Majority say Wrexham does not deserve city status – council say “people lack confidence in their town”
61 per cent of respondents to Wrexham Council’s official consultation say that Wrexham does not deserve to be a city, it has been revealed.
The results have been made public this afternoon as an information report has been circulated to all councillors ahead of an Extraordinary council meeting on Tuesday.
The report includes detail from the recently run public consultation, along with officer conclusions based off the results of the overall exercise.
Despite having several thousand people hitting the consultation website just 458 people took part -17% (74 posts) felt quite strongly that Wrexham deserves to be a City; and 6% (24 posts) felt quite strongly 61% (258 posts) felt not at all and 11% (45 posts) felt not very; whilst 5% (21 posts) were of neutral opinion.
Councillors are given an officer analysis of the survey results, with the onus appearing to be placed on the public for not having confidence in the benefits city status could seemingly bring. This is despite concerns raised by many participants over why the council should not progress with the bid.
The headline conclusion to draw from the comments is that people are concerned with the town centre – comments significantly outweighed any other individual theme and provided some very strong evidence for the ‘place making’ strategy and the need as is already being done to put in place a clear plan for investment with a range of projects that will benefit the town centre. People appear to link the ‘deserve to be a city’ question with ‘we better sort out our problems first’ narrative and there is an underlying sense that people lack confidence in their town. People have not connected the opportunities around city status with an opportunity to turn around the perception/improving and moving Wrexham County Borough forward which is what the socio economic report identified as the real opportunity of city status. City status allied to a clear vision and plans for economic regeneration potentially provides the platform for addressing people’s concerns.
On Tuesday all 52 councillors in Wrexham will get a chance to vote on if a bid for City Status should take place, after an Executive Board report was pulled in a last minute change. On Monday we were hoping for an embargoed copy of the report published today ahead of it going to the Executive Board however a planned briefing on Tuesday was changed to a ‘verbal update’ due to the change.
As we reported last Friday a motion had been put forward by the local Plaid Cymru group to call a special meeting of the full 52 councillor Full Council meeting to vote on “This council does not support a bid for city status”, with that accepted by the Mayor the meeting will now take place on Tuesday at 4pm.
That has in effect been turned into the key vote on the topic, with a majority of councillors voting not to support a bid making it harder – along with the lack of public appetite – for the Executive Board to then act unilaterally with such a clear view expressed. Likewise, if a mandate is given from the Full Council meeting, the Executive Board would then promptly rubber stamp the move.
The report details the “PORPOSED APPROACH” with phases one and two of consultation now complete, moving to stage three which subject to Tuesday’s vote could see a formal bid prepared and submitted, with phase four happening regardless – “Continuation and completion of a Place Making Strategy to inform economic regeneration of Wrexham Town Centre”.
Taking questions at a media brief on the process and city bid Council Leader Mark Pritchard explained: “I look forward to the debate and the discussion in Full Council, I think it’s important that we do discuss it, there is nowhere to hide in the Full Council, and whatever said is recorded, and it will uncover a lot of the untruths which have been said there with regards to council tax and so on.
“It is important that every elected member, not just the ones who shout the loudest, or go on social media, or just put things out there, that everybody’s given the opportunity to express their views.:
We asked if the result of the full council meeting would be absolute, and if a bid was rejected, the Executive Board would not take it forward themselves, with Cllr Pritchard indicating it would be a free vote as far as he is concerned: “We haven’t got a whip, we have never had a whip, we don’t vote as a party. The decision at Full Council is the decision at Full Council.”
With the original plan being for an Executive Board decision rather than Full Council, we asked the five Plaid Cymru councillors had done the administration a favour by effectively creating meeting opportunity to debate the issue.
Cllr Pritchard told us: “No, I don’t agree. There was always a discussion going on the background on the process and the way it should go forward. I think it would have, regardless of whatever was said on social media, it would have gone this route, eventually. I believe that this is the right thing to do.”
Chief Executive Ian Bancroft gave an overview of the consultation outputs, noting eight areas of conclusions, some in favour, some undetermined and some against city status – with the final score detailed as 6 in support 2 not in support.
Mr Bancroft summarised, “We’ve got three conclusions from the Social Economic Research, two in favour, one not supportive. From the engagement, we’ve got one in favour, one not supporting”.
At this point in the ‘verbal update’ Wrexham.com’s ‘straw poll’ was mentioned with the 56% / 44% split noted – which also appears in the full report as one of eight elements.
We pointed out that we were uncomfortable for it to be used in evidence base in any way, for reasons we detailed and graphed at the time on how the voting progressed. We did point out that our morning polling roughly matched the council’s own consultation before a sudden acceleration of yes votes took later in the afternoon, prompting our own delve into the data.
The consultants referred to “high levels of engagement” – with Wrexham.com being blamed for possibly “diverting people away from participating in the formal consultation” – that is despite every article having sometimes multiple links to the consultation. Bizarrely, despite being excellent traffic drivers for featured content historically, in this instance we – our our social media accounts – were apparently not a significant traffic driver with ten (unspecified) others being bigger. It is not detailed how we can be so influential, yet simultaneously not.
Talking about our straw poll Cllr Pritchard said such polls were useful to discover ‘how people think’: “We have always respected the straw polls in the past. So we’ve got to respect this, and the other ones you have in the future as well. So I’m comfortable with that.
“It is something just to get the feeling on what the people of Wrexham feel, and they’ve spoken. Just because something doesn’t suit somebody, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t discuss it or or debate it.”
Mr Bancroft added: “We are not making this decision based on one factor, none of them are purely scientific.
“They’re a mixture of research, a mixture of engagement, a mixture of perceptions and national strategy. We’re trying to give a decision making framework that brings together a range of factors that enable councillors to take a decision based on those.
“Ultimately, this is a councillor decision that decides whether to go for city status or not. I think it’s incumbent upon us as officers to provide a variety of information sources and conclusions.”
The recent public consultation has an analysis of the ‘interactive features map’, something we noted had been used by many at one point to flag what has been described as ‘an issue or something I would change’ – including referencing drugs, dogging and potholes. The consultant says five posts were deemed ‘inappropriate’ and then removed- however there is a still-live comment about ‘back handers‘ relating to planning permission
The ‘pride of residents’ was cited noting some great historical entries on the map, many with well referenced details on the items flagged along with relevant historical images. Viewing the source of the features map itself gives a text based structured data for each entry – with it appearing the bulk of the entries occurring after our article on the morning of the 28th, with 40 straight well referenced local history entries some complete with highly specific – and unusually for organic user generated submissions actual credited images eg. “Image courtesy of Wrexham Museum & Archives”, “image of carving by Ted McKay in the Wrexham Museum & Archives collection”, “image from the collections of Denbighshire Archives”, “image courtesy of the National Museum of Wales”, “image courtesy of the Welsh Folk Museum”, “image: string course brick in Wrexham Museum collection”.
That run was broken up with a couple of references to ‘dogging’ with another 17 entries then in a line again following the highly detailed well referenced historical pattern.
At the verbal briefing we pointed out the rough 7% engagement rate on the council’s consultation, and noted for such a large topical debate that everyone appears to have a view on, appeared quite poor.
Brief fellow Welsh competitor for city status, Merthyr Tydfil, held a consultation on its social media pages which saw similar results to the local formal effort, with a combined total of 42.56% (758 votes) of participants voting in favour and 57.44% (1,023 votes) against.
The total number of votes cast was 1,781. Based on the population of Merthyr Tydfil being 59,100, just over 3% took part in the survey – taking Wrexham County Borough’s population, Wrexham saw a 0.35% response.
A website in support of city status was also set up by Merthyr’s local MP, encouraging people to sign a pledge for the bid.
However as a result of the council’s poll and what was described as a strong local response against the plans, the idea to progress with the plans was pulled.
Commenting on Wrexham’s local engagement, Mr Bancroft said: “I think we have done more than any other area has ever done, putting and thinking forward about a city status bid.
“We’ve done more research than anybody else, we’ve obviously gone out there and conducted engagement, not just based on one question like many others do, and we’ve obviously taken wider considerations and built that into those pieces of research.
“Its damned if you do, damned if you don’t in terms of however much we do, there will likely be a question if we’ve done too much, or we’ve done too little. It feels from an officer perspective, we’ve got a satisfactory set of research that’s there to help inform councillors in their decision making.”
Cllr Pritchard went on the attack against councillors who were not supporting a bid: “I would like this to be put on the record, I’m referring to elected members who continuously damage this town and what they say.
“Elected members continually run campaigns to knock this town and all they do is damage the town. Why wouldn’t you support it? What is the negative from it?”
“It’s not about where we are now it is about how we can evolve and what we can become. The public are fed up of politicians knocking this town, and using the town as a political football. We all know that’s true, good people have had enough.”
The debate now moves to the Full Council – and if previous such meetings are used as a guide, the meeting will allow all councillors to debate the city status bid idea, and with such a high profile issue it would likely then go to a named vote where each councillor is asked to vote for / against or abstain with the personal vote recorded.
The meeting could last a few hours with the Council Leader appearing to relish the debate: “I’m looking forward to the debate because there’s a lot of untruths been said, there are lots of things bring to the full council.
“I am sure we will be there for two or three hours I really do, debating it, discussing it putting the wrongs right, uncovering everything”.
We also used the opportunity to put commonly made questions over city status – which were not addressed by the council during the short 10 day consultation – to the Council Leader and Chief Executive…
On if council tax would rise if we were a city the Council Leader Mark Pritchard said: “That’s incorrect. The elected members set the council tax subject to the settlement from the Welsh Government. I would never as the Leader of this Council subsidise city status through the council tax. I would not. Why would I? I know it wouldn’t get the support of any other elected member to do so either.”
We asked if councillor pay would go up if city status occurred, Cllr Pritchard said: “The independent renumeration panel sets all our salaries, whether you’re the Leader of the Council, Deputy Leader, Chair of scrutiny and so on.”
We asked if Chief Executive pay would increase and therefore was a self motivation for such a bid. Mr Bancroft said, “Just like the Council Leader mentioned that councillor pay is set by an independent renumeration panel, officer pay is set by a structure in terms of pay that ultimately is decided upon by councillors in terms of what that pay structure is. I’m on a set pay scale. So there would have to be decisions that are taken if that was to be changed – none of that is associated with city status – just to make that absolutely clear.
We also asked about the new costs associated with a successful city status bit, Mr Bancroft replied, “There are no costs that we envisage that we have to undertake. We don’t have to necessarily rebrand, that’s our choice in terms of whether we want to do that. So all those decisions are independent, again, of city status, there is not a requirement to spend money as a result of city status happening.”
In today’s documents there is also a new ‘FAQ’ section – copied in full below.
Although a bid submission does not guarantee a win, there is a belief in some quarters that Wrexham could be the only bid from Wales and therefore could be highly likely to be chosen.
You can read the full report sent to councillors at 1pm today here: Info Report – Platinum Jubilee Competition for City Status
The Council’s Frequent Asked Questions section on city status:
1. How much is City status going to cost Council tax payers in Wrexham?
City Status is a civic award based on meeting the criteria in the application form. The Gov.uk website states “It is as much about the attributes, institutions and past achievements as it is about the future. This does not in itself increase any costs. The Gov.uk FAQ section actually states the following “The Government does not want local authorities to incur any undue expense entering the competition.”
The Council is not incurring specific costs associated with the city status work and if city status is awarded there are no requirements to incure future additional cost.
2. Will Wrexham be called Wrexham City?
City Status is a civic award based on meeting the criteria in the application form. There is no requirement to change the name of the place. Not all recently awarded cities have taken on that title, although many have used the status within marketing campaigns, etc. It is the case that some towns (e.g. Dunfermline) decided to call themselves a City without being awarded the status…they just did as it was felt to be right for the place and its aspirations
3. Will my Council Tax go up if Wrexham is awarded City Status?
The Council sets the level of Council Tax annually, based on the amount it needs to raise to fund local services. The level of annual increase in Council Tax will vary from year to year and depend on many factors, including increases in demand, the cost of providing services and the level of funding provided by the Welsh Government each year. Achievement of City Status would not be a material consideration when determining the level of Council Tax as any direct costs to the Council associated with it are expected to be minimal.
4. Will the cost of my insurance, such as car and household go up if Wrexham is awarded City Status?
No. Insurance premiums are calculated to reflect risk. Insurance companies look at a range of risk factors that indicate the likelihood of them having to pay out on a claim – for car insurance the risk factors include: age of driver, time since passing test, address, where the vehicle is parked, occupation, driving history, make and model of car, annual mileage and claims history of the individual. Effectively the data behind these factors enables the company to calculate how likely you are to have an accident or make a claim. The more likely you are to claim, the higher the premium you are charged. The address is used as the majority of accidents take place within 5 miles of the driver’s home. Insurance companies look at the average number of claims for that area, crime rate (e.g. theft / vandalism) and how busy the place is. Large inner city areas such as Bradford, Liverpool and Birmingham have amongst the highest premiums in the UK because they have the highest risk factors.
For home insurance it is a similar story – the premiums relate to a number of risk factors that determine how likely the insurance company is to have to pay out on a claim. The address allows the company to look at burglary rates, subsidence and soil types (key for flooding). Other factors include presence of security features, rural or urban setting, proximity to flood plains and the claims history of the individual.
5. Who has paid for the initial consultation and latest report and how much has that cost?
The Council is currently working on a Place Making Strategy that will identify key interventions and support improvements in the Town Centre and the whole of the County Borough irrespective of whether City Status is applied for or awarded. The economic impact report was one single element of this work. This work is funded by Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns programme, no Council money has been spent on Place Making or City Status elements. All work on city status will contribute to the place making strategy which was planned before the opportunity for bidding for city status was announced as part of the roadmap towards Wrexham’s economic recovery.
6. If City status is granted does that increase funding for infrastructure, etc?
The independent consultant’s report found that there is no clear evidence due to the lack of research in this area between city status as a factor and economic growth. However, when City Status is considered alongside robust, deliverable plans for regeneration and economic development it can help create favourable conditions for growth and inward investment.
Case study analysis showed towns who had been awarded city status identified there were a range of economic benefits.
7. Will Officers and Cllrs be paid more money?
No. Elected Member pay is determined by an Independent Remuneration Panel, which sets a basic salary for Elected Members. Additional payments are available to those Elected Members with additional responsibilities (Scrutiny Committee Chairs, Executive Board Members, etc.) which are based on population bandings set by the independent panel.
City status will not influence the decision making about officers pay. The approach to pay for Council Officers is set out in the Employee Pay & Reward Policy, which is reviewed every 3 years and reflects collective agreements. The Council determines the level of annual salary for employees on NJC, JNC Chief Executives and JNC Chief Officers, using established job evaluation schemes. Job evaluation has established a pay and grading structure that clearly defines roles, responsibilities and job size for every post. All posts subject to the National Joint Council (NJC) conditions for Local Government Services will be evaluated in accordance with the Greater London Provincial Council (GLPC) Job Evaluation scheme. The job evaluation scores will determine the appropriate grade for each post. Officers are able to attract increments within their grade on the basis of evidencing successful performance against set objectives in the annual appraisal process.
8. The Council says it has no money for vital services so where will the money come from if Wrexham becomes a City.
City Status does not require additional Council services as it is a Civic honour awarded on the basis of successfully meeting the criteria in the application form at that point in time. If the Council was to positively use City Status to promote economic growth, this activity would be met from existing Council resources.
9. Can City status be rejected but Cultural City status be granted?
These are two separate competitions taking place as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. They are not linked or dependent on each other. The City of Culture 2025 is awarded to a place, this can be a town a city or a County depending on how the application is targeted. The guidance from UK Government states “from across the UK. We will adopt flexible approach to agreeing which areas can bid. There is no minimum population requirement but there must be a clear central focus and identity to the area, with sufficient existing cultural and digital infrastructure (or credible plans to develop them) to make a compelling case, and provide the critical mass for a year-long programme to be successful. This could be a city or large town, or a cohesive area made up of two or more neighbouring or closely linked cities or towns.”
You can read the full report sent to councillors at 1pm today here: Info Report – Platinum Jubilee Competition for City Status
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