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Wirral Co-leaders Demand a Fairer, Greener Borough

At budget council, Jo Bird and Pat Cleary made the case that Wirral can do so much more to be a fairer and greener borough

Pat Cleary and Jo Bird outside Birkenhead Town Hall
Pat Cleary and Jo Bird outside Birkenhead Town Hall

Cllr Pat Cleary said:

It is rare to see a budget with no proposed amendments and a broad consensus around its acceptance – we must be doing something right. This shows our committee system is working well and is delivering better outcomes for the people of Wirral.

The most reassuring figure in the budget summary table is the zero entry for “Reducing or stopping services”. I want to thank officers across the council who have worked hard to deliver a budget that preserves service delivery to the public, protects the Real Living Wage, avoids compulsory redundancies, and offers scope for investment that will help address the key priorities within the Wirral Plan.

Particularly welcome this year has been the clear and realistic budget forecasts provided by the finance team, despite the annual circus of waiting until the last moment for the government to reveal its funding offer.

Contrast this with last year when the starting position was unrealistic cuts of £49m. So well done to those officers who have adopted a more measured approach this year.

Nevertheless, we face yet another funding gap between our income and expenditure necessitating over £12m in savings, efficiencies, and increased charges for council services.

And, of course, council tax will need to rise significantly again.

The pressure on the council to do more with less is relentless.

So too is the pressure on the public who are forced to pay more and more every year for the government’s failure to reform local authority finance and to use the unfair council tax system to fund the ever-increasing costs of social care.

The figures are there for everyone to see in this budget – a shortfall of £26.6m over the next five years - largely driven by the cost of caring for our ageing population.

How will this gap be funded? This is my 10th budget council and every year we hear the same complaints from many members regarding the government’s short-term approach to financing local government.

But that has never changed. And nor is it likely to as the economic policies of the two largest parties become increasingly indistinguishable.

Without fundamental reform of our taxation system there will be no change and the cycle will continue to repeat itself.

The Green Party, along with many others including the Trades Union Congress, is clear. The time for wealth taxes is long overdue. A straightforward 1% tax on wealth in excess of £10 million would generate at least £16bn annually to address inequality and environmental collapse.

Budget and the Wirral Plan

As we prepare to be released from the oversight of the Independent Assurance Panel their most recent advice tells us that “The Wirral Plan and Medium-Term Financial Strategy need better linking and there is a need to clearly match your resources to your stated priorities”.

This is good advice.

The Wirral Plan has clear, unanimously agreed, priorities. These include:

To prioritise those with the greatest needs

At our last meeting, council acknowledged there is a significant amount of unclaimed support payments in Wirral – at least £91 million annually. One of the most significant things this council can do to address poverty is to better empower those residents who are entitled to financial support to receive it, especially in those parts of Wirral where poverty is tightening its grip and life expectancy is far too low.

Next month we are due receive further details from officers on how best to implement this. I urge all members to prioritise this in the year ahead. It will benefit not just those in need but the wider Wirral community if spending power amongst the poorest is increased.

Another priority in the Wirral Plan is:

To play our part in addressing the climate emergency and protecting our environment

A reminder that we have all signed up to Wirral Council becoming carbon neutral by 2030. I’m grateful for the work of Green cllrs in relentlessly highlighting the need for this council to reduce its energy consumption.

This year, lower energy consumption has saved some £200,000. In part this reflects investment in our leisure centres – the installation of pool covers, low-flow shower heads, changes in humidity settings and the repair and insulation of pipework– all of which have reduced gas consumption.

But we remain very vulnerable to fluctuations in energy prices as recent years have clearly demonstrated.

We must do more to increase our resilience, protect our finances and reduce our carbon emissions.

It’s therefore incredibly disappointing that our new office buildings include no renewable energy and are not fit for climate purpose. If the private sector can incorporate sustainable energy in new office buildings at Wirral Waters, why can’t Wirral Council do the same in the centre of Birkenhead? How can this possibly fit with a carbon neutral Wirral Council by 2030?

But “protecting our environment” often means leaving it alone. Now more than ever we must protect our remaining natural green and blue spaces.

Green councillors are appalled that scarce resources are being wasted to publicly consult on options for Hoylake Beach which, in their current form do not and cannot have approval from regulatory authorities, ignore the expressed view of the Environment Committee and have not been appropriately sanctioned by members.

This is not ok.

Finally in terms of the Wirral Plan:

We are committed to deliver our ambitious regeneration programme.

The capital programme within this budget gives us the means to do that.

Green councillors have and will continue to bang the delivery drum. 2024 must be the year when residents see that things really are changing for the better.

Last week along with other councillors I attended the launch event for Make CICs new arts hub on Argyle Street – a great example of how the council can support genuine, people focused regeneration. Along with Future Yard and other organisations, Make is helping to transform this area and make Birkenhead a genuine destination for people within and outside of Birkenhead.

We need to continue supporting this change, not least by delivering the new public realm works for Argyle Street and across our regeneration sites.

Our streets can and must put people, not traffic, first.

Our historic Market can and must be restored to once again be a source of pride.

Our brownfield sites can and must become the thriving, sustainable communities of the future.


I will conclude with the following:

The Green Party stands for environmental and social justice.

2023 was the hottest year on record. Our life support systems are disintegrating in front of our eyes at an alarming rate.

Meanwhile, the life expectancy of a child born today in the streets surrounding this town hall is two years less than it was in 2010. For a male child born today it is an eye-watering 15.7 years less than a boy born today in Heswall.

These are shocking facts. They are the inevitable consequences of policies that put self-imposed, arbitrary fiscal rules ahead of addressing inequality and climate breakdown. They reflect appalling political choices.

Our remit as a council is limited but our obligations are clear. We must do all we can to reduce inequality and protect our planet. In both of these we can and must do more.


Cllr Jo Bird said:

Within this budget there is an additional £2 and ¼ million one-off funding for one year to be voted upon at Policy and Resources Committee, next month, not today.

Greens have six proposals to invest in a fairer, greener Wirral.

1.    Firstly, targeted benefits advice to thousands of families to claim millions of pounds they are entitled to.

2.    Secondly, to clear alleyways, plus free alleygates and bulky rubbish collection - for people that need it most.

3.    Thirdly, Greens would install solar panels and heat pumps into suitable Council buildings. Thus cutting carbon emissions and bills, creating good green jobs for the future.

4.    Fourth, Greens would invest more in our young people - many who were so badly affected by covid and lock down. Instead of closing libraries and swimming pools, we Councillors should be ensuring all teenagers have access to a wide variety of things to do outside of school, such as sports, dance and creative arts.

5.    Fifth. Wirral is the Borough of Culture, this year. Greens would extend the Communities Fund - to celebrate the diverse cultures of new communities on the Wirral. Because everyone benefits from welcoming people fleeing war, such as in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Palestine. Refugees should not have to flee their homes, but they and you are welcome here.

6.    Sixth. Greens would improve the air we all breathe and plant new trees on our busy streets.

All these costed, practical Green proposals are possible with just £2 and ¼ million pounds. Out of a council budget of £400 million.

Imagine what could be possible with a wealth tax on the super rich. Imagine another say, £85 million to rebuild a better Birkenhead. Well, this regeneration money is already secured – including £14 million to refurbish a flagship Birkenhead market.

Because you know what? Another Wirral is possible.

Our Wirral, that is fair to people and the environment.

We need Green budgets that create new green jobs and services, that reduce inequality, bills and pollution, and forge a better future for our children and our grandchildren.