The ‘depressing reality’ of the future of Wrexham’s services was yesterday reiterated by councillors.
That was the message sent out by the Executive Board who met to discuss the proposals for the first outlined budget cuts for 2015 / 2016.
The meeting was told that the Council are looking to make savings of at least £8.2 million in the next two years.
Already £10.7m has already been cut from the 2013/14 budget, not limited to seeing Plas Madoc Leisure Centre close, a reduction in grass cutting and the closure of a number of community centres.
Cllr Malcom King said: “The purpose of this report is to approve the latest version of proposed budget savings for 2015/16. Members have commenced work on developing on budget for next financial year and the Council continues to reshape services to meet financial needs.
“The overall package approach is looking at all the areas of the council work so that resources can be used effectively by the organisation.”
“This is the first of a series of reports in the budget development and I would like to propose we defer consideration in reduction in ground maintenance pending a further report to the Executive Board. I recommend members approve savings in Appendix 1 for consultation, excluding the £200,000 for grounds maintenance.”
Among the proposed savings for the next two years is the closure of Bersham Heritage Centre, which would make a saving of £58,000. A further reduction of grass maintenance (£200,000), cuts to the school music service (£68,000) and the removal of a school library service, which would end the relationship with Flintshire and Denbighshire. This would result in no service for schools.
It was also revealed that a sum of £18 million had been taken from Council services since 2012, with an overall estimate of £63 million to have been cut from services in the period between 2012 and 2019.
Speaking about the ongoing cuts and reshaping of Council services, Cllr Mark Pritchard said: “I think some members of the public and some elected members are just waking up and noticing the volume of the cuts. We all have to understand it, this process will not stop.
“The face of this authority and all over the country is changing. this council will never be the same again. We are in exceptional circumstances taking £8 million a year out of our budget. There will be loss of jobs, services we will no longer deliver in this authority and that is the bluntness of it. We don’t come into local politics to make cuts, we come into politics as we are passionate about our local areas.
“It is endless and it never stops, competing for this money never stops. There is not enough to go around, the services in Wrexham will reduce dramatically. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just churning away.
“I hope we can stop having a blood bath and have a consensus of agreement to look after the most vulnerable.”
In recent months Wrexham Council has come under fire for its lack of engagement with the public, with particular criticism directed at the lack of time there was to provide feedback for the service cuts.
Speaking about the next round of budget cuts, Cllr King said: “We are starting this process earlier so we can start our consultation with the public earlier.”
Cllr David A Bithell said: “I would like to welcome the early heads up on next years budget, we don’t approve the budget until around February 2015. It should be recognised that there was criticism from how it was done last year, some of it was rightly so. However others pointed the finger at Westminster and Cardiff.”
An amendment to the report was proposed by Cllr Carole O’Toole, who stated recommendation 3.1 was changed to ‘Members note the savings identified for consultation and agree further discussion across the Council Plan to enable an understanding of the consequences’.
Speaking about the report, Cllr O’Toole said: “I appreciate efforts have been made to make the process more timely to engage with the public.
“My concern is about the detail, what we need to know about in the detail is the impact and consequences that our savings are going to have on the public and citizens of Wrexham. The engagement we have with the public must be detailed.
“We know we have no alternative to make these savings and I think we owe it to the public to be honest about the impact and consequences.”
The position of the Mayor was called into question, with Cllr Bithell stating he would like to see a debate ‘some time this year on the Mayor. Some want it cut and some want to see it reduced’.
Wrexham’s Mayor has been subject to an ongoing debate in recent months, with an FOI (Freedom of Information Request) revealing the position costs £135,000 a year. This includes nearly £44,000 spent on transport and almost £10,000 spent on flowers.
In the Full Council meeting in February, it was proposed that the Mayoral budget was reduced by £50,000 to help make savings, however the recommendation was voted against by Councillors.
Speaking about the future of the Mayor, Cllr King said: “The proposed reduction in Mayoral costs will be addressed in a future budget report.”
The amount of cuts and increase in Council Tax has been subject to an ongoing debate in Wrexham, with it revealed in yesterday’s meeting that the cuts made amount to more than the Council Tax that is collected each year.
Cllr Derek Wright said: “We keep talking about saving £45 million, I have been on the Council since 2012 and in that budget there were cuts. In 2013, cuts, in 2014, cuts and 15-16 saving more, I’m not sure how elastic these five years and £45 million are.”
Cllr King said: “If it was only another five years of cuts, that would be good news. If it was only £45 million, that would also be extremely good news. That is the depressing reality.”
Councillors voted against Cllr O’Toole’s amendment, with seven members of the Board voting in favour of Cllr King’s initial report.
You can read a full copy of the Council’s outline budget cuts on their website here.