Wrexham Councillors from the Welsh Labour Group have released their ‘Alternative 2018/19 Budget’ ahead of the Full Council meeting next week where the Administration’s budget is set for approval.
As readers will be aware the Administration’s budget was partially formed out of the ‘Difficult Decisions‘ consultation, which were then subject to a round of unusual Scrutiny meetings before Christmas. As a result of that various changes were made before that budget was finalised and presented to the Executive Board in what was at times a heated meeting.
As we noted in the report at that time: “The nine members of the Executive Board present at the meeting voted unanimously in favour to press ahead with the proposed budget cuts, with all 52 councillors having the opportunity to vote on whether the recommendations are finalised at February’s Full Council. The next meeting will take place on Wednesday 21st February where no doubt alternative budget proposals will be put forward by opposition councillors and further debate on the cuts will take place.”
That time has now come a week ahead of last year’s effort, that was presented at the meeting itself rather than with the extra six day lead time.
Back in 2017 the alternative budget proposal by the Welsh Labour group was panned, being branded as being ‘done on the back of a fag packet’, with now Deputy Leader Hugh Jones then criticising the presentation on the day rather than having advanced notice to give time to examine the ideas.
The alternative budget proposal document (full PDF here) notes: “The Alternative Budget is an amendment, in part, to the original budget being presented by this council’s administration of Independent and Conservative members. Our budget highlights areas where the Labour Group believe alternative spending and income generation can achieve better outcomes for the people of Wrexham county borough.”
The proposals in the alternative budget are outlined as:
– An extra £500,000 for Wrexham’s secondary schools
– Scrapping planned parking charges for disabled people
– Scrapping plans to charge for parking at Wrexham’s country parks
– Creating a new supported public travel fund
– Reducing the number of senior councillors
– Much needed additional funding to the schools music budget
There is a break down of the source of the money to pay for the plans, and the cost per saving (below) with the source of the majority of the £851,000 budget adjust effectively coming from Wrexham Council reserves via a reworking of some finances – and the reminder made up by cutting the number of Executive Board members.
To document notes: “The medium risk within this proposed Alternative Budget is the removal of £820,000 from our General Reserve Fund. Reserves can only be used once. However, the Labour Group believes that the risk to our reserves is considerably reduced as we are addressing the current and escalating pressures facing the council within our Alternative Budget proposal.”
There is a lengthy technical note regarding the funding of the £820,000, with reference to a meeting in December where an unexpected near million pound cost in Children’s Social Care was effectively dealt with via some accountancy shuffling. The manoeuvre appears to be in simple terms reworking how some financing works, via adjustments in the Minimum Revenue Provision policy. This meant the unexpected cost was dealt with, and created a saving of £1.7m that included covering off that unexpected cost.
Having sat in hours of budget meetings over the last few months where some councillors struggled to understand what figures in columns meant, despite it being explained several times, the technical explanation to the budget-juggle could create an interesting debate next week.
The alternative budget proposal notes the Council’s General Reserve exists to provide for any ‘unexpected expenditure’, and in effect proposes to use the reserve to plug the previously mentioned Children’s Social Care gap. This then frees up the MRP money to fund the budget proposals in the alternative budget.
It appears the MRP policy change will net future year on year savings, which this alternative budget appears to use to keep the savings in place and funded.
We asked Welsh Labour Group Leader Councillor Dana Davies if using Council reserves in all but name was a sustainable method of dealing with budget cuts, she told us: “The Council recently adopted a new model for financing their debt (MRP), which will deliver substantial savings over the next 12 years. The Administration’s budget is about using part of the MRP saving to pay the recently announced overspend found in Children’s Social Care.
“The Labour Group’s Alternative Budget proposes we use the General Reserve for it’s intended use, taking £820,000 to clear the Children’s Social Care overspend. This allows the MRP saving of £820,000 to be redistributed as outlined in our budget. We believe this budget will deliver better outcomes for the people of Wrexham.”
We asked the Leader of Wrexham Council his thoughts on the alternative budget document, and he was keen to draw the distinction that there is an existing budget document on the agenda that has gone through various processes to create it, and this new document is just an opposition proposal.
Cllr Mark Pritchard said: “At this stage this is a PROPOSED Alternative Budget and will it need to be formally moved by the Opposition next week at Council.
“My Lead Members and I are concentrating on outlining to Council the balanced and sustainable budget previously recommended by the Executive Board.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved with the budget process including staff for their hard work and members of the public who took the time to take part in the consultation.”
All 52 Councillors get to have their say and to vote, if they attend, at the Full Council meeting on Wednesday 21st February that kicks off at 4pm and will be webcast.