A few months ago, as part of the budget process, it was announced that up to 11 libraries could potentially face closure in this city. It was a decision that was certainly not made lightly and something I know will have upset many, myself included. That is why for a couple of months now, I, as well as my cabinet, councillors and staff have been working tirelessly to look at alternative methods to try and bring that number down as much as possible.
However, I feel that I have to address those who are campaigning to save the City from any library closures and remind them of the fact that if we do not reduce the funding to libraries, and in turn keep them all open, then we will have to take that funding from somewhere else.
The reality is, by closing a number of libraries, we are simply asking that this service, like all others, take their fair share of the cuts that we have to face. What many are forgetting is that we will still be spending £7.5 million per year on our excellent library service, including the £2 million cost of PFI funds for Central Library, and we will ensure that almost everyone in Liverpool will still live within 2 miles of a library.
The closures to libraries, as upsetting as they may be, cannot come as a surprise. I have publicly warned people for over two years that closures would be inevitable as a result of the cuts forced upon us by Central Government. And I remind you now that not only do we face two more years of cuts, there will be more to follow.
This is not me making excuses. I do not and will not give any false information on what our financial situation is and I am not going to hide any information from you. Our financial situation is no secret. I always have been and always will be completely transparent. I will tell you straight what we need and have to do.
To be clear, in 2010 we received £514m from Government funds. In 2017 we will receive £264m. To put that real terms – we are facing a 58% cut of Government funds. We simply cannot be expected to do the same job, deliver the same results with more than half of our money taken away from us. We’ve already lost 2000 jobs and had many services axed or reduced. Take Adult Social Care for example – when I took over as leader of the council in 2010, we were spending £224 million a year on Adult Social Care.
Due to government cuts we had to significantly reduce that figure down to £174m a year. We are now being forced to reduce that by a further £38 million to £136 by 2016. That is a devastating cut which will leave us with no other choice but to reduce the number of Care Packages for all vulnerable adults, including the elderly and disabled residents in our City, from 13,000 to 9,000. And there are still more cuts to be made to this service.
Other important service areas will suffer too. We will have to close at least 12 Children’s Centres. There will be more job losses and cuts to all service areas, which we can’t avoid, as we respond to the devastating 58% funding cut imposed by this Government. I have said that we are now in a position that we have to prioritise our priorities and I see elderly care and children’s centres more important than keeping all of our libraries.
Then there are the people who say “we should use our reserves” or “the council shouldn’t buy Cunard” – allow me to put this argument to bed.
We paid £10million for the Cunard building. With taxes, stamp duty and refurbishment, the final cost will be around £14.8 million. Although we will be able to claim back some of the taxes we have paid.This money was from Council reserves, so there is no borrowing or interest to pay. We have invested in bringing a new fibre connection to the building and working space for the 800 staff that will be relocated there.
This will save us £1.3million per year and earn us an additional £800,000 from rents for the other floors in the building, so we will have paid for this building in seven years.The rental income means we have this to spend on services and it is this approach to help our funding gap that will help us now and in the future.
People ask, why can’t you spend that money on libraries or other services?
In simple terms, it is not allowed – Government restrictions prevent us from spending capital funds to pay revenue i.e running costs. Even if they did allow us to use that money to make a one off pavement to a service, it would only be papering over the cracks, we would then have to find more money the following year and so on.
So let me make it clear, despite the challenges we face, we will continue to do our best to protect those most vulnerable and those most in need. This means making tough but fair decisions. It will also mean we do more investments like Cunard to make the council more cost-effective and is investing your money to earn more money for you and the services we need.
I hope you can see that giving the libraries special treatment and exempting them from cuts will mean more savings need to come from elsewhere – such as adult social care.
I, nor any Councillor, want to see cuts to any service; whether it’s Adult Social Care, libraries or Children’s Centres. Nor do we want to make any more redundancies. But we have to face the reality of the situation we are in. There are only two options – one is to deal with the cuts in the fairest way we can, or secondly to set an illegal budget which some campaigners are calling for.
The second option – setting an illegal budget – will categorically not happen with me leading the City. Therefore we have deal with the cuts in a fair, honest and transparent way.
Of course we will continue to explore with others how we can save as many of our libraries as we can, I am confident that we can reduce the number we needed to close from eleven, to six or seven as a result of working with partners, volunteers and residents.
Every single day it saddens me as a proud Liverpudlian, resident, Mayor, father and grandfather that our City is under a sustained and immoral financial attack. And it saddens me that so many from our own city want to condemn the decisions we are making, before trying to understand why we are having to make them.
As I said, I will continue to be as open and straight with you all as possible. I will continue to fight for this city and, despite the best efforts of others, I will continue to do what is best for the future of Liverpool.