Wrexham Council’s Executive Board have this morning agrees to grant £25,000 to Wrexham’s Citizens Advice service, which should see it remain open for now.
Cllr Hugh Jones pulls a funding rabbit out of the hat – proposes £25k grant to be paid to Wrexham Citizens Advice service, and Officers continue to engage with CAB with view to secure the long term viability of the advice services.
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) June 12, 2018
Despite the early motion from Cllr Hugh Jones that appeared to be a partially desired outcome, Cllr Dana Davies went on to challenge the contents of the report before councillors stating ‘this report we have had today contradicts the past reports we have seen’ regarding the work of the CAB.
Cllr Davies asked over the four options presented, “Between the Full Council last month and today have we had any contact with the CAB over those four options?”
Cllr Hugh Jones replied, “We have been in discussions and negotiations with the CAB for a significant amount of time” adding “We have directly asked them how much money do you need”.
Cllr Davies also did some ‘quick figures’ over some stated numbers for unit cost for interviews (£5) noting that the Council’s Welfare Rights Unit sees a £91-179 cost-per-case, to show how the Citizens Advice service was value for money.
Cllr Jones disputed the comparison, and also said the advice services provided by Wrexham Council fulfilled their statutory duties. Cllr Jones quoted an email from Wrexham Citizens Advice to justify the £5 sent on May 1st, explaining the maths and source for the data – the CAB itself.
Cllr Jones spoke of the grant figure of £25k, “They were able to exist and manage with a lower figure than we are proposing. We are increasing the figure we are giving to the CAB. I am satisfied we are being fair to the CAB, and are currently able to provide their services. We want to work with them. ”
As the debate went on Cllr Bithell asked for ‘clarification’ from the Legal Officer on the Constitution ‘is there a time limit for questions’, ‘while not wanting to stifle debate’. Cllr Pritchard noted it was in the gift of the Chair, him, and he welcomed debate but was keen to stick to the motion before the Board. The Legal Officer was ready to reply, however did not as the meeting proceeded.
Cllr Atkinson spoke about the £25k figure calling it ‘extremely odd behaviour’ if the figure was not the required figure to keep the service going, saying that was the figure referenced by the service themselves.
Political ping pong took place, with Cllr Hugh Jones pointing out there was no budget for the Citizens Advice service in either the administrations budget – nor Labour’s recent alternative budget.
Labour’s Cllr Malcom King’s record from 2014 was cited by Cllr Pritchard from back when Cllr King was the relevant Lead Member, noting that Cllr Davies herself supported such decisions that included reducing funding in various ‘advice services’ and starting a ‘review of third party funding’.
Cllr Pritchard addressed Cllr Davies, “It is a little bit rich challenging us, when some time ago you were part of that cutting.”
“You brought it to the table not me, it is appropriate it is out there in the public domain.”
The debate wound up with Cllr Hugh Jones reiterating the £25k ‘figure came from’ the CAB, and thus would mean the service would continue. “Having met with them there is more work that can be done to deliver services in an economic and more efficient manner. We recognise the importance of the CAB to the people of Wrexham and the importance of the service they give.
Speaking about the second part of the motion, he added: “Our professional Officers will spend time with the CAB to secure a long term viability of their advice services, and that is a commitment I am making today. It is a commitment to continue the work we have been doing with the CAB over the last three to four years.
Cllr Davies said she ‘appreciated the assurances’, and promised to hold Cllr Jones to account.
Cllr Brian Cameron read a statement supporting the CAB and asked for a £50k grant, and queried why Wrexham was to be the only local authority in Wales not to fund their local service.
Cllr Pritchard said he ‘fully supports’ and ‘admires’ the work of the CAB, and again reiterated the Labour group historically supported ‘taking £500k out of the advice services’.
Cllr Atkinson also noted that Labour’s recent alternative budget did not contain funding for the CAB, widening the point out to Plaid Cymru who supported it, saying Cllr Cameron did not see fit to include funding in their own budget – pointing out that in theory that budget could have become the formal budget of Wrexham Council.
Cllr David Bithell weighed in, to ‘remind the labour group’ ‘I am not bothered what Cardiff, Bridgend, Torquay… just what we do, we are prepared as an Executive Board to give the CAB £25k.
“I would like to remind you, your new motto you said you did, as it all started when Malcom King was Lead Member…”
Cllr Dana Davies shouted ‘point of order’ and accused Cllr Bithell of ‘misleading the public’.
Cllr Davies said February 2015 decisions were to ‘review’ the advice service, whereas the decision in October 2015 was to cut the advice services. Cllr Davies said the review had cross party support, but the ‘more than half million cut’ in October 2015 did not.
Cllr Pritchard cited a public document that he indicated disagreed with that, and offered to circulate it, with a heckle of ‘you do that’.
Cllr Cameron pointed out Cllr Pritchard was deputy leader and leader at key points, and thus was personally involved, and Labour ‘only supported a review’.
The Executive Board unanimously agreed to support the initial proposal, and authorised the £25k grant.
The decision to cut the service over a two year period was made by the then members of the executive board in private during the October 2015 meeting – however today Cllr Hugh Jones said no decisions had been made in secret and explained what had taken place in the meeting held in secret.
While the initial report was presented at the time by Cllr Hugh Jones and Cllr Joan Lowe, five members on the executive board at that time either stood down from their role as councillor altogether in 2017, were voted out or stepped aside from the lead member position.
Councillors Ian Roberts, Neil Rogers and Michael Williams retired from their roles at last May’s election, with Bob Dutton losing his seat in Erddig to Cllr Paul Roberts.
Cllr Ronnie Prince, who is an unaligned councillor, stood down from the executive board last year.
The remaining five councillors, Mark Pritchard, Hugh Jones, David A Bithell, David Kelly and Joan Lowe remain on the board.
Due to the way council minutes are presented, there is no indication of how each individual councillor voted for the initial funding cut.
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