Budget passes final vote – Wrexham Council Tax going up with more warnings that settlement from Cardiff Bay ‘must improve’
Council tax for households across the county borough is rise to by more than five per cent.
A clear majority of the councillors present in the Guildhall voted in favour of going ahead with the 5.5 per cent increase at this afternoon’s full council meeting.
This will mean the average bill for a Band D property will rise to £1,153 with some other community charges yet to be decided on top – with £61,601,358 expected to be raised in council tax in 2019/20.
The increase comes as part of the now approved budget, which was unanimously backed along with a number of other savings by Executive Board members back in January.
Today was the first time non-executive board members had the chance to cast their vote on whether the council tax increase and proposed savings for the upcoming financial year should be introduced.
Speaking this afternoon Leader of Wrexham Council, Cllr Mark Pritchard said that there some “tough decisions” had made during the budget process and that he was he was grateful to the public for giving their views in last year’s difficult decisions consultation.
One of the more controversial proposals locally and across Wales has been a larger than ‘normal’ increase in council tax – with households locally set to see an increase of 5.5 per cent on their bill from April 2019.
The budget also includes an additional three per cent funding for schools – with proposals to review transport to faith schools and a £30 green bin charge taken off the table for now.
Cllr Pritchard continued: “We have listened to the public and have kept council tax as low as possible. We will set it at 5.5 per cent. This hasn’t been easy, it has been extremely difficult.
“We as an administration have worked tirelessly to keep council tax as low as we can.
“There has been some touch decisions and the meetings I’ve sat in elected members did not want to go in this direction.”
There were also warnings that further cuts to services are on the horizon, with Cllr Pritchard stating that there are “major challenges” for the 2021 / 2022 period with cuts of a further £10 million required.
The report was seconded by Cllr David A Bithell who added that the budget process has been “extremely challenging” during what are “extremely difficult times”.
However Cllr Marc Jones, leader of the Plaid Cymru Group spoke of the anger and frustration from members of the public – stating they are “paying more and getting less”.
He continued: “Funding from the UK Government has been squeezed as the Conservatives don’t believe in public services.
“The burden has been passed to those on low incomes and the services that survive had also been hollowed out.”
Cllr Jones also called for those in the chamber to “bear responsibility” and not take pay rises, and pay for their own iPads, which could make savings of £100,000 over a five year period.
Cllr Dana Davies, leader of the Labour Group, said they would be supporting the budget before them this afternoon, but put forward several suggestions for the upcoming year, as well as recognising some things they considered successes.
These included setting funding at an appropriate level for secondary schools, enhancing public transport for local communities via an ‘Arriva Click’ model and continuing to support the town’s Citizens Advice Service.
The meeting also saw renewed calls for the number of executive board members to be reduced from 10 down to eight – a suggestion that has been raised several times over the years.
Cllr Davies called for the “size and effectiveness of executive board and portfolio responsibilities to be more evenly distributed” – with Cllr Jones adding he would rather see “people cleaning streets and mending roads” than 10 members on the executive board.
Commenting on the reduction of executive board members Cllr Pritchard said: “If I am tasked by this council and the alliance to the look at the executive board then I will. I will also look at planning, scrutiny chairs and licensing.
He added, “Could you reduce the scrutiny numbers and the executive board? You could” before noting he would also want a wider look at all such extra paid roles – although did not mention the Mayor.
Clr Pritchard also rejected the ‘cut from the top’ claims on senior management, pointing out that after recent changes there are now just 8 senior staff rather than a previous 18.
Cllr Alun Jenkins reiterated his calls from last month to increase council tax by more than the proposed 5.5 per cent.
He continued: “I can’t support the proposals for the reasons I presented to the executive board in January meeting
“I regret now that for another year we are facing £5.8 million of savings.
“Wrexham has the seventh lowest council tax in the whole of the UK. In the executive board I suggested what we needed to do was to increase council tax by a further four per cent and raise a further £2 million.
“I don’t take any pride that we have the lowest council tax levels. We will have to look to even more cuts in the future.
“If we value local councils then we have to be prepared to put our money into local services to keep them going. It is a no win situation for councillors, we are criticised severely if put council tax up and as much if we take away services.”
But Cllr Pritchard said that increasing council tax “is not the answer” and that things will not change unless the local authority receives a better financial settlement from the Welsh Government.
He also called on local councillors whose parties have representatives in the Senedd to go and campaign for more money, although appearing to be more at ease with the Labour Group’s support in voting through the budget, saving his ire for Clr Marc Jones of Plaid Cymru specifically calling it ‘camouflage’ locally when Plaid Cymru supported the overall Welsh Government budget that contained the ‘poor’ settlements for councils in Wales.
The budget was approved with 42 councillors voting in favour of the proposals and two voting against (Clr Marc Jones and Clr Carrie Harper). A further two councillors abstained from the vote (Clr Mike Davies and Clr Alun Jenkins).
Six councillors were absent from the meeting.
Below are our live tweets from the meeting, starting with a piece of history, in reverse order as that is how the Twitter API works…
Earlier we checked out how budgets were done in Wrexham back in the good old days 😀 PIC:
(Click for large)
Everyone stands as the whacking great mace is lifted and carried out, then the Mayor and the meeting ends.
All done and dusted so Mayor formally welcomes Clr Blackwell back after a recent serious injuries, he gets a round of applause. Clr Blackwell thanks colleagues for their kind words.
With the budget stuff done inside an hour – meeting has moved to talk about co-opting membership of the Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee (report here if interested link )
Incidentally aside from us and the BBC no one else in the public gallery here.
Clr Mike Davies and Clr Alun Jenkins abstained.
VOTE: Budget passes 42 in favour, 2 against (Plaid Group) and two abstain.
Your council tax is going up!
Final words from Chief Exec Ian Bancroft, who looks to the future and speaks of an ‘in year’ budget decision. Looks like won’t be set piece style budget & cuts, more of a rolling programme of ‘change’.
Clr Prtichard bats the responsibility for the budget down to Cardiff “Things wont change unless we get a better settlement” asks those Cllrs who are part of parties who are in the Senedd to go lobby their AM’s for more cash for councils. PIC:
(Click for large)
Clr Pritchard “Dont abstain. That is the easy way out. You are either for the budget or not.” “If you are not, stand up in this chamber and say why.” “We are going into a place we have never been before, we are struggling for money.”
Clr Mark Pritchard glowing over Labour backing the budget, picks out Clr Marc Jones over Welsh Gov budget and thus local gov settlements, ‘Plaid supported Labour to bring this’ ‘Your group have supported it’. A shout of ‘well done Mark’ from one cllr.
Clr Pritchard says it is ‘easy to throw the blame at the Executive Board’, asks councillors to ask the same question of pay for Chairs of Scrutiny or committees. ‘Lets have the debate’.
Clr Prtichard wraps up, says increasing council tax ‘is not the answer’ notes 1% extra brings in £500k. Picks up on ‘cut from the top’ comments, says there were 18 senior staff at Wrexham Council to 8.
Clr Atkinson will support budget ‘as it is the only show in town’, notes no alternative budgets on the table to even consider.
Clr Beverley Parry-Jones will support the budget, but says she is critical of a south wales bias on the Welsh Gov settlement.
Clr Alan Edwards implies that £13k wage for councillors is not enough to encourage younger people to come in, and says ‘abuse’ needs to stop.
Clr Alan Edwards reminds the chamber of those in low paid jobs or limited incomes where council tax and subsequent increases can hit them proportionately harder. Slams Cardiff for ‘not taking responsibility’ & points to mooted extra AM’s and the cost of creating & paying them.
Clr Jenkins reads out other authority council tax rises, higher than Wrexham, also says they are starting from a higher tax take so are better off. After a generous extra time, Clr Jenkins says he will not support the budget.
Mayor Andy Williams has a timer with a 5 minute beeper (he pointed out he is allowed to use it) but Clr Jenkins carries on warning ‘some of the basic things’ the council does will ‘disappear’ over the coming years.
Clr Jenkins on his feet, say Wrexham has 7th lowest council tax in whole of UK. Reiterating points made last month wanting a bigger council tax rise – back then he was expecting criticism, and got it, for such an idea link
Clr Davies says Labour Group *will* support the budget, but has fed back to the Chief Exec about future improvements to the budget setting process.
Cllr Davies echos call from Clr Jones for less Exec Board members saying would create ‘positive budgetary outcome’ also has a dig at ‘workloads’ and number of reports presented. Implication is some Exec members do more than others, no names mentioned!
Cllr Davies points to recent pay rise coming out of Council budget – up the road in Flintshire this councillor called a resident ‘silly’ for linking council tax rise to councillor pay link
Labour Group Leader Dana Davies now speaking saying they recognise the action to ‘streamline’ the Senior Structure noting they asked for it in June 2015
Clr Marc Jones wraps up noting that Plaid Cymru will not be supporting budget, and encourages cuts to number of Executive Board members but does not ‘expect turkeys to vote for Christmas’. A phrase, or does he think Exec are turkeys?! PIC:
(Click for large)
Clr Marc Jones says ‘we should cut senior management posts, and glad to see that is happening’ ‘if we have to cut it should be at the top not the front line’. ‘The people in this chamber should refuse payrises’ noting it is a ‘small gesture’ but over term would save £100k
Clr Marc Jones speaks from the floor first, “Cutting essential staff is what is happening” and “will happen in future years if we do not stand up to these cuts” noting the problem ‘is not peculiar to Wrexham’ ‘we have to join forces and say enough is enough’
Report seconded by Cllr David Bithell who says the budget process this year has been “extremely challenging” and that these are “extremely difficult times”
Debate on the revenue budget / council tax setting now underway. Council leader Mark Pritchard says cuts of £10million are required and will have to be found over the next two years.
Nearly a full house here this afternoon – all but six of the 52 councillors in attendance
Just arrived at the Guildhall for this afternoon’s full council meeting. You can tune in and watch from the comfort of your own home, here: link
Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email News@Wrexham.com