Wirral’s libraries “under the microscope” as council prepares to make budget cuts
THE future of Wirral’s libraries will come under the microscope as the authority braces itself to make some of the most savage budget cuts in its History
The council’s leader, Phil Davies, also said some services could end up outside direct council control as the authority seeks “imaginative and innovative” ways to make savings.
As part of this, Wirral Council has just completed the first stage of a massive consultation exercise to find out what council services residents most value.
The authority faces cutting £39m from its budget next year.
Almost 7,000 people took part in the six-week consultation – described as one of the biggest of its kind in the country and featuring 150 events.
It found that people agreed the top priorities should be protecting vulnerable adults and children, tackling poverty and inequalities in health, and creating jobs and attracting investment.
Those who responded also most valued reducing crime and anti-social behaviour, the local environment, education and care for the elderly and that the council should look at raising or introducing charges for services and use that income to protect other services.
However, the consultation also found among the lowest priorities were providing access to affordable housing, encouraging people to stay healthy, facilities for young people – and leisure and cultural services.
The report said: “Non-universal, optional services such as libraries and leisure centres and under-utilised One Stop Shops were mentioned frequently, as being appropriate services to reduce.”
Cllr Davies said he had been surprised by this as the council faced widespread criticism over plans to shut 11 libraries in 2008/9 leading to an embarrassing U-turn. But he said: “We are at a watershed in local government.
“On current trends, if government cuts continue, we will literally only have enough money for adult social services and emptying bins. Every council is facing this dilemma – how do you keep the show on the road?
“We need to be more imaginative and innovative.
“I’m not going to speculate on what cuts we make, but libraries and other services under the ‘discretionary spend heading’ will come under the microscope.”
Options could include services being outsourced, community groups or volunteers taking over some, or even ones like leisure centres being put into trusts.
Cllr Davies said: “We have to make sure we make savings but also try and retain good quality frontline services.”