Posted: Wed 20th Feb 2019

Updated: Wed 20th Feb

Budget passes final vote – Wrexham Council Tax going up with more warnings that settlement from Cardiff Bay ‘must improve’ for people living in or visiting the wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Feb 20th, 2019

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…

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