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Liverpool begs residents for budget ideas as mayor admits financial dead end

Liverpool residents are being urged to suggest where they think £90m of savings should be made and to give ideas on new sources of revenue as the cash-strapped city council rushes to maintain its services afloat – despite sharp reductions in central government funding.

In a consultation launched yesterday, the council said it must find another £90m in savings alongside the £330m of government funding reductions that have taken place since 2010.

The council, which is more reliant on government money than most because almost four-fifths of its properties are in council tax bands A and B, warned that Whitehall’s “austerity programme” means Liverpool will have lost nearly 70% of its central money by 2020. This is more than any other city in the country.

Over the last three years alone, council departments have been pushed to find savings of between 25-50%. Closing the budget gap from 2017 to the end of the decade could mean taking another 10% from adult and children’s services and cutting all other departments by a further 50%.

As part of the consultation, an ‘online budget simulator’ is asking residents to both suggest where savings can be made, and pitch ideas for ways of raising additional income. As previously reported by PSE, they are also being asked if they would be willing to pay an increase of up to 10% in council tax, significantly above the 3.99% cap. This extra council tax would be ring-fenced to protect children’s and adult services for the most vulnerable.

Mayor Joe Anderson argued the scale of government cuts means the council has simply “nowhere to go” and is left with little option “other than to cut into essential frontline services”.

“Our ability to meet the challenge without reducing services is virtually non-existent,” he admitted. “If we closed all of our 19 libraries, scrapped our nine sports centres, cut all spend on culture, stopped maintaining the parks, halted all the highways repairs and street cleansing and switched off 50,000 lights that would only save £68m– and we need to find £90m to stand still.

“If people genuinely want us to protect services, we can only do that if the government give us more money – which they haven’t so far, or if residents give us more money. That is why we are asking people if they would support a 10% increase in council tax which we would use solely to protect some of the children’s and adults social care services from the worst of the cuts.”

Anderson acknowledged that while the local authority must make “very difficult decisions” on services, it is their duty to keep delivering major schemes expected to deliver major economic benefits, such as investments in roads and large regeneration projects.

“The government’s plan is that we will be largely dependent on income from business rates and council tax from 2020, it is vital that we do all we can to attract employers and help create jobs,” the mayor argued, adding that residents should join the local authority in lobbying Whitehall on the impact of its cuts.

“The budget simulator is a serious attempt to engage council tax payers in not only understanding why we the city is in the financial state we’re in but have a say in what we can do, or should do,” he concluded. “I would urge people to go online, take the time to have a look at the budget simulator, tell us their priorities and have their say.”

Deputy mayor Cllr Ann O’Byrne also noted that the council has been trying to find innovative ways to keep services above the water since 2010, such as transferring some libraries and youth centres to partners and bringing in external funding, but that “makes making further savings even harder”.

“We will need to do more of this entrepreneurial thinking, including looking at ways of bringing in extra income and extending our Invest to Earn programme, in order to bring in additional cash to help offset the cuts in government funding,” she said.

“There’s little doubt that even by doing things differently we are still going to have to cut into the bone of vital council services. It is going to be hard and it is going to be painful.”

The budget simulator will be open to residents until 16 December, and the council is expected to set its budget for this Parliamentary session in March 2017.


Peter   21/11/2016 at 12:18

Due to the slashing of central Gov't support we now have a series of Councils facing bankruptcy as their predicted incomes for 2017-18 will fail to meet statutory commitments for that financial year. Section 151 officers in these Councils will be forced to declare an unbalanced budget and hand over the reins to Central Govt. Will the Gov't and the DCLG be able to provide an infrastructure to support the citizens of these Councils as several large Counties, Unitaries and Cities go to the wall?

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