“There are difficult times ahead for us all” was the message sent out at the Council Executive Board yesterday afternoon.
Yesterday the Council Exec Board met to discuss the ‘Reshaping Services To Meet The Financial Challenges’ report, which focuses on the approach the Council intend to take to ‘reshape services’ with upcoming budget cuts.
It is estimated that Wrexham Council will face a deficit of around £34million, although some of the figures mentioned in the meeting were higher than that, including reference to £40million. However the actual amount will not be known until Budget D-Day on October 16th. It was also mentioned yesterday that the financial system / facilities cuts may still be in place by 2025.
The report states the Wrexham Council will be taking a ‘package approach’ to reshaping services; stating “There is not one single project or one single solution that will deliver the value of reductions required. The projects arising from this approach will be managed through a Change Programme.”
Speaking about how much the Council are expecting to cut, Councillor Malcolm King said: “We have been expecting it to be £34mil and rather more than that. It’s likely to be extremely substantial when the final figures come through.
“This isn’t just about cutting services, it’s about reshaping the way we do things, or our conclusion is we wont make the savings that are needed. Prioritise the most vulnerable, keep in mind we are the Community Leader and only public body with that responsibility. We need to safeguard the most vulnerable.”
A number of reviews are taking place across the Council, with the report stating: “The overall approach is not about tinkering with what we currently do. There will be a requirement to take a fundamental look at areas like, reprioritising and reducing services, ceasing some services altogether, considering alternative delivery models, working more effectively and efficiently with existing and new partners and eliminating waste. Reshaping is also to be focussed on improving services as well as enabling delivery at a lower cost.”
The report also says the YouChoose online budget slider system, where members of the public could interact and see where they would make £34 million of cuts, was used by just under 1000 people, with 300 completing it fully.
Speaking about the upcoming cuts, Councillor Mark Pritchard said: “There’s very difficult times ahead for us all, not going to be palatable and not going to be nice. There’s going to be some very difficult decisions to be made.
“There will be some services we have to stop and won’t be delivering anymore, we can only spend what we receive. None of us as politicians come into this to cut services, we come in to improve the quality of life.”
A breakdown of the projects / reviews and their descriptions are listed in the table below.
Yesterday’s report on ‘Reshaping Services’ was the first one to be held in a ‘Part 1′ public session. Generally speaking topics surrounding finance and the like are often held under Part 2, which means the public and press are generally booted out. While it was commended that this discussion was held in the public domain, the board was also criticised for holding previous ‘reshaping services’ meetings under Part 2.
Cllr Alan Jenkins said: “We’ve been privileged to come to workshops, however as they’ve been in Part 2 we’ve not been able to share details, have seen details of what is being considered.
“At the last meeting it was agreed we needed to develop a communication strategy, all of the things that have been discussed need to be out there in the public so they know what is being discussed. They won’t appreciated a decision being taken and that these services are done and dusted. Where are the public in this process? They are essential before the decisions have been made.
“These 130,000 in Wrexham need to be part of the discussion but can’t be unless they know what’s being discussed. If they don’t know what’s going on, how can they be involved?”
Cllr Jenkins added: “Once a service has gone, it will be very difficult to resurrect it. We’re 52 Councillors, there’s 130,000 people out there who need to know.”
Councillor Carole O’Toole echoed the comments made by Cllr Jenkins, saying: “I feel much relieved in general terms is that how much we have to cut is now firmly in the public domain, some of the things we close now and stop may never come back. we need some built-in assurances of what will happen if we stop services, that due consideration is given.
“Another issue is the Councillor relationship with the public and the taxpayer “strong emphasis here and I understand where its coming from, soon the council will have to have a different relationship. Residents are still going to be paying, but they might not be sure what services they are going to be getting. It’s crucial we bring forward a conversation with the public as soon as we possibly can. We need to be as open and transparent with the public as we can be.”
Speaking about comments made by Cllr Jenkins, Cllr Pritchard said: “I’m a bit disappointed by Councillor Jenkins’ remarks. I think it was a cheap shot to say it was hurtful to the people of Wrexham.
“We also need to be mindful of the staff we employ, we have to have consultation with them. I am pleased this in Part 1 and would like more information in this report, but we have a process that we have to follow. And when we have had a consultation with our staff (around 6000 people) there will be more.
“Behind every job loss there is a family and a story and we have to approach this in a delicate manner.”
The length of time Wrexham can expect to experience the cuts was also discussed, with the Board saying we can expect a long period of decline, with services running at a lower level. However it was noted that the challenge is to ensure as many services continue to run as successfully as they do at present.
Cllr King said: “I believe we can make things a lot more efficient, there is much to be achieved. We don’t know how yet as were going on a journey no one has been on before. I would hope when times improve we will be in a position to reinstate some of these services.”
Cllr Rogers said: “These cuts have been forced on us by Central Government. We started this conversation today to help the public understand. Conference held 2025 shows we will be facing these challenges for the next 10 years, its hurtful for all of us, this is cutting services,
One suggestion that was mentioned in the meeting was that Wrexham is open for business to work with other authorities, with the key focus being that there is an improvement in Wrexham’s services.
A number of Councillor’s also queried about the use of a Communications plan, with one Councillor asking when it would be made available for them to have a conversation with the public. Cllr King said it would be ready for the next Exec Board.
The Exec Board voted in favour of the outline approach to reshaping the services. Immediately after the recommendation was passed, Cllr Rogers said: “Our communications start now.” A press release was also handed out to the reporters present, encouraging members of the public to get involved in the debate about major changes to the future look and shape of Wrexham.
Cllr Rogers said: “We are changing and that means the public’s expectations of what we can deliver in the future has to change to. The challenge facing us is how we make these unprecedented savings whilst also prioritising the most vulnerable.
“We may no longer be able to deliver the services that you would associate with a local authority. There is no magic wand to suddenly conjure up this money, even if the budget settlement increases this year. In reality it will not be enough to sustain anything like the savings we need to find.
“The move towards a leaner Council comes on the back of Central Government cuts to Local Government budgets across the UK. Its impact will be felt across the County Borough by residents, visitors and commuters.”
A full copy of yesterday’s ‘Reshaping Services To Meet The Financial Challenges’ report is available to read on the Council website here.