Opposition groups at Liverpool Council have laid the blame for the authority’s massive financial blackhole at the feet of the ruling Labour group.
Around £73m needs to be found from the Cunard administration to balance its books for the next financial year, with a palate of cost-cutting measures put forward last night that Mayor Joanne Anderson described as “horrific.” Cllr Richard Kemp, leader of the Liberal Democrat group and the largest opposition party at the Town Hall, said the budget document was “calamitous” for Liverpool.
He said: “The £73 million of cuts will hit hard at the services such as street cleaning, neighbourhood services and care of our old and young people alike. All councils have been badly hit by events of the past year with rocketing wage, power and other costs.
“Liverpool faces a double whammy caused by more than a decade of incompetent leadership.” Among the cuts proposed to be made is a reduction in the Mayoral Neighbourhood Fund, which provides cash for councillors to use to support projects in their wards.
Cllr Kemp said: “I am particularly saddened that it would appear that the small amounts of money that has been given to councillors to provide funding for small local projects will be removed over three years. The budget documents hide the fact that this year the council will pay more than £2 million for the Commissioners, consultants and advisers as we make a start on a long journey to becoming a normal council.
“What has also been concealed from view is the precise effect of the electricity debacle from earlier this year. Has £8 million or £16 million been taken from this year’s reserves to pay for this which will need to be met from next year’s budget. Will schools be reimbursed for this monstrous mistake?”
The veteran councillor said it would be the city’s residents who would ultimately pay the price when it came to the budget. He added: “The people of Liverpool are caught between a rock of Labour incompetence and the hard place of Tory indifference.
“It will be the people who will suffer with an appalling reduction in services to meet the basic needs of them, their families, their communities and the city as a whole.” Green Party group leader Cllr Tom Crone said a number of issues had lept out as an issue of concern for his members.
He said: “It’s an enormous hole and will grow to over £100m over the next few years. It’s very concerning but we’ve got to appreciate why that is.
“I agree with the finger being pointed at the Conservatives overseeing 12 years of austerity but also there has been mismanagement by the Labour Party and has had a huge part to play, with things like the £16m botched energy deal and Lime Street going well over budget. It’s been caused by the Tories but made much worse by the Labour Party.
“We need to be mature about this as a city and work together to protect vital services.” Cllr Crone, who represents St Michael’s ward, said while it was “still very early in the process” a “mixed bag” of options was before the council.
He backed the decision to move away from ownership of the cruise liner terminal but said the city’s leisure centres “should be run in the interest of the people of Liverpool, not for profit” amid plans to seek an alternative provider. Former Lord Mayor and leader of the Liverpool Community Independents group made up of ex-Labour members, Cllr Anna Rothery said more needed to be done by the city council to push for better funding from the UK Government.
She said: “How can we remove support from the most vulnerable in our city at the very moment they can barely heat their homes or put food on the table? When people are looking to the council for help, it can’t just look away.”
“This Liverpool Council administration need to hold the Tory governments feet to the fire on their failure to make a realistic settlement for our city instead of pandering to their whims.” Deputy leader Cllr Alan Gibbons added: “The savage cuts to funding of the Tory government have sadly been compounded by self-inflicted failures like the £16 million energy bill fiasco.
“Our city deserves better than government austerity and local incompetence.” Cllr Steve Radford, leader of the Liberal Party group, said proposals to get an alternative provider to run its leisure centres were "10 years out of date."
He said: "Leisure centres would be better off in the hands of the private sector or a community trust. This is something the council could have done years ago.
"The council has badly managed this portfolio, Peter Lloyd should have been the first to be refurbished, not the last."
Receive newsletters with the latest news, sport and what's on updates from the Liverpool ECHO by signing up here