Wrexham residents will likely see a rise of 6.95% in their Council Tax – with several million pounds of ‘targeted investments’ being made on areas that the local authority believe are of most concern to the public.
Wrexham Council have recently had a more positive settlement from Welsh Government than they were expecting, with a +3.5% rise that could creep higher once the final figures are known.
The report before a Special Executive Board meeting next week will see £65,949,113 raised from council tax which equates to £1,233.27 at band D.
Today’s proposed increase of 6.95% is the output of firm ‘healthy debates’, with Cllr Pritchard clear it was a decision made via a ‘coming together’ of the two Independent groups on Wrexham Council along with the Conservatives.
He said the increase in council tax will “help address the pressures the council has, and take the council forward.”
Previously there have been calls for higher rises, with one councillor famously self-branding as an idiot for suggesting so.
This year’s bump up is being earmarked to invest in a ring-fenced manner, to cover infrastructure, roads and buildings, reduction in the level of cuts in services, and protect local services and jobs. It remains to be seen if the cash for education is ‘new’ money, or the pass-ported sums that were already expected for the department. Before the reports were published we were told the investments would be:
- £1m is set for Children’s Services
- £500k into Education
- £1m into the Environment department specific for highways maintenance
- £500k into the Environment department for transport specific ‘pressures’
- £80k for the Advice services
- £40k decarbonisation agenda
The reports note a planned review of Allotment Fee tariffs – weekly increase of 24p for a full plot , 14p for a half plot and 8p for a quarter plot – thought to generate a whopping £200 for the council has also been binned along with other cuts reversed or changed.
There was a firmer than usual note that all of the investment areas are subject to political support as the budget process makes its way through to Full Council, however it is rare for any major changes to be made at this point.
“It is important that we understand the constituents and residents Wrexham, and take a council tax forward that people can afford and as less hardship for individuals,” said Cllr Pritchard.
“We have had a difficult ten years or more on settlements (from Welsh Government) and we have had a little bit more, and I obviously welcome the extra money. I hope there is an an increase in the proposed funding in February, and then on the 11th of March, there’s going to be a budget announcement from Westminster.
“What we’re hearing on the ground, but it’s not always factual, that there’s going to be more money from both governments. If that’s the case, we will make a decision where to continue to invest that in services.
“This is a a balanced report. We’ve tried to share the increases across all the departments. The we’ve done it is on an understanding where the need and the demand.”
Councillor David Bithell, deputy leader of Wrexham Council, said: “Nobody likes to to raise Council Tax levels, but given the pressures that the council has currently got across all service areas we believe it’s the right thing to do at this moment in time.
“We welcome that we have had a small increase from Welsh Government. I think we need to recognise that, because we’ve lobbied really, really hard for the last 12 months to get a better settlement and it is probably one of the first times that we’ve had an increase over the last few years.
“Because the last few years we’ve been constantly having to make cuts to services which sometimes have been unpalatable because of the austerity measures.
“I think this is the first opportunity now that we’ve got to try and invest in some service some key areas which we feel the public most want us to invest in, like education and children’s services.
“It’s about redressing the balance really and making sure that our budget going forward meets the needs and aspirations of the people of Wrexham.
“The council declared a climate emergency so we’ve actually created a post to support our decarbonisation agenda going forward.”
He added: “The other big issue is the additional £1 million money that we’re putting into potholes and reactive highway maintenance.
“We understand that people are concerned about our infrastructure. We have had real, real long periods of wet and prolonged spells mixed with frost and wet and obviously that’s not a very good combination for our roads.
“So we recognise that as an administration, and subject to political support, an extra £1 million pound going into the budget there to hopefully address some of the concerns of our constituents.
“Overall, although there’s an increase in the council tax, I’m quite happy to support the budget going forward. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Conservative group leader Cllr Hugh Jones, said: “I think where we are as a council is we, we’ve almost been caught in a ditch really.
“Because as a result of cuts from central government, from Welsh Government, over the years, we’ve had to cut back quite dramatically.
We’ve also been caught in the ditch In the fact that we are significantly lower in terms of tax than other authorities. So we’ve been raising less than this.
“I think all local members are under significant pressure on on potholes and highway repairs. So certainly in terms of our children’s services, you know, we have a statutory and I moral responsibility to ensure that we protect our children and give them the best possible start in life.
“Our group sees this as an investment in the future for the people of Wrexham. And it helps to bring us perhaps to a level of local government taxation that is is still well below the national average.”
Cllr Pritchard did not specify who had asked for a higher rise, but said: “I think it’s important to recognise there has been calls to increase Council Tax a lot higher than this. If individuals of this council want to increase it, that’s entirely up to themselves. I respect them as individuals but I wouldn’t support that.”
Council Chief Executive Ian Bancroft had a warmer message than a previous ‘no money in the bank‘ point, although did reiterate that Wrexham Council has had £60m taken out of a £240m budget – a 25% cut over recent years.
“We said we were right at a tipping point, that if we had not been in position this year to invest and we had to cut overall, that we would go past the tipping point and that would have a material effect on critical services,” he explained.
“What we have as a Welsh Government settlement and the proposed council tax, coupled with just under 2 million pounds worth of cuts for this years budget, means that it does allow investment into priority areas. It’s not huge. But what it does do is give investment into those services that are struggling in terms of their resilience because of the level of cuts that have been taken previously.”
“Our argument moving forward is that our budget for future years needs to be in a similar value, that it allows us to put some small investment in to increase our resilience because that five years of taking 25% out of the budget is hugely detrimental. That’s what we’re now dealing with.”
Mr Bancroft added that the new investments will be “monitored very, very closely” to make sure it’s having the outcomes that the council want.
Previous year have see council tax go up by 3.9% and 5.5%, however it was noted the increase of the increase was ‘a lower level of increase’ this year as it is just +1.45 rather than +1.6%.
The extra cash has been described as being ‘ring fenced to specific projects’ and projects that have ‘evidence that the public have put significant pressure’ on Wrexham Council to deliver. There was also a clear message that the investment impact will be measured, and should be publicly trackable via reports to the executive board.
Cllr Pritchard said that there will be a ‘process’ put in place that includes having a business case brought forward to a program board, which will challenge it. The outcome being to check that services are actually improving for the spend, with it stated several times that this is ‘the very first time extra money is there to put into services’ under this administration – with the inference it is very easy to complain there is no cash to fix things, but now there is some, they wish to prove they can get value for money on the public’s behalf.
The process has been described as ‘targeted investments’ and modelled around ‘how a good business should operate’.
Wrexham.com will of course update readers on what plans, progress reports and measurements emerge from the new spending bids and boards – if made public.
We also asked if there was any change to the 12 monthly settlement process from Welsh Government, with the local council budget process at times looking like guesswork as the final numbers have not emerged from Cardiff until late in the day.
Cllr Pritchard told us that the Welsh Local Government Association have been lobbying for a 3-4 settlement window to allow better budgeting processes, however that does not appear to be forthcoming from the Welsh Government adding: “They’ve made a political decision that they can’t do that.”
“We would like, and we’ve been campaigning for a long time, all authorities want a settlement which is between three and four years so they can plan and budget their services and a proper professional manner.
“This process of giving us the money every year, sometimes late in the day, or via grants out of the blue, is unsustainable. I’m always optimistic that in years to come, there will be a three or four year settlement.”
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