Further scrutiny for Wrexham Council’s £13m ‘difficult decisions’ budget proposals
Further proposals by Wrexham Council on it can save £13 million over the next two years are to be scrutinised by councillors – with calls that such scrutiny is automatic from next year.
Submitted to the Homes and Environment Scrutiny Committee earlier on Wednesday, it was the second budget related topic request form to be submitted for consideration by a scrutiny committee in the past week. The first was submitted by Plaid Cymru’s Cllr Marc Jones at last Wednesday’s Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny Committee.
The request put before the committee was also submitted by Plaid Cymru, with Cllr Carrie Harper proposing that elements from the budget proposals relevant to the committee were scrutinised.
Cllr Harper explained that she believed scrutiny committees should be scrutinising the budget proposals and that was was surprised to see that it didn’t happen automatically.
She said: “The workshops are useful to get an overview, however we can’t make recommendations from them.
“There are 25 cuts or savings under the remit, I haven’t narrowed them down as didn’t think it was my place. It is more appropriate for the committee to explore. My view is there should be 25 reports available. We should have access to those and decide where to focus scrutiny.
“It is not within our remit to remove savings, we can only make recommendations. Our function is to monitor the work of the Executive Board and hold lead members to account.
“There are still £2 million of cuts yet to be discussed. The council has to have a balanced budget – there should be some provisional reports where they could come from.”
Cllr Harper also proposed that scrutiny of the budget proposals was made into an automatic process from next year, rather than councillors having to submit topic request forms.
The request was seconded by Cllr Alun Jenkins, who agreed that future budget proposals should be referred to the relevant scrutiny committees automatically.
There was some confusion over what was being requested, with Lead Member for Environment and Transport, Cllr David A Bithell noting that he wasn’t sure if 25 reports could be prepared in time for the meeting.
Cllr Bithell also pointed out that the proposals put forward in the budget had already been discussed at a series of all member workshops, with another due to take place in December once the consultation had closed.
However the meeting was told that further information on the 25 budget items relating to the committee was being requested, rather than individual reports on each of the council’s proposals.
It was also argued that further information on several of the proposals was also required, with comments made about the some of the single lines of information put forward in the consultation.
Cllr Harper said: “My concern is around the fact that some proposals are one line, there’s not a lot of information. As lead member you have sanctioned to this consultations, I made assumptions that the information was available.
“I would expect more than one line. Surely there is more information you can provide in terms of detail and implications for a better understanding?”
Cllr Marc Jones added: “I understand any difficult decision document put together would have info provided to lead members. I would like to see that information that lead members have had to put forward to make those decisions shared with the rest of us.
“If there is no additional information beyond one liners, that is incredibly concerning.”
Cllr Bithell said: “I am not going to comment on service areas, it is up to members to decide what they want to scrutinise. You tell us what you want to scrutinise and we will do our best, we won’t be bringing 25 reports, it is an impossible take.
“Lots has been said about one liners, what are they?”
At this point a line relating to street works management and staff efficiencies was read out by Chairman Cllr Paul Pemberton as an example of a single line proposal in the consultation.
Commenting on the lack of information put forward several years ago about a review of youth services, Cllr Michael Morris said: “One thing we never seem to learn is what we have done in the past. There is always criticism that the budget never tells people what is likely to happen.
“The public don’t know the implications of what the line is. If it said XYZ it may have helped. We are looking for 25 aspects affecting this committee and as someone said, putting more meat on the bones.
“It may have been discussed at workshops, it is still scrutiny’s role to look at the area that affects them and make observations back to the board.”
Cllr Morris also suggested that maybe less all member workshops are held for future budget consultation and instead more public debates via scrutiny.
The committee voted unanimously in favour of Cllr Harper’s request to scrutinise the relevant sections of the budget and to push for further budget scrutiny from next year. It is anticipated that this will take place in December.
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