Posted: Tue 11th Jan 2022

“You said we did” – Public again suggest cutting Mayoral role, trimming councillor pay and numbers

Wrexham.com for people living in or visiting the wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Jan 11th, 2022

Removing the role of the mayor, cutting councillor numbers and creating new ideas to generate income are the amongst the familiar suggestions put to the council as part of the most recent budget consultation.

The findings have been published as part of an information report circulated to councillors (and viewable here) ahead of the executive board meeting today.

Overall there were 299 responses to part one of the consultation and 646 responses to the section section.

The information report states: “Given the current extraordinary circumstances, the consultation period took place during a shortened window and was divided into two parts.

“Part 1 took place in the lead up to the provisional settlement being announced by Welsh Government. Part 2 took place after the provisional settlement was announced by Welsh Government (from 20/01/2021 to 05/02/2021).

“A Your Voice survey was available in online and paper format during both phases of the consultation.

“Members of the public were also able to respond in writing or by email to a dedicated email account.

“A number of targeted emails were sent to specific stakeholder groups and representatives of groups with protected characteristics, for example, the Senedd yr Ifanc and Community Councils.

“In both phases of the consultation, a public information booklet was provided which included a reminder of the six agreed Council priorities, reference to the ‘You Said, We Did’ feedback from the previous budget consultation and an update on Council Tax.”

As part of the first phase of the budget, the public consultation contains just two questions – how do you think Wrexham Council can make further cuts to meet the financial challenge and if you have any alternative suggestions for provision of these services/areas of expenditure.

Suggestions included a familiar response from the public of Wrexham, reviewing senior/middle management structure and staff tiers, reviewing environmental services, reducing or removing elected member pay/expenses including any pay rise and reducing consultant/external/third sector spend.

As part of the information report the council have also responded to some of the suggestions put forward by the public as part of the “we did” element of the consultation, although many are explainers on the topic, rather than a specific response to a suggested action.

In terms of review senior/middle management structure and staff tiers, the local authority said: “Wrexham’s senior management structure is one of the leanest in Wales following recent senior management restructures. We constantly keep this under review.”

Other responses to suggestions from members of the public include:-

Review Council offices and assets – including how they can be better utilised: Our review of office building requirements has continued, and despite inevitable delays during Covid-19 lockdown, construction work has continued to progress well on the development of the council’s modern Community Health and Wellbeing Hub at the former Crown Buildings, Wrexham

Continue forward with the Modern Ways of Working which allows employees and Elected Members to work from home resulting in cost savings on running expensive, offices, travel expenses etc: The council had already recognised the need to ensure a modern and resilient council prior to Covid-19, and has accelerated its modern ways of working programme, not only to meet these demands, but to use learning to unlock potential for future efficiencies. Since March 2020 the majority of employees, if their job lends itself to this, have been enabled to work flexibly and/or from home, balancing this with some time in the workplace.

Reduce the number of Elected Members: The council does not determine the number of councillors elected for the county borough. This is determined by the Welsh Government following recommendations from the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales. The most recent review was completed in 2021 and as a result the number of councillors will increase from 52 to 56 in May 2022. The council had opposed this increase.

Do not feel that further cuts should be made: The council is required, by law, to maintain a balanced budget in a time when its funding is being cut. While the council never wishes to cut valued services it must meet this requirement which requires difficult choices about prioritisation.

Reduce consultant/external/third sector spend: As part of the Council’s processes we will always consider whether a service could be delivered better, and /or more efficiently, and in partnership with others, if timescales and other factors allow us to do so.

Remove/reduce the role of mayor: The Council is required to elect a civic head to chair major meetings and in Wrexham this role is fulfilled by the Mayor. The Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales determines the salaries for such roles, not the Council. The Council has been reducing overall expenditure in recent years and continues to take opportunities to achieve greater efficiencies in delivering this service. This service is valued in many parts of our community.

Departments across the Council to work more collaboratively – resulting in reducing costs and being more efficient across services: Departments within the Council are working in collaboration to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, for example in the roll out of the Modern Ways of Working programme, the ongoing review of office building requirements and development of a Prevention and Early Help Framework in order to support children, young people and families

Respondents also called on the council to consider the financial effect of Covid-19 on families / people who have lost jobs / been furloughed /on low incomes / reduced earnings when making decisions about the next budget.

In response to this the local authority said: “As part of Wrexham Public Service Board (PSB), we have identified the need to improve community resilience.

“One of these pieces of work is focused on reducing inequality and poverty as we recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The council’s budget approach is about prioritising resources to ensure that essential services are sustainable and resilient, including prioritising the most vulnerable in society.”

There were also objections to increasing council tax, with some saying that there are fewer services/poor quality service for the increasing cost.

Both Wrexham Council and Welsh government also faced criticism over the number of cuts that have been made over the years and the decision making process and the effectiveness of the consultations.

Wrexham Council said: “The financial challenges facing the Council heighten the need to involve citizens to increase public understanding of the rationale for change and why difficult decisions have to be made.

“Through clear communication, consultation and engagement we can help manage public expectations, as well as understand their views on the way forward, so they can influence the future shape of local services.

“We continue to lobby Welsh Government for a fair and sustainable settlement which reflects the needs of our communities.”

19 people responded to the exercise “critical of Council’s decision making processes/previous suggestions not taken on board/need to improve effectiveness of consultation process”.

 

You can view the information report and the council’s responses in full here



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