Council cuts: Narrative of Merseyside cutbacks established

Pier Head Image copyright Peter Tarleton
Image caption Moves to save money on Merseyside have included withdrawing school uniform grants and reducing library opening hours

After four years of savings announcements from local authorities, the numbers can seem incomprehensible.

Millions of pounds have been slashed from council budgets by central government, thousands of jobs have been lost and services affected.

This year, on Merseyside the headlines seem less dramatic, but maybe that's because the narrative of 'cuts' has become established.

In Liverpool two years ago the city council withdrew school uniform grants from 24,000 pupils whose parents struggled to afford blazers and shirts and cut funding for youth mental health.

Analysis: Arif Ansari, BBC North West political editor

Local government in the North West has been hit harder by spending cuts than any other region in England.

Ministers are trying to reduce the deficit and that means targeting the bigger budgets.

Larger city councils get the most cash to deal with the most pressing social problems.

Even if the local government budget had been frozen, council leaders would have been making savings due to rising costs, particularly adult social care. But, in fact, local government spending has been reduced more than any other department.

Labour accuses the government of punishing Northern councils at the expense of more affluent ones in the South. The government points out that they still get far more funding.

The best councils have responded by becoming much more collaborative, innovative and efficient.

But undoubtedly some are struggling to cope.

So far it's estimated North West councils have had their budgets reduced by a third since the general election. And there's no sign the pressure is about to ease.

Last year they started a consultation on closing half the city's libraries. Earlier this year, the Mayor announced they have now been 'saved'.

That said, libraries across Merseyside are still perhaps bearing the most visible brunt of the cuts. Almost all our councils have reduced opening hours - and in Sefton seven libraries have closed.

Image caption Protestors handed in a 10,000-signature petition opposing the closure of libraries

Plans to allow local community groups to run them have stalled.

Lollipop crossing patrols are also under review at most councils, with schools being asked to fund them instead of councils.

In Wirral some street lights have been turned off in a bid to save cash (though they are now back on); in Sefton charges for burials have gone up, and in Liverpool some council-run leisure centres are under threat.

Local councils are still haemorrhaging jobs. In St Helens, for example, 1,600 posts have gone since 2010.

Whilst cuts to services inevitably attract the headlines, most of the savings have been behind the scenes as councils fundamentally change the way they operate.

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