Money. Everyone is discussing money.
These local elections are being contested amid a significant spike in the cost of living, from the Merseyside council getting slapped on the wrist for not making “difficult decisions” over its budgets to households opening their council tax bill this month and seeing an above-inflation hike once again.
Local elections are held in five of the Liverpool City Region’s six boroughs: Wirral, Halton, St Helens, Sefton, and Knowsley.
Except for Wirral, all of the boroughs have Labour leaders and large Labour majorities.
That means Labour has more councillors than the other parties, and that is unlikely to alter in the near future, with the exception of Wirral, where power is in flux.
There, a tiny number of votes might make all the difference, putting Labour in jeopardy.
After losing its majority in 2019, the party currently controls 27 of the 66 councillors on the Wirral, far fewer than the 34 it needed to reclaim complete control of the council and just four more than the Conservatives.
And in Wirral, money is a big part of the electoral campaign.
It will be the first opportunity for voters to express their opinions on the council’s £20 million budget cutbacks, which include funding cuts to a leisure facility and nine public libraries, as well as the closure of two public golf courses.
In previous years, Labour had lost seats in Wirral to the Greens, but in 2021, the party achieved its best-ever election performance, winning in six wards.
Wirral has won millions of pounds in Levelling Up and Town Deal funding for towns like New Ferry and Birkenhead, but with both the Labour government and the Conservative opposition claiming credit, it will be intriguing to watch who voters reward.
St Helens is also getting millions of pounds to renovate its town center.
Due to boundary changes, all 48 seats on the council are up for grabs this year.
Labour has 35 of the 48 seats, while the Liberal Democrats have four seats, ahead of the Conservatives and Greens, who each have three seats, and three independent councillors.
In May, Halton held “all-out” elections, but this time, a third of the 54 seats are up for grabs.
Labour presently has 48 seats, the Lib Dems three, the Conservatives two, and the Green Party one, courtesy to a first-ever victory in 2021.
Labour councillors in Knowsley will be hoping that the arrival of a supermarket in Kirkby for the first time in 40 years, as well as the planned completion later this year of the new Shakespeare North Playhouse theatre in Prescot, will solidify their big majority.
Fears about green space development in the borough have previously been used by the Green Party.
Knowsley was once known as a one-party state, with a few of wards having only one candidate.
However, circumstances have changed, and there is plenty of choice in all 45 wards that are up for election this year.
Sefton is the only borough in the country with an uncontested ward.
Carla Thomas will retain her seat in St Oswald in Bootle since no other candidates have expressed an interest.
In the broader borough, which includes Southport’s Damien Moore, Merseyside’s lone Tory MP, Labour will be aiming to add to their 48 seats, the highest held by any party since the metropolitan borough was founded in 1974.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats each had eight seats going into the election, with the Formby Residents Action Group having two more.
This year, there are no elections in Liverpool (save for a single ward by-election), but 2023 will be a watershed moment in the city’s politics, as it goes to all-out elections and brand new ward borders, redrawing the political landscape.
Even without elections, there is a fierce discussion over money in Liverpool, not least over the introduction of a new charge for yard trash collections.
Residents in Wirral, St Helens, and Halton already pay to have their yard garbage picked up.
Some concerns, though, transcend beyond the usual municipal election fare of garbage and potholes.
Campaigners said they’re hearing money issues from voters who are struggling to pay their bills on the doorstep.
Every household’s council tax has also increased this month.
Councils claim they are likewise cash-strapped and have no choice but to raise taxes.
It remains to be seen if voters will approve this.