IN THE face of its harshest ever cuts to jobs and services Wirral council is under attack for plans to more than treble the money it keeps in reserve.
The authority’s Labour administration is also set to come under increasing pressure as unions step up their fight against plans to slash £39m from the budget, also talking of industrial action.
The council has already frozen “non-essential” spending and now unions say it is exaggerating the problems it faces “to create fear in the workforce” as it moves to increase balances from £6m to £21m by the end of 2013/14.
Wirral council has been carrying out its “What Really Matters” public consultation on its proposed cuts to balance its budget, outlining options for the public to choose from ahead of decisive cabinet meetings.
At a meeting held by the two main unions representing many of the council’s 5,000 workers, Unison and Unite said they were preparing for industrial action if the council does not think again.
Wirral’s ruling Labour group has 22 out of its 36 councillors who are members of either Unite or Unison, including its leader and deputies, with some even declaring contributions from unions to their election campaigns.
Kevan Nelson, Unison NW regional secretary, said: “We have to get through to councillors they will pay a political price.”
At the same meeting in the Lauries the Unison branch secretary Joe Taylor described the move to increase the money held in reserve by the council as “shocking when we are losing jobs and services”.
Senior Lib Dem Stuart Kelly has also been highly critical of increasing balances to a “ludicrously high level”.
But council leader Phil Davies said his party “inherited a £17m overspend” and needs “a reasonable level of reserves to “balance our books”.
He said: “A risk assessment has been made of the cost and demand pressures on budgets, the achievement of budget savings, and other financial uncertainties which support the proposed level of balances.
“Sound and prudent financial management requires that the council maintains sufficient funds to provide a stable financial base at all times.”