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Byline: MARC WADDINGTON City Editor @waddingtonpost

TOWN HALL SPENDING SLASHED: Mayor Joe Anderson says that, if residents come up with plans to save the likes of Everton and Dingle pools as the city introduces further cuts, then the council will take a look at them LIVERPOOL council agreed a budget that will see PS156m wiped from its spending over the next three years.

A highly-charged and at times emotional meeting at the town hall heard Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson set out how the city would try to cope with the cuts imposed by the gover nment.

The council voted to put council tax up by 1.9%.

With the amount of cash available to the council to spend reducing year-on-year, he said it was inevitable some services would be lost altogether and others would have to be cut dramatically.

The small print as to which particular services will be cutback is yet to be finalised, but the purpose of the meeting was to agree that the overall sum of PS156m - on top of the PS176m cut so far - would be taken out of the coffers.

But agreement was not reached until both the opposition Liberal Democrat and Green groups moved amendments including proposals to increase parking charges, re-introduce bus lanes, cut the number of councillors and put up council tax by 5%. All were defeated by the ruling Labour group.

The meeting also heard from campaigners against the cuts, anxious about the potential closure of swimming baths in Everton and Dingle.

Bernie Hunt, speaking on behalf of Everton baths, said the council would be wrong to close the facility when money was being invested into the Project Jennifer regeneration zone.

Mayor Anderson said if people were able to come up with business plans to keep the likes of the Everton and Dingle pools open, the council would look at them.

Concerns were also raised by representatives of the Joint Trade Unions, who raised concerns over the workload and changes to sickness absence policies facing the ever-reducing number of council staff.

John Gibbons, from JTUC, said: "This council is being run on the goodwill of our members but that goodwill is starting to run out."

After clashing with anti-cuts campaigner Dave Walsh over the suggestion the council should refuse to impose the cuts, Mayor Anderson said: "The idea that me walking away or resigning or not implementing the cuts would lead to the fall of the government is nonsense.

"That won't happen." Liberal group leader Cllr Steve Radford also called on the council "not to fall into the trap" being set by government.

He added: "I believe the Tories want us to go back 25 years to the chaos of the Militant era, that's what the militants on the Tory right wing want us to do, to walk into that trap of setting an illegal budget so they can send up the district auditor and cut down all the discretionary services."

Lib Dem leader Cllr Richard Kemp said he believed if the council reintroduced the bus lanes and put in a late night levy on bars and clubs, as well as increasing parking charges, then along with taking the PS1m offered by government not to impose a council tax hike, the city could afford not to put the council tax up.

But, on a completely different tack, the Green group proposed putting council tax up by 5%, arguing that for years it had not risen in line with inflation and that the city was missing out on extra cash.

But both sets of amendments were voted down by the ruling Labour group.

The plan to end the Liverpool Direct contract with BT was also passed without objection.

SEFTON TO SET BUDGET TONIGHT COUNCIL tax in Sefton is set to rise this evening, as councillors look for ways to bridge a PS3m funding gap.

The exact figure has not yet been set - but it will be less than the 2% which would trigger a local referendum, allowing local residents to decide whether they would agree to an increase.

Sefton Council is currently half way through a two-year budget, which it set this time last year, with the target of saving around PS50m.

The cuts made so far have included closing a number of libraries, including Birkdale and Churchtown, while burial and cremation fees have become the most expensive in Britain. The council is likely to vote to increase parking charges by around 10%.

Council leader Cllr Peter Dowd said that he was satisfied with the progress of savings made so far, but says councillors will tonight have to find ways of plugging the gap of PS3m in their accounts.

He said that Sefton has suffered from a fall in the amount collected in business rates, while suffering from inflationary pressures and cuts in government grants.

Part of the deficit this year will be bridged with reserves . They will then start to plan their next two year budget, 2015-2017 - when they are looking to cut a further PS56million.

Cllr Dowd said: "There is no hiding from what we are facing."

KNOWSLEY TO REDUCE SERVICES COUNCILLORS in Knowsley agreed a budget which will see significant reductions in council services.

While the authority agreed to freeze council tax once again for 2014/15 councillors warned of even worse times to come over the following two years.

A huge range of savings will be implemented over the next 12 months.

While the authority must begin to identify a further PS25m savings in 2015/16 and 2016/17.

The cuts come after the government slashed Knowsley's funding by up to PS44m - around a third - over the next three years.

It leaves Knowsley as the worst affected authority in the country.

In 2014/15, Knowsley is losing funding of PS172 per household, compared to an average cut of PS62 per household across the country.

Among the savings in 2014/15 will be reductions in family centre provision, the removal of school clothing grants, the transfer of Whiston Library to the community and a reduction in the frequency of litter picking and the emptying of litter bins.

Council leader Cllr Ron Round said: "It's our job to deal with these challenges as best as we can.

"The easy options have already been taken. The painful part is still yet to come.

"The people of Knowsley will remember who it was who stood up for them."

ST HELENS SEES AN INCREASE OF 1.99% ST HELENS council unanimously agreed to a 1.99% increase in its council tax.

Council leader Barrie Grunewald pledged to protect services to the most vulnerable.

But he admitted that it will be an uphill struggle with many tough decisions ahead.

He said: "The Government has stretched essential council services to breaking point.

"But I can assure people that we will do our best to protect people from the government's disgraceful attack on local government which is devastating people's lives.

"Quite frankly, we are up against a government that just does not care at all. The Government should hang its head in shame as the country faces the highest youth unemployment, record debts, worsening living standards, welfare cuts to those in need and a national budget which supports the wealthy and devastates the poor."

Cllr Grunewald pledged to continue with the graduate and apprenticeship scheme.

There will also be help to boost the town centre, and he cited PS6m committed to the Parkside development and the PS1m to provide affordable mortgages to first time homebuyers as evidence of the council's commitment to its communities.

HALTON AGREES 1.9% COUNCIL TAX RISE HALTON Borough Council increased council tax bills by 1.9% for the coming financial year.

From April tax bills will rise, and the average Band D household will have an annual bill of PS1,181.56.

The council voted to approve savings of PS6.5m.

Halton''s budget gap over the next two years was forecast to be around PS35.9m.

The authority's plan is to progress its so-called efficiency programme, which involves reviewing land and assets held - including the use of buildings in accordance with its accommodation strategy - and to offer staff voluntary early retirement and voluntary redundancy.

Part of the plan is to stop providing some lower priority services.

The authority will also focus on better procurement and review terms and conditions of staff, subject to negotiation. A council report states: "The budget strategy is predicated on the government continuing to withdraw considerable amounts of grant from the council.

"To help offset this loss, support will be given to our partners and the voluntary sector to lever-in monies to the borough."

All recommendations on the agenda were unanimously approved in a meeting at Runcorn town hall last night.

PROTESTERS MAKE FEELINGS HEARD OVER CUTS HUNDREDS of campaigners protested outside Liverpool town hall as councillors inside prepared to make millions of pounds of budget cuts at last night's meeting.

From worried parents to trade unionists their voices rang loud as the anti-cuts anthem "You say cut back, we say fight back" filled the air. Flags, banners and placards slamming everything from the threat of cuts to children's centres to the Coalition Government were waved above the crowds.

Several families took part in the protest, most fearing the impacT cuts to children's services would have on their lives.

Caroline Cochlin, from Granby, was one of those campaigners.

She was there with partner Michael Burgin and their 19-month-old daughter Etta, and told the ECHO any further cuts to Sure Start centres would be "ridiculous".

She said: "I've met mothers from all walks of life. It's a place for us to gather and for children to benefit."

Jeanette Underwood, from Clubmoor, was with sister Angela Boult and Angela's 11-year-old granddaughter Heather.

She said: "We should be investing in this."


HANDS OFF: Protesters say no to cuts
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 6, 2014
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