The closure of two children’s day centres and school meals service, along with a radical restructure programme has been unanimously backed by Halton councillors.

At a meeting of Full Council which lasted just under 15 minutes, members gave their backing to £6.88m of cuts over the next three years, as well as a drastic restructure which will set out to fundamentally re-imagine what council services are delivered in the future.

Last night’s meeting at Runcorn Town Hall also saw a profuse apology delivered by council leader Mike Wharton over how staff and parents learned of the closures, after information was published by the council online before they could be informed.

After the meeting, Cllr Wharton stayed to speak to around a half-a-dozen members of the public who had come to raise their concerns.

The measures backed last night include:

  • Closure of Ditton and Warrington Road Daycare Centres on August 31. They opened in 2004 as part of government policy to provide childcare for youngsters under five.
  • No longer delivering the school meals service in two years. Work would be undertaken with schools to support them finding alternative means of delivery, either in-house or with an external provider.
  • Increasing the price of meals on wheels services.
  • Selling Ingleifled children’s home in Runcorn with the intention of buying two bungalows.
  • Reducing the opening hours of Children's Centres.
  • Reviewing the operation of Windmill Hill Children's Centre.
  • Scrapping funding for the Learning Disability Nursing Team.
  • Franchising out the concourse bars at the DCBL Stadium to an external operator.
  • Considering introducing civil traffic enforcement for traffic violations. This would involve hiring private sector civil enforcement officers to issue fines and generate income.
  • Reducing area forum grants – cash usually distributed to community projects - for one year to £50,000, this would then be reviewed.

The authority is currently facing a £25m funding black hole but has used some of its reserves to offset further cuts in order to buy time for a restructure, which it hopes will put it on a more sound financial footing.

Cllr Wharton said the council was facing its most significant funding challenges ‘in its history’ and warned the public would ‘feel the impact’ of the cuts.

Blasting the government's record on council funding as well as recent turmoil in Downing Street, he told members: "It's not surprising that providing the necessary funding for the essential public services which councils deliver is clearly not a priority for this government. And in fact, it never has been.”

Apologising ‘unreservedly’ for the way the news of the closures was broken online before staff could be briefed, he said: “I've asked the chief executive to work with the senior management team to understand what went wrong and learn lessons. We are a council that cares about our staff and the way this was handled fell way short of what I expect.”

A named vote was conducted with every councillor voting in favour of the cuts and restructure.