Wirral board under review amid financial woes and ‘broader concerns’

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A government-ordered review of the Wirral Council is underway after the authority received “exceptional” financial support.

Wirral is one of eight local communities currently under independent assurance review that will provide a detailed assessment of its financial condition and management before making recommendations on how it can improve.

The news comes as it is revealed that earlier this year the borough council received what the government describes as “exceptional financial support.”

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Councils across the country are in desperate positions, with the brutal impact of Covid-19 arriving after a decade of austerity and budget cuts.

One of the eight councils to receive the emergency funding, Slough, has now declared bankruptcy, banning any further spending.

Slough’s council has filed what is known as a Section 114 Notice, which means it does not have the funds to be able to present a balanced budget, having accumulated a budget deficit of 96 million pounds sterling.

The government has said that all reviews of the council – which includes Wirral – are being carried out in response to broader concerns from individual local authorities.

The Wirral Council review will provide an assessment of the board’s financial management and risk management, as well as its ability to “realize cost savings plans and the effectiveness of service delivery.”

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The Wirral review will also look at the board’s broader governance arrangements, to ensure that it can provide a “financially sustainable plan” for the community it serves.

All recommendations from these reviews will inform the decisions of the secretary of local government regarding exceptional financial support for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, and any other areas of concern to the authorities.

Local Government Minister Luke Hall said: “The government has committed more than £ 35 billion to help councils support their communities and local businesses during the pandemic.

“Even with the tremendous support already provided, there will be individual counseling with unique circumstances which in some cases have been exacerbated by financial mismanagement on their part.

“These reviewers will ensure that each of the boards have plans in place so that they are financially sustainable, minimizing the need for additional government support and working in the best interests of the communities they serve.”

The external review of the Wirral Council will be conducted by Ada Burns.

In a letter confirming the appointment, Catherine Frances, Director General of Local Government at the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “The insurance review will provide a comprehensive assessment of Wirral’s financial situation and the strength of its broader governance arrangements.

“It is intended to provide the Secretary of State with assurance on the Council’s ability to implement a financial sustainability plan without further recourse to the government for further support.

“We also expect that a plan to move the recommendations forward will be agreed with the Council before a funding directive is granted.

“If the Council fails to demonstrate sufficient progress, or if any other relevant evidence comes to light, the Secretary of State will consider whether it is appropriate to use the best value powers at his disposal.”

A top value inspection of the Liverpool council was carried out earlier this year, resulting in the appointment of Whitehall commissioners to oversee key departments of the authority for the next three years.

A spokesperson for the Wirral Council said: “The appointment of independent reviewers was part of the agreement with the government on the capitalization directive in March.

“This arrangement with the government has allowed the council to balance its budget after a difficult year in which the expected savings could not be realized or all the lost revenue to be recovered, due to the need to l authority to respond to the pandemic The board will now work closely with those appointed by the MHCLG to support the review.

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