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5p on school lunches, £1 breakfast club charge, £30 for extra green bin, cremations up £50 – Council administration unveil savings proposals

Wrexham Council’s Executive Board, who just 22 days ago decided against taking up an option to save £186,000 by opting for a lower pay level, have unveiled a range of plans to make budget savings.

In the draft consultation document the cuts and revenue raisers are explained by Wrexham Council Leader Mark Pritchard (pictured below) in the context of reduced funding from Central Government meaning ‘that Councils must continue to find ways to function and deliver services whilst budgets continue to be under pressure’.

Cllr Pritchard says: “In Wrexham our medium term financial plan indicates a shortfall of approximately £13 million for the period 2018 – 2020. This is in addition to the £18 million already saved over the last three years. Overall, we have had to make savings of £52 million since 2008.”

The documents before councillors gives a Budget Plan sheet showing the changes from the current budget to predicted and planned budgets to total the now required £6.5m of savings this year and £7.3m the year after, along with a copy of the draft proposals and survey – entitled “Difficult Decisions”.

Last week Welsh Government announced a probable further 0.3% cut in their settlement to Wrexham Council, a cut of £564,000 in the coming year. The biggest impacts on the budget revolve around inflation, notably pay over the coming years – likely due in part to the National Living Wage, hitting £3.2m.

‘PFI, CTax Reduction, Care Fees’ are also noted under inflation hitting a £1.3m a year possible increase by 2019-20, along with a ‘General’ category going from zero to £1.3m per year by 2019-20. A £900k ‘Waste Management Contract pressure’ is also listed as contributing to the final shortfall figure.

Thursday Midday additional note: We have been asked to make it clear that some proposals will be consulted on, and some are for information only. We are happy to do so – Not all of the below proposals will be open to public consultation, some are just the Council ‘keeping you informed’. Some will have specific tick box ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’ style questions, others will have a general ‘Are there any other comments you wish to make…’ questions, and some will have none at all. Residents will be able to raise any other matters that are of concern or interest to them under the ‘Any other comments section’ as well.

One of the biggest changes, making up 25% of the £4.4m of cuts outlined, is a change in how schools cope with ‘growth pressures’. The plans outlined are due to save £1.1m in the coming year, and £1.4m the year after by making schools cover pay, national insurance and pension cost increases.

The document before Councillors states: “For a number of years the Council has protected school budgets. It is proposed that schools’ budgets are protected and given the same allocation as 2017/18 but not increased over the next two years. This means that schools will be required to meet growth pressures and inflation which are currently estimated at £1,158,000 in 2018/19 and a further £1,408,000 in 2019/20. This proposal has been consulted on with the School Budget Forum.”

School meals could be set to rise by the now usual 5 pence, a 2% increase, to help raise £15k in the first year and £7k the year after. It is noted any proposals or changes would not affect Free School Meals entitlement.

£158,000 over two years could be raised by introducing charges for some elements of school breakfast clubs. It is proposed that that from September 2018, the Breakfast Scheme continues to be open from 7.50 to 8.50 but would consist of two elements.

This would be offering a childcare service from 7.50am to 8.20am (for which there would be a charge of £1) and a healthy breakfast from 8.20 to 8.50 (which would continue to be free). If a child arrives after 8.20am there will be no charge, but if the parents want to take advantage of the scheme and the child arrives between 7.50am and 8.20am then a charge of £1 per child per day is proposed.

Councillors get an added explainer, which notes: “Breakfast club is currently run free of charge at 50 primary schools. Five do not provide free breakfast provision and 3 use an external provider. The current cost to the Council is £636k.

“The Council would still be contributing to the scheme, parental contributions would help to make sure the overall cost to the Council would be less than it is now.”

Adult Social Care sees Domiciliary Care have a proposed reduction in 15 minute calls alongside other changes to save £399k, with a possible total of £1m of savings if all steps proposed are carried out in the department.

A proposed 56% rise in day service charges is due to be consulted on, with the public likely asked their thoughts on: “The council has in place a charging policy for Adult Social Care services. This ensures the department complies with the council’s full cost recovery model whilst observing the annual cap on the maximum weekly charge for domiciliary services as determined by Welsh Government.

“It is proposed to increase the charge for day services from £25 to £39 per day to reflect the true cost of the service.”

£300k could be saved from Education in future years in what is described as “Reshaping of music service / delivery“. The explainer note in the public facing document says: “The Council currently provides a very comprehensive music service to schools which includes peripatetic instrument tuition (i.e. tutors visiting different schools), facilitating orchestras and youth choirs to a number of pupils across the Borough. This is not a statutory service and it is therefore proposed that the Council withdraws the funding for this music service.”

The councillor focused documents notes the department will explore and consult on a number of options including complete withdrawal of the service , a move to a traded company, or a provision through trust arrangement.

For those lucky enough to have multiple green bins you could end up having to pay an extra £30 a year per extra bin for the privilege of it being emptied. If carried out the Council expect to raise around £15,000.

Waste collection charges are also mentioned as being up for change for schools, who currently get a mates rates style deal paying 50% of costs to the Council. That could change, meaning the Council get an extra £20,000 via the increased costs.

Readers of Wrexham.com will have seen discussion for years over the parking perks for some council employees and Councillors – back in 2014 we worked out if the Lampit Street carpark was public and chargeable it could mean £120,000 pa revenue for the Council, or £480,00 in the bank to date if the changes had been made back then.

It is proposed that the perk is removed to net £49,000 predicted revenue for the Council – however there is no mention of opening the restricted car parks for public use, rather operating a ‘pass’ system with the workings noted as “Based on 270 passes at £1 day, £4 month for the working year(+Dec free parking)”.

Blue Badge holders in Council carparks will have their entitlements ‘revoked’ to raise £25,000. The proposal reads: “Currently blue badge holders can park for free in Council Car Parks. The blue badge scheme is not financially means-tested; therefore there is no need to assume that those people who hold blue badges are unable to pay for parking. It is proposed to introduce charging in Council car parks for those people who possess a blue badge.”

Some public car parks are another proposed revenue generator of £47k, with visitors to Alyn Waters, Ty Mawr, Nant Mill and Trevor Basin potentially being charged £1 the park all day.

The usual proposals of increasing licensing costs are proposed, with £2k from increased charges for Highways Act Licences, another £2k from increasing licences for pet shops and ‘premises hosting either cats or dogs’ plus another £7k earmarked from taxi and gaming licences.

The dead cannot escape the budget proposals, with a £50 per person increase in cremation prices proposed, with 2000 deceased people contributing to an expected £100,000 raised. The public explanation reads: “The cost of cremations at Pentre Bychan Crematorium has risen to cover inflation only for the last few years and the Council has continued to invest and improve the facilities” with the report noting that those in Wrexham are currently charged lower costs than many other Councils, but the Wrexham facility ‘may face reduced use when the new crematorium in Flintshire opens’. It currently costs £663 to be cremated.

The Council say the number of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) in Wrexham could end up being reduced if proposals to stop the £140k a year funding via the Police and Crime Commissioner are approved. The funding agreement is due to end in March 2019 and it is proposed to bring this forward to October 2018.

Council Tax is again referenced, with it noted that it was consulted on (a raise by anything up to 5%) last year due to the “anticipated major reduction in Welsh Government funding”. The people of Wrexham are going to be asked “Given the continuing financial challenge we face, and the increasing requirement to make savings and review our services, we would once again like to know what you think about increasing Council Tax. We want to know if you would prefer to support the proposal outlined in the medium term financial plan of a 3% rise in Council Tax OR agree to a higher than 3% rise (but no more than 5% in order to protect more services.”

The documents list multiple examples of ‘post deletion’ where jobs are effectively being cut, with varying savings implications, as well as notes on how that could impact service provision.

The above are a few elements of the proposals, with the full range of budget changes to be formalised next week. Once approved the consultation will take place during the period from 25th October to 30th November this year – with this proposed booklet likely to be put out to you the public.

At the footer of the proposed consultation booklet there are a range of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ that are aimed at answering the common queries posed over such consultations.

When the ‘Difficult Decisions’ consultation closes the Council say all the responses received will be collated and analysed and feedback to councillors at an all Member Budget workshop on 19th December 2017 and Executive Board on 9th January 2018.

The consultation will primarily take place online, but for those who wish to speak to Councillors face to face there will also be opportunities for members of the public to engage directly with Lead Councillors  during the consultation period at a ‘public event’ on 20th November – the location and times have not yet been released.

If you wish to read the full documents accompanying the above they are:

The above will be discussed at next weeks Executive Board meeting that starts 10am on Tuesday. You can view in person at the Guildhall, or via the Council’s webcast service.

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