Council boss warns of tough times ahead

Council leader Barrie Grunewald
Council leader Barrie Grunewald

St Helens must brace itself for a triple-whammy of cuts over the next few years, council boss Barrie Grunewald has warned.

Coun Grunewald said the local authority expected around £23m of local government funding to be taken away but he promised to shield people from the worst effect of swingeing cuts from Westminster.

Coun Grunewald told the annual council meeting St Helens was in all three categories where the Local Government Association (LGA) warns budgets will be further reduced.

The LGA has previously said councils will face a £14.4bn shortfall by 2019, but town halls could now face a bigger cash crisis sooner.

Coun Grunewald said: “I cannot overstate how difficult the years ahead might be for our town and for this council.

“The association is now predicting that local authorities with the poorest populations, those in the North and those classified as metropolitan authorities will face the greatest cuts. We sit in all three categories.”

Coun Grunewald said the tough financial situation meant a radical re-think of how vulnerable communities will be supported was needed.

He made a series of key announcements, including a new post of town centre manager to work with businesses and increase visitors and the production of a long-term economic vision for the borough.

At least two new businesses will join Aldi on the Linkway West retail park and the first planning application for the Parkside site should come in within the next 12 months.

Coun Grunewald also pledged closer working between the council and the clinical commissioning group (CCG), schools, hospitals, voluntary organisations and the private sector.

He also dismissed concerns about “municipal paternalism”, saying it was right the council actively cared about opportunities for local people, housing, health and the quality of St Helens schools.

Coun Grunewald said: “I stood here last year and said that every child matters in St Helens, and I reaffirm that statement.

“We were one of the first councils in the country to appoint a schools commissioner and our work supporting schools being is being recognised nationally.

“We need to be on the front foot, assessing what is best for St Helens and making sure that is what we achieve. Only then can we help our residents lead longer, happier and healthier lives.”

St Helens Council is also pressing on with plans for a sports and training facility at Ruskin Drive, which could involve external funding.