‘Lies’ or ‘bleating’? We asked the Welsh Local Government Association about settlement process
Yesterday we asked the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) in an effort to discover who is right in a public argument between Wrexham Labour and the Leader of Wrexham Council.
This week has seen the local council draft settlement figures issued from Welsh Government, with Wrexham seeing a +3.5% increase in funding from Cardiff (more here). In a previous report we detailed the responses to the settlement from the Group Leaders on the WLGA, where Wrexham Council is represented by Cllr Mark Pritchard, Cllr David A Bithell and Cllr Alan Edwards.
In a further article we documented the Wrexham Labour Party having a direct public argument with Council Leader Mark Pritchard over the settlement stating: “Interesting enough the funding has to be agreed by both the Welsh Assembly and Welsh Local Government Association which @Cllr_Pritchard sits in. Apparently he was happy with the settlement?”
Council Leader Mark Pritchard has stated that such a claim is a ‘lie’, adding: “Labour Party in Wrexham still peddling lies, I am furious with the settlement from the Welsh government, it’s a disgrace the way Wrexham is being treated receiving crumbs from the table once again.”
Yesterday the Wrexham Labour twitter account reiterated their view that Cllr Pritchard was part responsible for the settlement he dislikes, “Mark Pritchard the leader of Wrexham council is on the committee that agreed the settlement for Wrexham not the AM, it’s up to him speak up for our town” and added that “the leader of Wrexham council Mark Pritchard is on the WLGA committee that helps agree the settlement”.
As a fact checking exercise we spoke with the Welsh Local Government Association direct to get clarity on the process and their involvement in the settlement, and if it was true the figures were agreed by both Welsh Government and the WLGA. Cllr Pritchard is a member of the WLGA Executive Board as it comprises the twenty two Leaders of each Welsh local authority.
We asked if the settlement figures are in any way decided upon or known beforehand by the WLGA, and what input they had to their formation.
A WLGA Spokesperson said: “The Welsh Government’s budget and the local government settlement is set by Ministers and the Assembly then considers and votes on them in the New Year. The WLGA does not play a role in deciding the settlement nor does it have full details of the settlement or authorities’ allocations until it is published (this year it was published later on 16th December).”
We noted that the settlement was created from a predetermined formula, and asked for an overview of how that formula is created and how it could be adjusted.
The WLGA told us: “At a basic level the formula is designed to proxy the relative ‘need to spend’ in each local authority area. It takes account of differing social, demographic and geographic factors in each of the 22 authorities.
“Over 50 datasets are used in the funding formula and the calculations are laid out annually in the Green Book. Last year’s publication is set out here and shows the detail of the formula. The formula produces a range of outcomes across Wales because most the variables such as pupil numbers etc are updated on an annual basis.”
“One of the big factors effecting Wrexham this year are the population estimates. The old forecasts are rebased on a regular basis. This year they were found to be over-estimating the population in Wrexham (and other authorities) and they have been rebased.”
“A working group called the Distribution Sub Group is charged with keeping the formula up to date and relevant and considers issues such as the population forecasts. Finance officers from local authorities and the WLGA sit on the group alongside WG officials and three independent members who ensure complete objectivity.”
The WLGA added, “There is a higher political group called the Finance Sub Group which is made up of Leaders and Ministers. This group endorses the work programme for Distribution Sub Group and the final report that Distribution Sub Group produces. The final report of the DSG traditionally shows the financial impact of its decisions – this is not the same as the final settlement outcome.
“It is an incomplete picture. Final decisions, especially in relation to the floor, are for Welsh Government Ministers.”
Finally noting the funding ‘floor’ has been removed this year, we asked if that was on request from the WLGA, and what input did the WLGA have in that decision?
“The Minister set out her rationale for not including a floor in her letter to Leaders last Monday.”
“The WLGA Council agreed in November (before the details of the settlement were known) that we would press the Welsh Government to include a funding floor. We will be discussing this with Ministers in advance of the final settlement in the New Year.”
Looking further at the Finance Sub Group info page on the WLGA site it states the role is advisory not decision making, “…the formal mechanism for the Welsh Government to discuss designated local government finance matters with nominated local government representatives.
“It serves an advisory and consultative role rather than a decision-making one“. Cllr Pritchard is mentioned as sending his apologies for the latest meeting we can find minutes for, however if you were to follow the WGLA site to ‘…view the Group’s agendas, minutes and papers click here’, you will get a Gov.Wales 404 page not found message.
We are expecting Wrexham Council’s more formal reaction to the budget settlement tomorrow or Friday, rather than tweeted reaction so far.
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