WIRRAL'S hung council faces a financial showdown tonight over the setting of its council tax.
Council leader Steve Foulkes last night accused the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats of proposing reckless and irresponsible amendments to his group's budget.
Both parties, he said, had mortgaged the future of the council for their own electoral advantage and were damaging the possibilities of making real savings in expenditure.
A furious Cllr Foulkes said that both the opposition groups would plunge the council into costly and ineffective bureaucratic nightmares.
Last week, the Labour group published their draft budget which equated to a 1.27pc increase for 2004-05 before fire service and police costs.
Now the other groups have published their budgets, with the Tories proposing a zero increase and the Liberal Democrats a 1pc rise - together with a raft of criticisms of the Labour document.
But Cllr Foulkes said their budgets were dishonest and disingenuous. "I am outraged by the amendments to our budget," he said. "They are cynically seeking to put their own electoral advantage before the good of the council and the people of Wirral.
"Both are based on the principle of 'borrow now and let the people pay later'. It's a gigantic con trick.
"The Tories want to borrow a million pounds, at a cost of £95,000 a year over 25 years, which is a real cost of £2.3m to pay for three initiatives they believe will be popular.
"The Liberal Democrats want to borrow the same amount to put money into highway maintenance for one year, while taking more money out for ever to pay for other initiatives. It's reckless, irresponsible, financial nonsense."
But the Conservative group says their proposals will result in a tax freeze for Wirral residents while improving safety around schools and starting to reopen the borough's public toilets.
The tax freeze would be paid for by proposals like cutting the amount paid to councillors and reducing, by an initial 1%, the amount spent on items such as postage, magazines for staff and photocopying.
Group leader Cllr Jeff Green said: "Labour's budget will, yet again, result in higher taxes. They have made no realistic attempt to tackle waste or to look at value for money. I fully expect Labour to try and scare people into believing that a tax freeze will harm local communities."
Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Stuart Kelly said: "Our budget is one of vision and imagination and addresses the real concerns of Wirral people.
"We have not only reduced the council tax burden, but set in place the means to deliver cheaper and better services."