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Further public scrutiny of proposed budget cuts in second “special meeting” this month

Proposals to cut £13 million from Wrexham Council’s budget will next week face further public scrutiny by councillors.

The suggested budget cuts and savings, which would take place between 2018-2020, featured as part of the local authority’s Difficult Decisions document.

A public consultation on the proposals took place over a five week period, with almost 4,000 people having their say. The outcomes of the consultation and the feedback will be detailed in the new year.

During the process of the consultation there was criticism from some councillors over the details provided with a number of the proposals, with calls for further information on how a decision and the costings had been made.

Next Wednesday members of the Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny Committee will take part in the second “special” meeting to take place this month after committee members backed a request from Cllr Marc Jones to review elements of the council’s Difficult Decisions budget plans.

The request had been submitted amid calls for further information on the details and costings of some of the proposals that featured in the consultation. A further two meetings to publicly scrutinise the budget are also scheduled to take place next week.

Although councillors had the opportunity at October’s Executive Board to question the outlined cuts / savings put forward in the Difficult Decisions consultation, there had been concerns raised by several councillors that there wasn’t enough detail for some of the savings put forward.

There have also been several all member workshops held about the budget, however these have all been in private. This was one of the comments raised by councillors whilst considering the topic request forms, with some pointing out that maybe more scrutiny of future budgets should be done in public meetings rather than behind closed doors.

Earlier this month an attempt to scrutinise the proposed council budget cuts hit a hurdle after members of the Homes and Environment Scrutiny Committee were told that publicly there “wasn’t much more detail to provide for many parts of the proposals”.

During the meeting lead members and officers came under fire for the lack of information featured in the Difficult Decisions document, with particular criticism over a potential shift from fortnightly bin collections to monthly.  Despite comments that such information was not provided in the public consultation, lead member for environment and transport Cllr firmly disagreed, saying that while no final decision had been made, it was ‘clearly out there’.

The meeting later went into part two, meaning press and public had to leave the room. We can only assume that a full and frank debate about costings continued in private.

There are 15 budget proposals that fall under the remit of the Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny Committee, however there is no guarantee they will all be debated during next week’s meeting.

Such proposals range from an increase in charges for school meals, selling or demolishing the council’s Crown Buildings offices, a review of the library service and demolition or sale of three community centres.

Details in next week’s report state that “any recommendations made by this committee will be included in the Executive Board report on 9 January 2018 for its consideration”.

The Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny will take place on Tuesday 19th December at 4pm. The meeting will not be webcast, but the public are welcome to attend if they wish to see the council debate a number of budget proposals!

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