A tipping point has been reached and more public services are at risk in the next two years unless more money is awarded to councils.
That is the message from Council Leader, Cllr Mark Pritchard as the local authority prepares to make savings of around £10m over the next two years.
More than £62 million of cuts have been made to local council services in the past 11 years – along with the loss of 600 full-time jobs.
However Cllr Pritchard told Wrexham.com that “tipping point” has now been reached and that Wrexham Council is facing the “most difficult time” in its history.
He continued: “We have been working tirelessly across the council for the last 11 years, myself included and the elected members and I want to thank them because they’ve had to make difficult decisions as well.
“But it’s not sustainable, we cannot carry on this way.
“Something has to give and if it doesn’t, we will just be reducing more services, and the general public will be hit hard.
“It is now over to the Welsh Government to see what the settlement is in the autumn or winter.”
It may feel as though this year’s budget process has only just finished (it was only approved at Full Council at the start of 2019), however next week will see ‘phase one’ proposals go before executive board members.
This year work on the council’s budget has been split into two parts and for the first time will start in the summer.
The second phase will take place once the provisional local government settlement has been announced towards the end of the year. Ordinarily this is in the autumn, however there are warnings that this could be as late as December this year.
Cllr Mark Pritchard explained: “We are bringing in some proposals, some cuts and some savings, which we will take to the executive board towards the end of July so we can start early.
“The reason being is that we feel we have no alternative other than to move forward.
“We have made representation to the Welsh Government and the message loud and clear is that things are not going to get better and are not improving.
“We’re going to make representation as six authorities across North Wales and we’re all working together to meet the ministers to see if we can achieve a better settlement.
“It’s a brutal process and we have got no where to go with it.”
Chief executive of Wrexham Council, Ian Bancroft, told us that the council is facing the “hardest and most difficult budget” in its history.
“There are decisions we’re going to make before the summer,” he continued.
“So the narrative around why we’re doing this in terms of early is, if we have a positive settlement, we might not need to go any further in terms of cuts to critical frontline services because we’re doing these things now.
“We are asking for positive settlement without going over tipping pint with crucial frontline services.”
At next week’s meeting ‘T1’ proposals will be discussed by the executive board – which could see cuts that already been consulted on with the public and officers be implemented. These include:
– Ongoing ‘changes’ to the adult social care department, described as to help people live independently in their own homes for as long as possible.
– A planned restructure of resources and reduction for requirements for travel and printing, along with a planned reduction in Human Resources service hours
– A review of fee tariffs for street works coordination
– Income generation by increasing usage of the Memorial Hall on Bodhyfryd and resource centres across Wrexham.
One such T1 (Tier One) proposed budget change is the introduction of a £25 charge for green bin collections. Currently residents do not have to pay for their green bin, unless it needs replacing.
Last year saw the introduction of a £30 charge for any additional green bins that a household wants emptied by the council. However this will be the first time that any resident who wishes to have their ‘first’ only green bin collected will have to pay.
During last year’s Difficult Decisions consultation less than a third of those who took part in the process were not supportive of the green bin charge or changes to three weekly refuse collections.
In the initial consultation it had proposed that a £30 charge was introduced for the green bins, which would generate an estimated £590,000 for the local authority.
However it was later decided by the council’s independent and conservative alliance that such fees would not be introduced in the 2019/20 budget process.
Such a charge is now back on the table, although it has been reduced to £25 with the expectation it will generate £500,000. This equates to 50p per week.
Cllr David A Bithell, lead member for environment and transport, said both members of the public and councillors want first class front line service – but it is reaching a cliff edge due to the ongoing cuts and savings.
He said: “These are extremely difficult times and no one comes into this to make cuts.
“We’re passionate about protecting frontline services because that’s what affects people out in their wards and for our constituents. Whether it’s the grass, the roads, or whether it’s flooding or gritting.
“So we really really want to ensure that our frontline services are protected.
“We have looked at at charges elsewhere and what we didn’t want to do was price too high.
“The £25 is based on a take up of between 40 and 42%. If we can get more people to sign up to the service, that obviously will generate more income, and it protects frontline services.”
We asked how this would effectively be monitored by the council and how they would check if someone who already has a green bin, has paid to have it collected.
Cllr Bithell said explained that the council are looking at technology that will allow refuse collectors to check if a resident has paid for their green bin when they arrive for the collection.
Another option would be to send stickers out – similar to the ones for the second green bins – once people have paid.
Last year saw a majority of councillors vote in favour increasing the council tax levels to 5.5 per cent and there is no guarantee that further changes will not be revisited later this year, and if there was not an improved settlement from Welsh Government / Westminster the local authority would have to look at ‘critical service’ cuts or ‘major’ council tax rises – or both.
In light of the previous and upcoming cuts and increasing costs to residents, we asked what message the council would give to members of the public who are frustrated and fed up with “paying more for less services”.
Cllr Pritchard told Wrexham.com : “My message, and this is not political, this is sincerely speak to your AMs because it’s out of out of our control.
“We have a settlement every year that whether we like it, or whether we’re disappointed or pleased with it, we have to accept and we have to get on.
“I live in Wrexham and pay council tax, and I notice how people are complaining and they are not happy paying more council tax and services stopping.
“We’ve done it for 11 years. I’ve said earlier on, it’s unsustainable.
“We can only spend the amount we are given, we are campaigning tirelessly for a better settlement and so are other local authorities.
“I would ask everyone to contact their AMs and explain how important funding is to deliver services.”
The budget proposals will go before a special meeting of the executive board at 10am on Tuesday 23rd July. The meeting will also be webcast live on the Wrexham Council website.
(Top pic: Some of your Exec Board pictured last year)
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