Libraries, a leisure centre and golf courses could all close down in Wirral Council’s plans to save £27m

The council had been told it must make the savings after two damning government reports into it.

Woodchurch Leisure Centre could be closed down under the proposals. Image: Google

Libraries, a leisure centre and golf courses could all be closed down in Wirral Council’s plans to save £27 million.

Proposals published by the local authority show that two public golf courses, Woodchurch Leisure Centre and several libraries could all be shuttered.

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There are also plans to permanently close the fun pool at Europa Pools in Birkenhead and nine public toilets.

The plans have been drawn up due to the authority’s perilous financial position, however they are not set in stone yet and will go through several committees where they can be changed or scrapped altogether.

What’s been said

Cllr Janette Williamson, the Labour leader of Wirral Council, said: “In Wirral we have worked hard to protect those services which we know people value – and we will continue to do so – but we have now reached a point where we also must accept the authority cannot continue to try to deliver the same services that it was funded to provide a decade ago.

“Put simply we have substantially less money coming into the council and must find a way to deliver the services people want and need, but to do so within our means.”

Financial issues at Wirral Council

On December 1 last year, Stuart Fair, Wirral Council’s interim finance director, said savings of £27 million were required in the next financial year for the council to balance its budget.

The council had been told it must make the savings after two damning government reports into it, published at the start of November, said the authority’s emergency reserves had been dramatically reduced in recent years and savings needed to be made.

The two reports, one on finance carried out by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), and another on governance by Ada Burns, included strong criticism of elected councillors and officers.

They stated that the ‘prevailing culture’ at the council prior to the pandemic had been to avoid difficult financial decisions.

Cost cutting proposals

One part of the council’s plan is to close and demolish Woodchurch Leisure Centre, a site Wirral Council said is less used than other centres. The move will save the authority £402,000.

Just four central libraries and four community libraries will be maintained by the council, with several closing. This will save the authority £814,000.

Nine public toilets are up for closure, in plans worth £143,000, as well as the fun pool at Birkenhead’s Europa Pools.

Under the proposal, the competition pool will remain open, while the fun pool would be converted to make the gym bigger.

This would save the council up to £266,000.

Brackenwood Golf Course in Bebington and Hoylake Municipal are also set to close, leaving The Warren in Wallasey and Arrowe Park Golf Club as the council’s two remaining public golf clubs. This will save the local authority £328,000.

Increased charges for a garden waste bin subscription are among a set of rising fees for the council’s waste and environmental service which could generate £462,000.

At the same time, £655,000 is due to be saved by ending grass cutting in some parks and reducing it in others, but the council said parks with play areas such as football pitches have been excluded from this.

Staff cuts are also planned, with £178,000 to be saved from a review of the council’s leisure services division and £302,000 from not filling vacant posts in its neighbourhood services team.

But it is not just leisure and neighbourhood services the council wants to save money in.

There’s also a plan to save £3.89 million through improved efficiency in its adult social care service.

A combined £275,000 could also be saved from reducing the number of committees the council has and moving to one set of elections every four years, rather than the thirds model where votes take place in three out of every four years.

But all of these ideas are just proposals at this stage.

What happens next?

The proposals will go to Wirral Council’s policy and resources committee on January 17, a cross-party group which replaced its cabinet in 2020, before other councillors get to have their say.

This means that there are a number of chances for planned cuts to be changed or scrapped altogether, but the authority does have to come up with a balanced budget by February 28, the date all 66 councillors will have their final say on it.

Cllr Williamson, leader of Wirral Council, said: “This is a key moment for Wirral Council and the borough – and it will be crucial that we work together across the authority at every level to bring about the changes that are necessary to ensure the council is put on a secure footing for the future.

“The last 10 years have seen decreased government funding and a greater emphasis on self-funding by local authorities.

“In Wirral we have worked hard to protect those services which we know people value – and we will continue to do so – but we have now reached a point where we also must accept the authority cannot continue to try to deliver the same services that it was funded to provide a decade ago.

“Put simply we have substantially less money coming into the council and must find a way to deliver the services people want and need, but to do so within our means.

“And although this will be hugely challenging, we are determined to deliver those much-needed services in the best way we can. We will re-boot the council’s approach to how it delivers those services to focus on those which will best benefit the people of Wirral.”