Halton Council leader optimistic about future but finances still a challenge

The new man at the helm of Halton Borough Council says he is determined to ‘go in his own direction’ after landing the top job.

Cllr Mike Wharton was recently unveiled as the authority’s new leader having served under previous incumbent Rob Polhill as deputy for 11 years. Following his appointment, he sat down with the ECHO to talk about his priorities as the borough emerges from lockdown.

“There are lots of challenges but so much to look forward to, coming out of Covid is a big thing for us all but let’s hope our (infection) numbers stay down.” He said.

Brought up in Bootle where his dad was a union shop steward on the docks, he attended Bootle Grammar School and later went on to work in finance for Littlewoods. Having been made redundant in 2005, he said it allowed him to concentrate on local politics, something he said he has always been passionate about.

Looking to the future, Cllr Wharton pointed to developments such as the leisure centre on Moor Lane, Runcorn station quarter and the £25 million bid investment in Runcorn Old Town as things to look forward to, but said the council’s finances were likely to remain under significant strain.

He said: “We know we face financial challenges, we have a £20 million gap over the next three years but we’ll get through it – we got through the last 11 years.”

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The councillor for Ditton, Hale Village and Halebank has wasted no time in ringing the changes, having replaced half of the authority’s ruling executive board with new members, a team which includes a role he created specifically to tackle climate change.

He added: “I’ve started to change things and I’ve got my own direction to go in.

“I’ve probably got similar priorities to Rob (Polhill) in that the most important priority is to look after our most vulnerable people, it doesn’t matter if it’s me or Rob who’s the leader or anyone else. That has to be the main priority.”

An avid football fan who supports Marine and Liverpool FC, he said jobs and housing will also be among his top priorities.

“We are in a prime location, particularly with the Mersey Gateway and the access to the motorways. They stand us in good stead to continue to attract new business to Halton, offering jobs and opportunities to our residents.”

“I also want to see any new housing developments offering opportunities for our young people to get on the housing ladder.”

Liverpool Echo – Liverpool News