Posted: Fri 1st Mar 2024

Wrexham Council approves council tax rise despite warning it could “tip families over the edge” for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area

A council tax rise of nearly ten per cent for Wrexham residents has been approved despite a warning it could tip families over the edge.

A meeting of all 56 councillors in the county borough was held yesterday (Wednesday, 28 February) to agree Wrexham Council’s budget for the next financial year.

The majority backed proposals which will see the annual council tax bill for an average Band D household increase to £2,013 from April once police and community council charges are added.

Politicians were previously told the local authority was facing a forecast budget gap of £22.6m for 2024/25 due to funding cuts from central government.

As well as boosting income from council tax through a 9.9 per cent uplift, the authority has also identified £13m worth of cuts and savings, but still has a gap of £1.8m left to address.

It came as members of the ruling independent/Conservative coalition chose not to increase rates by the originally proposed amount of 12.4 per cent.

Speaking at the starting of the meeting, council leader Mark Pritchard (Ind) highlighted the bleak financial position the authority was facing.

He said: “This report details an extremely challenging economic outlook for local governments across Wales.

“This is going to continue into next year and into the future unless there is a radical change in the amount of public funding available to all councils across Wales.

“This is proposed as a reasonable, balanced and sound budget, ensuring we have financial resilience and recognising the burden of increasing costs to local taxpayers across Wrexham.”

He added: “We have to remember that our level of council tax is starting from a lower position than the average in Wales.

“We know that future years are going to be more challenging, and we are developing plans to manage this during the next financial year.”

The Welsh Government announced the final settlement for all 22 Welsh local authorities this week, with Wrexham receiving an increase in grants of 3.5 per cent.

However, council officials said a combination of inflationary pressures, staff pay rises and other cost increases meant it was facing significant financial challenges.

Schools in Wrexham are among the areas facing real-terms budget cuts of £5.4m, which it was previously warned would “decimate” their finances.

Cartrefle councillor Ronnie Prince, one of only two non-aligned members on the council, said he could not support the budget proposals because of the impact on families.

He said: “I have spoken to many local people regarding the council tax increase and the feedback I received is not good.

“In some cases, even when both parents are working to bring in a wage, families are still struggling to pay the bills.

“This increase in council tax, along with many other cost of living increases, has the potential to tip families over the edge financially.”

Political blows were exchanged during the meeting as councillors argued over who was to blame for the funding reductions.

Plaid Cymru leader Marc Jones criticised the planned cuts to education, which he said would lead to redundancies in schools.

He said: “We’re imposing through this budget, a £5m cut on school budgets.

“School budgets are overwhelmingly spent on staff, teachers, teaching assistants and essential support stuff.

“Cuts in their budgets mean cuts in their staff and that will mean one-to-one support being cut, experienced teachers being replaced with less experienced, less expensive teachers and ultimately, larger class sizes as classes are merged.

“Even if schools can get through this year on their reserves, they will more than likely be facing having to lose staff the following year.”

Cllr Jones called on the council leader to consider cutting the number of executive board members from ten down to eight to help save money.

Opposition Labour group leader Dana Davies voiced concerns over the £1.8m gap in the authority’s budget, with savings needing to be found in-year.

In response, Cllr Pritchard hit out at both parties over funding cuts, as well as Welsh Government spending decisions such as the introduction of a 20mph national speed limit and plans to increase the number of MS’s in the Senedd.

He said around £1bn in funding had collectively been lost by the 22 Welsh local authorities due to austerity measures, resulting in councils being “driven into the ground”.

However, Coedpoeth councillor Anthony Wedlake (Lab) said the Conservative government in Westminster was mostly to blame.

He said: “I wasn’t planning to speak today but I’m frankly appalled by the political statement that has been made and it’s completely dishonest.

“If we’re going to blame 14 years of austerity for the cuts in our public services, then we should be looking at the Tory Party and their record of taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

“The trouble is that the leader of this council can’t blame the Tory Party, because it’s his friends in the Tory Party who keep him as leader of this council.”

In response, Cllr Pritchard said: “When I make statements and I sit in this chair, I make statements which are fact.

“If it touched the nerve with of some members in this chamber then so be it.

“We’re not the cause of this and the 22 authorities across Wales are not the problem here – it’s the funding.

“Unless we all wake up, we will be closing services down and just keep on taking salami slices away from services.”

The council tax increase and wider budget proposals were approved by 40 votes to ten at the end of the debate.

By Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter

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