Tough decisions were made last night as Liverpool City Council approved the budget which will see an increase in council tax and reductions in multiple services across Merseyside, with spending cuts once again at the forefront of debate.
The latest round of cuts comes as the council tries to manage savings worth £156 million worth, following on from central government slashing £173m of funding over the last three years, hitting the city with a 58% reduction since 2011.
Among the 1.99 percent increase in council tax bills, further cuts were approved in adult social care, children’s services, library services and leisure facilities for the three-year period of 2014-2017.
As the sound hundreds of protesters outside echoed through the Town Hall council chamber, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson admitted that the meeting was something he and the rest of the councillors were dreading for a long time.
He said: “Over the last 12 months I have lived and breathed this budget and it doesn’t become any easier over time. We are facing the biggest financial challenge this city has ever had to face in its entire history. Forget post-Second World War, forget what happened in the 80s – these cuts are far, far worse than any of those challenges.”
As well as the council tax increase, mandatory services will suffer a 25% cut along with a 50% reduction to discretionary services funding.
The proposals approved include:
• £42m savings from the Adult Social Care budget, closing a number of day centres.
• £16m in savings from Children’s Services, closing a number of council-run children’s centres.
• £500,000 reduction in library services.
• £4m savings in the council’s Lifestyle Centres, closing Park Road and Everton Park centres, starting with swimming facilities.
• A review of school crossing patrols over the next three years.
But Mayor Anderson strongly believes that locals recognise the struggle and hardship that the council is facing.
He told JMU Journalism: “I think the people are understanding of the financial situation that we are in. We have tried to be open and honest with people and transparent, there’s no hidden money, there’s no hidden agenda.
“The people outside tonight were the people that were here three years ago when they said that the city would close down and business wouldn’t be operating, but the reality is we are, we are here. We will get through this if we all pull together.”
Liverpool Liberal Democrat leader, Councillor Richard Kemp, suggested the budget should include freezing the council tax, reintroducing bus lanes, introducing a late night levy for clean-up operations and implementing car park subsidies.
He was met with several shaking heads, as the four elements of amendments which he had tabled were voted against by 69 votes.
Mayor Anderson responded: “You can sit there and argue about trying to save the bus lanes, well let me tell you, the people who have written to you, this so-called organisation, they are not elected as Mayor of Liverpool – I am. So, do you know what you can do with your piece of paper?”
Liverpool Green Party Leader, Councillor John Coyne, was also met with fierce opposition as he tried to explain his amendments to the proposed budget, as these were voted against by a margin of 79 votes.
His proposals included a 5% increase in council tax and reducing the number of councillors.
Cllr Coyne said: “Council tax has to take some of the share of doing the lifting we shouldn’t be allowing it to fall back in terms of inflation and the 5% would be a catch-up for that.”
The confirmed budget set last night shows an overall saving of £135.5m over the next three years, with a further £21.3m coming from reserves to ensure a balanced budget.
But the opposition believes that the wrong decision was ultimately made.
Cllr Kemp told JMU Journalism: “We believe that it was unnecessary to put the council tax up for the second year running. You can’t on one hand complain you don’t get any money from the government and then turn it down when they offer it to you.
“I think most people out in the community weren’t hoping for miracles tonight and they didn’t get them.”