This year, we’ve started work on our budget earlier than usual.
We’re facing the hardest budget situation that we’ve ever had to face in our history.
We wouldn’t normally be this far ahead in the process. But given we know that we need to make cuts, we thought it was better to look at them before the summer.
That way, we can make sure that by the time autumn/winter arrives, when funding announcements will be made by the UK Government and the Welsh Government, we can effectively manage our budget for 2020/21, balancing cuts and Council Tax.
Some of the areas we have to look at are:
- More funding from national governments – Recent decisions by governments have meant we’ve had to increase pay rises, as well as face added pressures. So far, this hasn’t been fully backed by permanent increases in government funding, and we’ve had to fund part of them ourselves.
- Council Tax – The Band D rate of Council Tax in Wrexham is very low when compared to authorities elsewhere in the country. We know how much increases in Council Tax impact on local people, and will have to balance that affect with the equally difficult impacts if services have to be cut, if those increases aren’t made.
- Stopping or cutting services, and cutting back service levels – In some areas that aren’t priorities, services will have to stop or be cut back to meet our budget pressures. We can’t just re-shape things anymore – we’re reshaping things all the time. We have to check our priorities to make sure that we can keep priority and essential services going.
- Efficiencies – A large part of the £62million we’ve had to save in the eleven years since austerity hit has been made thanks to efficiencies, so there may not be many left for us to make – but we will still work hard to identify them, and carry them out.
- Co-operation and working with partners – In some areas where services are at risk, we’ll notify people as soon as we can, so partners and local communities can make suggestions on the things which could replace them.
What cuts have we already made?
Since the economic crisis of 2007/8 – and austerity measures were introduced in late 2008 – we’ve made cuts and efficiencies totalling more than £62m.
That’s about a quarter of the £237m current year budget.
During that time, we’ve also seen a significant drop in our workforce – more than 600 full-time roles have gone.
We’ve cut back on our senior leadership team, which has helped save the budget more than £300k per year.
But we’re no longer in a position where we can carry on making these cuts – we’ve hit a tipping point, because of the level of cuts, and incredibly difficult decisions which will have to be made .
We’ve got a clear vision about what our role is. We know what we can deliver even with limited resources. These are fairly clear and mean we can still deliver good, well-managed services.
But even with these things in place, we still have to make difficult decisions about those services which have to be stopped or reduced.
As part of our work, we’ve agreed on six priorities to focus on in future, which will help us to develop Wrexham as a place.
- Those priorities, and the reasons behind them, are:• Developing the Economy: there are a number of major pieces of work underway that will help shape Wrexham as a place
• Ensuring a Modern and Resilient Council
• Ensuring Everyone is Safe: this is a basic right for everyone
• Improving Secondary Education: this is key to our future
• Improving the Environment: these are local community services which everyone sees as important
• Promoting Health and Well-Being: only by doing this will we be able to try and reduce the ever-increasing demand on our social care services
“Phased Approach we’ll take”
As mentioned above, we started on the budget process earlier than normal, and have split it into two different phases.
Phase 1 will focus on decisions that can be made at the Executive Board meeting in late July, just before the summer. That could include implementing some cuts which have been consulted on previously. And we’ll also look at further consultation and engagement on other cuts.
Phase 2 will take place in the autumn/winter, once we’ve had the Local Government Provisional Revenue and Capital Settlement for 2020/21. We’ll have to look at further cuts at this stage as well.
“These are decisions that we’re not taking lightly.”
Mark Pritchard, the Leader of the Council, said: “If we receive a positive settlement from the UK and Welsh Government, we believe that – as long as we carry out this phase of cuts – we can get through the budget process without taking cuts that would push our services over a tipping point.
“Even in these proposals, we’re proposing things like a charge for green bins, and having conversations with communities about future library provision.
“These are decisions we are not taking lightly, but if we want to protect important services like education and social care, then we have to make them now.”
Cllr Pritchard added: “However, if we don’t get a positive settlement from Welsh Government or Westminster, we’ll have to cut further into critical services, and/or consider major rises in Council Tax.
“Work towards being ready for the next financial year will be a challenge but with a clear vision, priorities, a balanced approach to the budget and co-operative working both locally and nationally, we are determined to work to deliver the right services for the Wrexham County Borough.”
Cllr David A Bithell, Lead Member for Environment and Transport, said: “When we consulted the public last year less than a third of the public were not supportive of green bin charging and/or three weekly collections. It is also in line with the Welsh Government’s waste blueprint. We know this isn’t easy but doing this will protect critical front line services”
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