offer plans to keep them in operation.
But that effort will be made much more difficult by the fact that the board will stop servicing them on April 1, which Keith Marsh, club secretary at Brackenwood, said would see the course go to “wreckage and ruin”.
The budget agreed tonight will also see Europa Pools leisure pool in Birkenhead close permanently.
However, the budgeting process over the past few months has seen several changes to cutback plans.
Changes to the budget in recent months include the decision to maintain school patrols, the full climate emergency budget, and the decision to give community groups time to save the recreation services mentioned above.
Speaking at tonight’s meeting, Cllr Janette Williamson, the Labor leader of the Wirral Council, said £225million had been taken from the authority’s budget since 2010 and it had lost £450million pounds in purchasing power, what she said was in the name of austerity, a “cruel and ideological punishment” that has hit Labor-led councils in the North in particular.
Cllr Williamson said the budget provided vital services in the borough and supported the borough’s most vulnerable.
The Labor leader added she was delighted to have scrapped the planned increase in parking permit fees and given the Woodchurch Leisure Center a ‘lifeline’, as well as libraries and other services of the borough so that offers of transfer of community assets can be presented.
Wirral’s council is led by Cllr Williamson, a Labor councillor, but the party does not have a majority on the council, meaning it must gain support from other parties to push through its plans.
The authority also abolished its 10-member Labor cabinet in 2020 and replaced it with a committee system, which distributes power more evenly among Wirral’s 66 advisers from all parties.
Cllr Tom Anderson, leader of the Conservative group, said the mistakes made by the council were responsible for the current financial situation, rather than the government.
Cllr Anderson referred to money spent on the now derelict Wirral View newspaper and £500,000 paid as compensation to a developer for the council’s withdrawal from the Hoylake Golf Resort project.
The Conservative group leader said the government had given the council £265m to support it during the Covid-19 crisis.
He said that while the budget was “far from perfect”, he supported it because it removed the council’s “stunning structural deficit”, protected the borough’s most vulnerable in areas such as social care and s relied on Wirral’s “great regeneration ambitions”.
Lib Dem leader Cllr Phil Gilchrist said the council needed a fair funding system and should not have to ‘beg, crawl or crawl’ to get the money residents need from the government .
He added that tonight’s budget gave a chance to those who wanted to keep golf courses running.
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Cllr Gilchrist also gave the example of the Lawn Tennis Association offering advice on how to transform the Wirral Tennis Center and said the budget was too restrictive for things like this and the council needed to be more adventurous.
Cllr Pat Cleary, the leader of the Green Party group, wanted to change plans which would see two of the 11 libraries originally closed, Greasby and Rock Ferry, remain in the hands of the council, and replace that proposal with a plan which looked at all 11 of them libraries were initially to be closed “in circles”.
But his plan was rejected by a majority of councilors at tonight’s meeting.
Former Labor councilor Jo Bird, who is now running as an independent, believed the cuts proposed tonight did not need to be made and that there were other ways, such as using earmarked reserves, that the council could use to cover its budget deficit.