13 Jul 2015

Wirral's Five Year Plan

Tonight's council meeting was devoted to Labour's five year plan. I voted in favour but made the following points emphasising in particular the dire implications of the benefit cap for Wirral families:

The Green Party welcomes this report and also welcomes the opportunity for all councillors to comment on it. We recognise the incredibly challenging backdrop given the government's persistent attack on local government. In that context we support the broad thrust of the plan though naturally we would have different priorities. I will restrict my comments to three priorities I would see as especially important.

1. It's a shame the report makes the all too common mistake of separating business and the environment. The clear implication is that business comes first and environment is secondary rather then weaving both into one clear and consistent vision of how we achieve our economic aspirations while fulfilling our environmental obligations. The words "climate change" are sadly absent from this report. Wirral has enormous potential to encourage more people to visit our beautiful heritage sites and coastal areas that provide abundant opportunities for low cost, low carbon activities using our excellent rail network. Tapping into Liverpool's success by encouraging many more to make the short trip across the Mersey to enjoy our environment and heritage is the sustainable option that we should be focusing on. This will not only attract more visitors to Wirral but will also increase the sense of pride and place of those who live and work here.

2. The plan, if delivered, would provide a safe, affordable, well maintained and efficient transport network. It will also encourage residents to live healthier lifestyles and promote physical activity.

All well and good but when reading the papers for last week's council meeting I was struck by the the cabinet report on capital monitoring in which it was claimed that Wirral now has some of the best roads in the country. Well not for cyclists it doesn't and not for pedestrians either. Wirral is part of a city region that has the worst figures for pedestrian casualties in the entire country. Pedestrians here are 44% more likely to be killed or seriously injured than in Greater Manchester and 53% more likely than the UK average. In Wirral, the number of cyclists seriously injured has seen a steep and worrying increase in recent years (22 in 2012, 29 in 2013 compared with average of 15 from 2005-2011). Pedestrian casualties have also increased. Frankly I don't believe either Wirral Council or Merseyside Police give road safety a high enough priority. This document is a missed opportunity to help address this.

3. The plan is terribly vague on homelessness saying only "we will also continue to tackle the challenges and causes of homelessness in Wirral". This is of acute concern to the Green Party.

From April next year, the benefit cap of £20,000 per annum will decimate household finances for many, many Wirral families. Take the example of a couple with three children. Currently they can claim up to £166 per week in housing benefit. From April this figure will plummet to just £50/week.

Over 1,700 families in Wirral are set to be acutely affected by the benefit cap. Many will inevitably face eviction. Given Wirral's duty to provide temporary accommodation to homeless families for up to two years how will this be funded? A conservative estimate suggests additional costs to Wirral of £9 million pounds per annum.

This is an enormous sum that threatens to undermine service provision across the board in Wirral. Affected families are entitled to know how their local authority plans to support them yet this document provides no guidance on how Wirral will cope with what is likely to be its biggest challenge over the next five years.

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