Posted: Thu 7th Dec 2023

Council Tax rise and job losses on agenda as Wrexham Council faces “tough” budget decisions for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Dec 7th, 2023

The leader of Wrexham Council has warned that “there will be no stone unturned” as the local authority looks to make millions of pounds in savings.

Wrexham Council – like many others across the country – is faced with the difficult challenge of balancing its books whilst providing public services during a period of high inflation, rising energy bills and a cost of living crisis.

The local authority is expecting a financial deficit of £22.6m next year and £29m over the following two years, based on the latest estimates of funding and cost pressures.

Speaking at a media brief earlier this week Cllr Mark Pritchard, the Leader of Wrexham Council, said the local authority is now faced with the challenge of making cuts to jobs and redundancies.

The local authority has already lost £60 million from its budget between 2016 and 2020 due to real term reductions in funding.

But Cllr Pritchard warned that there are “tough times and dark days” ahead of local authorities.

On Tuesday (December 12) members of Wrexham Council’s executive board will be asked to back first set of measures and processes to deliver a balanced budget in 2024/25.

Some of the cost cutting measures up for consideration include:

  • Reducing the use of temporary accommodation for housing needs by utilising 50 HRA (Housing Revenue Account) properties.
  • Reviewing assets (land and buildings) owned by the council.
  • Deleting unfilled and vacant jobs across the council.
  • Stopping the City Centre Warden Service.
  • Setting up a Change and Efficiency Programme Board to identify and propose further radical budget measures for 2024-25.

Cllr Pritchard said: “We will revisit every department and there will be no stone unturned to look at every opportunity to make savings.

“Wrexham Council has lost £60 million pounds out of its budget. All of the low hanging fruit has gone, there’s nothing left now.

“Whatever decisions we make now will be a loss of jobs and redundancies – it’s as frank as that.”

He added: “These are people’s jobs – behind every job loss there’s a family, there’s a mortgage and there’s a story.

“It’s uncomfortable and it’s not pleasant for the elected members, I can assure you.

“I’m sure I can speak on behalf of all elected members – none of us come into local politics to cut services and none of us come into politics to reduce and lose jobs.”

Further increases to Council Tax are also up for consideration, with Cllr Pritchard explaining that for the local authority’s budget to “stand still” it would have to increase by 12.5 per cent.

However a final decision on the amount Council Tax will increase by has yet to be made.

Cllr Pritchard said: “I’m a realist, I know that you wouldn’t get the political support for 12.5 per cent.

“So what you’ve got to try and do is take all the groups with you to raise the Council Tax to a level that everybody’s comfortable with.

“Council Tax isn’t the answer to everything.

“For every one per cent that we put up the Council Tax, it brings in £600,000. That’s a not big deal of money when you’ve had £60 million taken out.

“But it would be very foolish and financially foolish not to set a Council Tax where we can continue to deliver services within Wrexham knowing what is facing us in the future. That would be neglect.

“We take the tough decisions when we have to.”

Deputy leader of Wrexham Council, David Bithell

He added that a settlement of just three per cent is expected when the Welsh Government announces its budget later this month.

Cllr Pritchard said: “This conversation is going on in 22 authorities across Wales, I can assure you.

“Everybody knows what’s coming down the track, there’s no surprises here. You know what you’ve got to find this year and you know what your budget will be in 2024-25.

“the Welsh Government has made it crystal clear that there’s no extra money, so there isn’t anyone who is going to bail you out.

“I do remind elected members, because a lot of members come to see me saying they want this and they want that to improve the services.

“We all want to improve services but that comes at a cost.

“That’s where we are, we not in Utopia – it’s dark at the moment and it’s not gonna get any lighter for a while.”

Asked how the council’s ruling administration will bring opposition parties along with the budget – with unanimous support for cuts to services and rises in Council Tax very rare – Deputy Leader of Wrexham Council, David Bithell said people need to “put their political views behind them”.

Cllr Bithell said: “What I would say is if the two opposition groups are really serious about helping, supporting and protecting jobs and allowing Wrexham to continue to grow, they need to put their political views behind them in the budget process for the next couple of years .

“We need to work together because the reality is we can all vote to abstain, not turn up or hide in a cupboard – whatever you want to do.

“But the reality is there’s no hiding place now with the budget, it is what it is.

“When people elect members in their local communities they expect them to vote and they expect them to make representation on behalf of their constituents.

“But equally they have a responsibility to support the whole borough. That’s the concept of being a county borough councillor, you have a duty to make sure that you support the wider public.”

Cllr Pritchard added: “You will get members who just will not put their hands up for Council Tax, you just won’t.

“What I’d say to those members is for every one per cent you put the Council Tax up, you’re saving jobs and you’re saving services.

“If you don’t then it’s £600,000 extra that we’ve got to find off the budget.

“A lot of people are under the impression that there’s going to be a change in government – and there might be in Westminster.

“But the tap is not just going to be turned on automatically. I think whoever is in Westminster is going to have the same problems.

“We’re in dark times at the moment.”

The budget report for 2024-25 will be considered by executive board members on Tuesday 12 December

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