A better than expected government settlement is “not a cause for rejoicing” according to the leader of Liverpool Council’s largest opposition group.
Reacting to the confirmed budget proposals released on Thursday, Cllr Richard Kemp, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said Liverpool had faced a “wasted 13 years” with “fancy pants schemes” while “basic services… were ignored.” The city council has confirmed its final budget proposals for the next financial year following receipt of a government settlement just before Christmas.
As a result, the amount the city needs to save stands at £49m rather than the eye-watering £73m previously feared. Council tax could go up by almost 5% to help plug that gap but some of the more unpalatable plans such as cuts to benefits services and One Stop Shops have been spared.
Cllr Kemp said “better” running of the council would have meant services in “better shape” and more of them. He said: “The fact that the government gave us £19 million more than we originally anticipated is not, in itself, a cause for rejoicing. What we all need to consider is, what would the situation have been if the council had been run properly?
“The answer is far better off than we are now. Estimates are that Labour have lost, failed to collect, or wasted more than £165 million. The legacy of that continues to this day.
“The legacy means that we are still having to make just short of £49 million of cuts. In fact, we will never know the true costs to the people of Liverpool of a wasted 13 years.
“Years when fancy pants schemes such as the failed Foundations Housing Company were the apple of Joe Anderson’s eye while basic services such as social care for young people and adults were ignored.” Cllr Kemp also took aim at the council’s perceived failure to “look at important service priorities in social care.”
He said figures contained within the budget showed “improvements could and should have been made years ago.” Cllr Kemp added: “This has meant a loss of cash to the council and the loss of a good lifestyle for thousands of people of all ages and their families.”
The veteran councillor pointed at issues like the Lime Street roadworks scheme, the council’s expensive energy contract mistake and funding of commissioners as areas where improvement was needed. Areas such as council tax collection, adult and children’s social care and potential sale of historic council gifts were also a cause for concern for Cllr Kemp, who described the latter as “we will literally be selling the council’s silver.”
He said: “The consultation with the public showed that 34% of responders said that the main priority of the council should be to create a well-run council. Liberal Democrats agree with them.
“If this council had been run properly for the past 13 years our services would be in far better shape and there would be far more of them.” Cllr Liam Robinson, leader of the Labour group and cabinet member for finance, said setting a balanced budget was "always going to take a herculean effort."
He said: "I am pleased that through much detailed work we gave once again been able to seek to protect our most vulnerable residents particularly in the current cost of living crisis. I am particularly pleased that through much hard work we have been able to protect our council tax support scheme, benefits maximisation service, discretionary housing payments, citizens support scheme and one stop shops that provide vital relief for so many families across the city."
Receive newsletters with the latest news, sport and what's on updates from the Liverpool ECHO by signing up here