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'Every effort will be made' to protect Liverpool Council jobs amid funding gap

“Every effort will be made” to protect jobs at Liverpool Council amid tens of millions of pounds being needed to plug its budget blackhole.

Members of the city council’s finance and resources and mayoral and performance select committees sat in a joint session this evening to discuss the proposals that have been put forward amid a funding gap of £73m for the next financial year. Last week, Mayor Joanne Anderson said service cuts were “inevitable” while jobs could be under threat.

Cllr Barry Kushner, chair of the finance and resources committee, said there had been “worry and concern” over potential compulsory redundancies for authority staff since budget papers were published. In response, cabinet member, Cllr Frazer Lake, said the council has a legislative duty to mitigate redundancies and "the political will is there” to protect jobs.

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He said talks are ongoing with trade unions and staff, particularly around redeployment opportunities, adding "every effort will be made." Setting out the council’s position, Mayor Anderson said local government had been decimated over the last decade and repeated that Liverpool had lost half a billion pounds in funding since 2010.

She said at this stage, the proposals meant the city was “still a few million short” but 80% of the pressures it faced “we don’t have any control over.” Mayor Anderson added: “I’m angry on behalf of every resident this is what we face this year.”

The Mayor said she was remaining hopeful of positive updates from the government settlement next month, but should that not materialise, “really tough decisions” lay ahead. Ian Duncan, interim finance officer, said he may have been "stating the bleeding obvious" but the savings requirement is "significant".

He said a 3% increase in council tax had been assumed in the council forecasts, as well as an increase in the national living wage (NLW). Mr Duncan added that additional money would need to be set aside as the announcement of a rise in the NLW by the government had been more than anticipated.

Confirmation of a grant settlement is expected from the government on December 21, but signs are "not encouraging" according to Mr Duncan. The finance chief said the £73m funding shortfall was an “enormous jump” from the deficit in the current financial year, which would likely lead to an increase in council reserves.

He added that Liverpool’s rate of reserves - £24m - was below recommended levels and low by comparison to other cities. More detail is needed around each of the proposals put out for consultation, Mr Duncan said, before they can be solidified.

Cllr Paul Brant, assistant mayor and lead for finance, confirmed that pressures created by the authority’s procurement error around energy in the summer would be paid for by reserves, rather than in the coming or future budgets. Leader of the Green Party group, Cllr Tom Crone, said the budget proposals talk a lot about transformation, which would likely require investment, amid talk of reductions being made and asks if the council can have confidence this could be done successfully.

Mayor Anderson conceded that efforts to transform services this year hadn’t all come off but the interim chief executive Theresa Grant had moved to implement change quickly, particularly around neighbourhoods. Discussing council tax collections, Bernie Davies, assistant director for revenue and benefits, said there had been a "soft stance" on willful non-payers but after a "slow process, there's now some momentum" in terms of getting that money in.

The ECHO revealed earlier today that hundreds of landlords across Liverpool racked up council tax debts worth more than £1m after they were deemed vulnerable by the city council.

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