6.95% rise in Council Tax proposed by council administration in budget ‘with no actual cuts’
Wrexham is set for a 6.95% rise in council tax, equating to £1.65 per week at Band D level, in the budget that is set to progress through the Executive Board next week.
The administration has pointed to the Welsh Government settlement for Wrexham as one of the reasons for the rise, although they did tell Wrexham.com even if a revised settlement came back higher the 6.95% rise would be unchanged due to the budget timings.
Welsh Government have provisionally given Wrexham Council a 2.3% rise on their settlement, the second lowest percentage rise in Wales, with the council saying it was “worse than expected, particularly given the increasing demand for many of our services”.
The council had hoped for a ‘floor’ meaning more money for Wrexham, however that has not been put in place by Welsh Government as of yet.
There has been the now usual “Difficult Decisions” consultation recently asking the public what they feel should be priority areas, and suggestions on how the council can help balance the books (output below).
The council say, “What is proposed is to reduce the level of cuts planned whilst putting specific targeted investment into the Council’s priorities. Investment will be made in Schools and Education, Social Care and Housing. We will be unable to fund general inflation costs and will only include pay inflation to meet the requirements of the National Minimum Wage as outlined by the UK Chancellor.”
Council Leader Mark Pritchard explained there had been discussion that could have seen the tax rise even higher, “All the group leaders within the alliance have had conversations about Council Tax. Deep down, I know everybody finds it difficult to rise council tax, none of us want to do it. I think if you look at my track record, we’ve always kept the council tax down to the lowest, and we’ve done it again this year. There was discussions earlier on the year that we set the council tax 7 8 or 9 percent. You know, we fought against that. We brought it in at 6.95%. I think it’s excellent for what we’ve done. Couldn’t have done any more.”
Speaking about any potential extra uplift from a final settlement figure from Welsh Government Cllr Pritchard said, “If we take this to full Council, and it’s fully supported, which I hope it is, and extra money comes through later, that will mean that we’ll have more money to put into education, social services, children’s Services, resurfacing of roads, and investing in all services.”
There were 298 digital responses to the ‘Difficult Decisions’ consultation (and one letter), and we asked before the reports were known if there were any suggestions from the public being taken forward that came to mind and if there were any of the regular feedbacks around councillor pay, spending on new iPads, the mayoral office and the like would they be listened to.
Cllr Hugh Jones said, “One that came back was about people were supporting the review of the management structure, making the management structure of the Council a tighter structure, a more effective and more efficient structure.”
We asked if that in layman terms was people suggesting cutting highly paid officers, Cllr Jones said, “There will always be people who feel that the council is more expensive. The reality is that Wrexham Council is the fourth lowest band D rated Council in Wales. Our spend per capita of the population is below that which the Welsh Government establishes. So we are, by all accounts, an efficient and effective Council, all the audit reviews that the Council have had on our financial management, our financial structures, and budgeting, have always given us a good rating, I think the only criticism is perhaps we don’t spend enough.”
“The balance is always about recognising people are in an incredibly difficult situation at the moment, how much people can afford. But, at the same time people still want the services and these services come at a cost.”
Council Leader Mark Pritchard picked up on the mayoral question, “There is a small and I will use the word small minority of people who keep on bringing in issues of around the mayoralty. The mayor has always been valued and accepted by the people of Wrexham, it is loud and clear from the people of Wrexham that they want to keep the mayor. The mayor does a fantastic job for Wrexham on the civic side and obviously raises a lot of money for local charity.”
“I think we’ve made it clear our coalition that runs this council, we will always support the mayor and the mayoralty functions without a doubt. Should we be looking to make savings in that department? Absolutely. We have cut the budget tremendously there, and I wouldn’t say it is run on a shoestring but it’s not far from it.”
As previously reported councils have encountered collection issues for council tax, with money being written off if uncollectible. The figures before the pandemic had Wrexham at £4.979m in total outstanding arrears, an increase of £1.5m year on year.
Cllr Pritchard said, “There is never a good time to raise council tax, there never has been and there never will be.
“I think the problem is because of the settlement, and I keep on coming back to it. We were really hoping for a better settlement and then we wouldn’t have to be setting it as we are.”
“I feel the Welsh Government don’t understand how difficult it is to run a local authority in these difficult times. When you have a look what local authorities have done, we’ve done a fantastic job not just in Wrexham across Wales. I think its just a kick in the teeth.
“People have come to me and spoken to me and I know they’ve spoken to other elected members and they said that they’re disappointed, really disappointed with the way that we’ve been treated in North Wales.
“I just feel that people need to understand this is not driven by us. It is not. We have a settlement of 2.3% that is factual.”
Deputy Leader Councillor David A Bithell echoed the comments, adding “What has come out of the pandemic, and we’re still in the pandemic, is the hidden services, the services that people never see. To use schools for example, and I know this is replicated across the country, the teachers and the care workers, the public protection staff, who have been working all through the pandemic, lots of these people nobody ever sees because they do work behind the scenes or behind closed doors.”
“I think this budget supports council services and the retention of public services. There is no cuts in this budget year on year. We have made difficult decisions, but this year, there’s no actual cuts.”
“We’ve tried to protect our core services and functioned in this budget. I know it’s difficult putting Council Tax up, but at a time when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, I think protecting public services when at a time when when we do come out to the pandemic we will need more public services than ever, and protecting jobs and protecting our services for the people of Wrexham is probably a small price to pay for the increase.”
The full report before councillors notes that some planned cuts are now not happening, and savings have been found elsewhere, notably the Libraries Review and Resource Centre Review, with savings found by three job post ‘deletions’.
The Executive Board will agree the 2021/22 revenue budget totalling £259,491,634 , with £70,635,457 be raised from council tax – which equates to £1,318.98 at band D.
The report will be going to the Executive Board on 26 January where members will finalise their recommendations to Council on 24 February.
A council summary of responses to the online survey and letter are below:
The second question is below:
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