‘This budget marries the compassion and ambition needed to put Liverpool on the strongest possible footing’ – read the Acting Mayor’s budget speech

Liverpool City Council has set its budget for the coming financial year, 2021/22.

It prioritises giving a helping hand to the most vulnerable, with 60 per cent of the council’s budget going on children’s and adults services.

Other headlines include:

  • A commitment to long-term funding for the city’s network of children’s centres
  • Additional money to ensure all rough sleepers are prioritised with the offer of a roof over their head
  • A start on building council housing at Denford Road in Yew Tree
  • A £2 million recovery fund to support the council’s Covid-19 recovery plan
  • A £2 million development budget to kick start schemes linked to economic recovery
Acting Mayor Wendy Simon

Read below what Acting Mayor, Cllr Wendy Simon, said at the budget council meeting as she presented the financial plan for the coming year.

Each year setting the budget becomes more difficult, but the last twelve months have been like no other.

Coronavirus has been the biggest shock to society and local government in living history.

Countries have been brought to a standstill. From face coverings to self-isolation, we are living in ways none of us could have imagined just a year ago.

Coronavirus has created challenges we could not have anticipated. But as a council our response has also been unprecedented.

We set up completely new services overnight to support the most vulnerable – whilst they shielded at home – delivering food and medicine to those in need

We acted quickly to distribute Government grants to businesses, providing a lifeline at a time when many SMEs would have gone under forever

We devised our Without Walls Scheme to bring culture back to our streets and reimagine our outdoors spaces – helping the hospitality sector to survive this crisis

We took the lead tackling PPE shortages for social care staff

We have spent £90 million responding to the Covid crisis and it has tested us like never before.

But we have risen to that challenge, reshaping and redesigning our core services to support our communities and to keep our vital services running.

The Without Walls scheme helped the city reopen last year

This also marks the eleventh year since we took control of the council and austerity began.

When accounting for inflation, we have £450 million less to spend every single year than we did back then.

It has been well documented – by respected thinktanks and university academics – just how unfair the funding regime and the cuts have been, hitting big northern cities like us harder than anywhere else.

60% of our houses – most of which were built long before we were all born – are in Band A.

This delivers the lowest amount of council tax and compares to 24% nationally.

And discounts and exemptions for council tax are also higher, reducing our meagre potential income by over a third, compared to the national average of 20%.

Combined, this double whammy means we lose out on almost £100 million.

60 per cent of homes in Liverpool are in the lowest Council Tax band, meaning it brings in less income than in other areas

Against that backdrop we have been dealing with the worst pandemic in a century – a pandemic that has changed everything.

It has been a year that has brought our city’s normally bustling streets to a standstill.

A year that has cost more than 1,000 lives – and we mourn every one of them.

And a year that has led to the loss of hundreds of businesses, leaving thousands of people out of a job.

But in the worst of times we see the very best of people – and in this city – that happens like no other.

We saw it in the thousands of people who volunteered for our good neighbour programme, helping some of our most vulnerable residents get essentials like food and medicine.

People who were facing their own problems, whose first thought was how they could help someone else.

We saw it in the charities and businesses who went over and above to help their local communities.

We saw it in our NHS and carers who have been on the frontline throughout this crisis – often at great personal risk – saving lives and giving people dignity in their final moments.

And our council staff – who, whatever their substantive job, have turned their hand to whatever was asked of them to help our communities – helping at the food hub, supporting the mass testing programme, or giving people a friendly voice to turn to when isolated. Our staff have embodied public service at its very best and I am proud of them all.

Michael Benjamin from the city council’s transport services delivers a food parcel to one of Liverpool’s shielded residents

The city has risen to the challenge of the pandemic heroically. Liverpool faces the coming municipal year with strength because we have been true to our values of compassion and solidarity – nobody left to fail, nobody left without an offer of help.

It has been one of the most financially turbulent years to try and set a budget. As a council we have lost income due to the impact of the pandemic – with car parks and leisure centres closed – and there has been a huge increase in demand for Council support, whether for PPE to keep people safe, or helping people in crisis through our Citizens Support Scheme.

We face the coming year with the Government only providing a one-year Local Government settlement, meaning we can only set a one-year budget rather than the usual three – making it harder for us to plan for the future.

So much uncertainty has caused real difficulties; local authorities across the country are staring down the barrel of dire financial situations.

As Acting Mayor, I am proud to be able to present a balanced budget which delivers on the city’s values and priorities.

This past year has been one that will not only live long in the memory – its ramifications will be felt for many years to come.

And that has been at the forefront of our thinking for this year’s budget.

We will continue to be true to the city’s values, prioritising the most vulnerable and most in need.

The council’s outreach team helped rough sleepers inside during the pandemic

This is a council that is proud to have made sure rough sleepers were in Covid-safe accommodation as soon as the pandemic hit.

A council that is proud to be one of the only ones in the country that still offers a council tax support scheme, reducing payments for 70,000 of our poorest households.

A council that is proud to have made over 12,000 crisis payments last year to give families a helping hand with food and fuel bills – up almost 50 per cent on the year before.

A council that is proud to have helped over 10,000 families struggling to pay their rent last year – helping keep a roof over their head.

A council that is proud to have last year made nearly 4,000 awards to help people buy essential furniture and white goods – working with Bulky Bobs to give people dignity and turn houses into homes.

This next year we will be spending 60 per cent of our total budget on supporting vulnerable children and adults.

Supporting the most vulnerable at the start of life and in their older years is an increasing proportion of our budget – it is £62 million more than five years ago when it accounted for less than half of our total spend.

Bulky Bob’s helps people living in furniture poverty (image taken before the pandemic)

We know this is a time of uncertainty and worry. Now – more than ever – our residents need a compassionate and caring council which offers them a helping hand.

That is why, we are making a long-term commitment to our children’s centres and pledging to support them with the funding they need.

When we were in government these centres were one of our proudest achievements.

As a council – and unlike many areas in the country – we have kept open every single children’s centre in the city, recognising the amazing work they do supporting our families and children.

And now we are putting them on a sure footing – finding the money from our base budget for them this and every year from now on to give our children the best start in life.

We are also going to build on the success we have had helping rough sleepers into sustainable tenancies.

We have found extra money to make sure every rough sleeper will be offered a Covid-safe roof over their head – not just during the pandemic but after it ends, as part of our work to try and end the cycle of homelessness.

Our council was the first in Europe to offer social housing to its residents 150 years ago.

And I promise that council and social housing remains a priority – that is why I’m delighted to say that I have found the money to ensure the Denford Road development in Yew Tree will start to be built in the coming weeks.

These are council homes, delivered by our administration.

It is part of our vision of a city where everyone has access to affordable accommodation, whatever their income.

Denford Road in Yew Tree will be the first council homes development in more than 30 years

The importance of sport and health have been emphasised by this crisis. Our Lifestyles leisure centres have been closed for much of the last year due to Covid – and the shutdown has demonstrated just how valued they are. Our residents asked time and again when they would be allowed to reopen.

We are determined to rebuild our services and have a network of quality fitness facilities.

That is why we have invested in Park Road, Garston and Austin Rawlinson which needed urgent repairs in the last couple of years.

And now we can add to that list – Peter Lloyd Lifestyles Centre in Tuebrook – so essential for our residents in the east of the city – which will benefit from a £300,000 investment to secure its future, meaning it can re-open as soon as the repairs and Covid allow.

This has also been a listening budget.

We listened to residents, councillors and trade unions and changed our proposal for One Stop Shops with a commitment to retain two full time services within council buildings.

It pains me and – and I know you – to ask our residents to pay more in Council Tax.

But the money it generates is absolutely vital to delivering critical services and giving a helping hand to our most vulnerable residents – with most of the money from this increase going to adult social care.

Without it, we would be faced with even more painful choices about which crucial services we had to cut.

The Spine in Paddington Village is a key project for the city’s economic recovery

Our economy has been battered over the last year – with many businesses teetering on the brink.

That is why as part of our budget we are establishing a £2 million development budget to kick start schemes linked to economic recovery.

There is also funding earmarked in the capital programme to continue developing Paddington Village in the Knowledge Quarter.

It can’t be overstated how important this scheme is for the city – it will deliver high quality jobs and establish Liverpool as a world-leading innovation district.

But we also need the infrastructure to go with it – so we are committing to upgrading key routes across the city.

And when life gets back to normal – whatever normal looks like for each of us – we need to make sure our flagship events and music venues are in the best possible position to attract artists and blue-chip companies.

So, we have earmarked money to refurbish the M&S Bank Arena so it can continue to be a leading concert and events venue.

The effects of the pandemic on our city have been enormous and we will be feeling them for years to come. We have been hit harder than other parts of the country and the impacts within our city have been uneven, highlighting and compounding pre-existing inequalities.

But we cannot – and will not – let that define the future of our city.

Liverpool has always bounced back and we will do so again.

That is why we are establishing a £2 million recovery fund to support the council’s Covid-19 recovery plan.

That plan has ten pandemic pledges which we will make as a Council to help the people of Liverpool thrive over the next year. They will build on the good work we are already doing, and the lessons we have learnt from this crisis, to make sure we emerge from this pandemic a fairer and a more equal city.

We pledge to provide free or funded broadband to children and families at risk of poverty and digital exclusion.

Pledge to support people whose physical and mental health have suffered through the pandemic and support all people to lead healthier lives.

Pledge to re-open and re-invigorate the city centre for the benefit of residents, businesses and visitors.

Pledge to ensure all residents have safe, warm homes and are able to feed themselves and their families.

Pledges that we will make sure that every person, in every part of or city, is part of our recovery.

Liverpool Waterfront
Liverpool waterfront from the Albert Dock

While there are real opportunities to grasp, it is clear that these are extraordinarily challenging times, not just financially and economically but also reputationally.

In the near future, a Government inspector will deliver his verdict on an investigation into our planning, highways, regeneration and property management functions and the strength of associated audit and governance arrangements.

This will make for very difficult reading and will have ramifications for our organisation and the wider city.

But let me be clear, this is not a failing Council.

This is a financially sound council delivering good outcomes for our residents. Our response to the Covid crisis has shown that we are still delivering the crucial services people rely on and pay for – and delivering them well. As does this balanced and ambitious budget that gives a helping hand to those who need it most in our city.

We were already working hard to address areas that needed strengthening and we will keep addressing them. We have to listen and we have to learn.

We know we need to rebuild trust and last month we pledged to accept and implement every one of inspector’s recommendations, whatever they may be.

In the meantime, we have a moral and legal duty to make sure we keep delivering essential services and offering a helping hand to the people of our city. And that is exactly what we are doing.

Supporting the most vulnerable.

Making sure children go to good quality schools.

Helping businesses thrive.

This budget delivers not talk, but action. It delivers my values, our values and the City’s values with integrity.

I firmly believe this budget marries the compassion and ambition needed to put Liverpool on the strongest possible footing for the future.

I commend this budget to the city.

Councillor Wendy Simon – Acting Mayor