Posted: Wed 9th Jan 2019

Council Tax to go up by 5.5% – councillor expects ‘idiot’ label for suggesting much larger rise to protect services for people living in or visiting the wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jan 9th, 2019

Wrexham Council’s Executive Board nodded through proposals for a 5.5% increase in council tax, with one councillor explaining how he felt to protect services in future years council tax needed to be brought more in line with other authorities despite the backlash such a proposal would create.

The council tax increase was passed alongside a range of proposed savings, plus a promise to review the borough’s library services.

The council tax change will see the average bill for a Band D property rising to £1,153 with some other community charges yet to be decided on top.

However the agenda item was dominated by Clr Alun Jenkins who gave a lengthy impassioned speech (you can watch it here), which he admitted was a trimmed version from one he had prepared several drafts earlier.

Cllr Jenkins has long advocated for council tax rises, usually one or two percent on top of what is proposed come budget time, however he blew the socks off previous numbers by at one point expressing support for a 12% increase – but settling for a 9.5% increase proposal.

Clr Jenkins cited data he had collated showing Wrexham lags behind in council tax bills compared to other nearby authorities, with a comparable bill in Wrexham being £1093 whereas in Denbighshire that could be £1248 or Gwynedd £1301 with the wales-wide average being £1219 some 11% higher than Wrexham. Looking across at England one figure we could make out had Shropshire at £1406, Cheshire East at £1454 and Cheshire West and Chester at £1477 – the latter being 35% higher than Wrexham.

His argument centered around closing the gap in tax take to allow more revenue to be collected by Wrexham Council, and therefore protect the authority to the whims of various governments and their cuts in spending as the revenue from them dwarfs the council tax take.

Cllr Jenkins suggested the extra council tax would be put in a ‘special reserve’ that would become a protection against savings and would mean over time mean more services could be protected. Pointing to future budgets that have £16,000,000 of cuts pencilled in, without traditional pointers to where those cuts could take place, “Things we have had on the table and put to one side will be back on the table, as will many other services. There will be cuts to basic services, even cuts to statutory services.”

Cllr Jenkins said: “It is a no win situation. We can’t do right for doing wrong. I would like us to take the bold step of a substantially greater increase than 5.5% , perhaps an increase of an extra 4%, that could help get us out of a very deep hole.”

“Any increase on the 5.5% would help with that.”

Cllr Jenkins also pointed to the Medium Term Financial Plan of Wrexham Council that notes a 3% inflation based increase, “We are out of that time now that figure really does need to be increased.”

Recognising the people of Wrexham are a tough crowd when it comes to council tax, and the council on the whole, he said: “Social media will be red hot saying ‘this idiot on the council is saying we should have a near 10% increase’. I have tried to explain why, it is for the good of the council. If we are going to survive these crises over the next few years we have to do something very very positive.”

“I am very happy to stand on this and be questioned by the people out there” adding that those in his ward he has spoke to have ‘gradually’ come around to the thinking large increases are required to pay for services.

After Cllr Jenkins speech the Council Leader Mark Pritchard replied noting that the power was once in Cllr Jenkin’s hands to raise tax in such a manner but had never taken the chance to do so. Cllr Pritchard noted the 5.5% increase would be a ‘hard sell’, adding: “There are a lot of people struggling out there and if you put council tax up too high you push them over the edge. That is the bluntness of it.”

Cllr Jenkins explained that he was historically part of a group that wanted to keep council tax low, however he had always held his personal views.

After the meeting we spoke with Cllr Jenkins and highlighted some of the immediate replies to our tweets from the meeting that highlighted the large extra council tax increase proposal – with his predicted ‘red hot’ responses coming in – calling him a ‘clown’ and many questioning the value for money on existing services.

Cllr Jenkins was unsurprised and said he viewed the situation as a ‘fight for the future of this council’, adding his fears for the future of services ‘we are are dismantling the good things we have built in the past’.

Many asked how such a rise could be affordable, a situation Cllr Jenkins recognised saying those hardest hit by any council tax rise would possibly be ones most affected by service cuts that will likely happen without it, and only when the services disappear would people understand.

Unlike previous years the budget agenda item itself was quiet, with few councillors in the chamber itself during the discussion, and thus passed the Executive Board vote unanimously.

You can watch Cllr Jenkins make his speech by clicking here…

Our tweets from the meeting are below in the usual reverse order…

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