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“We have listened” – Bin changes & £4 a day Work Opportunities ‘wage’ cuts scrapped in budget proposals

The outcome of a revised budget plan by Wrexham Council has been revealed today, with some changes from the initial proposals.

Readers will have seen us document the process from the start of the consultation this year through the Scrutiny process, with several other stories on the new plans today.

Leader of Wrexham Council Mark Pritchard told us today: “We have found £52m and have had to find another £13m which is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. We are looking to set the council tax sensibility, and have had very frank discussions at a senior level. How do you decide if you protect education, adult social care or want to resurface roads?”

One of the most specific cuts proposed was to the £4 a day Work Opportunities scheme, with only some on the scheme getting the ‘wage’. The scheme is described as ‘work opportunities offered to adults with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, sensory impairment and mental health needs’.

However plans to cut the funding provoked an angry response from councillors before Christmas, with petrol poured on those flames with an unsympathetic equality suggestion by Lead Member for Health and Adult Social Care, Joan Lowe not helping the debate (full report here).

Today Cllr Pritchard told us that the proposal had been ‘withdrawn’ by the administration.

A question before Christmas was raised about the equality of the scheme, with not all on the scheme receiving the same sum, with some councillors suggesting the budget should be increased to ensure all had the same level of pay. The Executive Board documents recognise this suggestion, with the planned £26k cut now meaning an extra £13k has been put into that area to ensure all are paid equally.

We also highlighted how you had been consulted on possible 3-4 bin collections a month, something that was disputed by some councillors, and raised eyebrows with some we spoke to who had filled out the consultation.

Today Lead Member for Environment and Transport, Cllr David A Bithell offered reassurance that there is “no change planned for the current year” – however did not venture further than that to rule it out further ahead.

The consultation response summary to the recent Difficult Decision process has also been released, with the highest average scoring suggestion being to withdraw the perk of free parking for some council staff and all councillors (if they take it up) – the full response summary PDF is here.

We asked Cllr Pritchard about if Wrexham Council had fed back to Welsh and UK Government regarding the impact of budget cuts

He told us: “As Leader of this Council I attend the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and put forward a recommendation that was fully supported by all Leaders, to ask Mark Drakeford that extra money comes to local authorities. ” (Mark Drakeford AM is the Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance.)

Cllr Pritchard explained there are regular meetings with ‘frank discussions’ via a sub finance group in Wales: “We meet four or five times a year and there are frank discussions. Personally I do not think there is enough money for Local Authorities but I am grateful money has come forward. We really can’t continue like this, we can’t keep bringing these (budgets) every year.

“Services will stop unless the settlement gets better. We have made representations and will continue to do exactly that, and the WLGA has made representations to Welsh Government.”

We also asked Cllr Pritchard about the scrutiny process on the budget, with several meetings held to delve into the detail, although as readers will know many councillors were highly critical that the information was not at their fingertips to look at.

Cllr Pritchard told us: “The criticism is coming from certain individuals, I really do not think there is any information held back.”

“Three Scrutiny Committees supported what we proposed.”

“Some of the elected members used to be part of previous administrations that used the exact same process. The budget process is what it is.”

Referring to the comments about lack of information, Cllr Pritchard added: “We are known as one of the best authorities and have a good process. We go well over and above our duty. We are open and transparent. That is why I feel it is unfair on Officers to criticise. Any elected member can get all the information they want to at any time. They have never ever been refused information, and just because it is not at a meeting at a particular point it is unfair to criticise an Officer.”

Deputy Council Leader, Cllr Hugh Jones added: “At the start of the consultation process the documents made it clear, that the equalities impact documents and some risk assessments would be populated as a result of the consultation process. To complete them prior to the end of the process, does not give credit to the process itself.”

“Previously on consultations we were criticised that some proposals had been a little vague in terms of how was proclaimed to the public, this time the consultation was fairly detailed, there has been virtually no criticism of the process.”

As Cllr Prichard was speaking to us before the documentation for the Executive Board was public, and before we had seen it, he pointed out “Everything will be in the report, risk assessments, figures, it will all be there.”

We asked if more information would be made available in the likely 2018 version of the budget consultation later this year.

Cllr Bithell said: “The budget process was set out in April, since then there has been member workshops then the request for Scrutiny. It is up to Scrutiny to determine if that has to be changed for this year, and it is a matter for them, we have done the best we could at the time.”

The full budget documents ahead of Executive Board meeting can be found here on the Council website.

As with other budget proposals, this is still formally a suggested option however will likely have full Executive Board support next week meaning it will then be taken forward to Full Council. That is the point where all Councillors get to have their say on their plans, and get to vote – assuming they attend.

The Executive Board meeting is on Tuesday starting at 10am, and will be webcast. The Full Council meeting is on Wednesday, 21st February, at 4pm and will also be webcast.

Related stories today on the new budget proposals include…

Wrexham Council Tax proposed to rise by 3.9% to help offset impact of cuts
“We have listened” – Bin changes & £4 a day Work Opportunities ‘wage’ cuts scrapped in budget proposals
Cuts to school music service toned down with £50k “means tested pot of money” to provide some services
Schools budget proposed to get 1.4% increase rather than 0% – Letters from schools reveal despair at original plans
Plans to cut Council PCSO funding half shelved – Wrexham remains ‘only authority to fund them in North Wales’

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