Cuts are the tip of the iceberg for Wrexham

Reporter:

Charlie Croasdale

CLOSURES to community facilities such as Plas Madoc Leisure Centre are ‘just the tip of the iceberg’ according to council chiefs.

The stark warning that closing community centres, libraries and leisure centres was just the start of a ‘painful process’ comes as Wrexham Council outlined the first part of their proposed cuts for 2015-16, with more than £4 million of savings identified.

The cuts include further savings on grass cutting maintenance of £200,000, the closure of Bersham Heritage Centre to save £58,000, the removal of the school library service and a further reduction of £68,000 from the school music service across the county.

In total, local authority managers have stated they are working towards a minimum saving of £8.2 million for the next financial year, as they look to make cutbacks of £45 million over the next five years.

Also included in the report detailing the latest cutbacks is the proposal to put domiciliary care at Plas Yn Rhos care home out to tender, as well as retendering all domiciliary care contracts which currently expire in March 2015. It is hoped these two actions will save the council £650,000.

A number of staff reviews and restructuring of departments look set to take place with lifelong learning, corporate and customer services and adult social care set to be affected.

Members of the council’s executive board, who will decide on whether to approve the report on Tuesday, said difficult decisions would have to be made and things would get ‘much more painful’ for Wrexham in the years to come.

Lead member for communities, partnerships and collaboration, Cllr Hugh Jones, said: “Year on year it is getting harder and it will become more and more difficult to find things to cut.

“We have had to make a number of high profile cuts so far such as community centres, and Plas Madoc, but I’m afraid that is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Lead member for finance, Cllr Malcolm King, said: “These are around £4.5 million worth of savings out of a total figure of £8.5 million we think we will need to find for the next financial year. As I hope people realise, these are unprecedented levels of funding cuts and we are going to have to make deeper cuts as the five year period goes on, in order to find £45 million.

“I am hopeful the total will not be any higher than £8.5 million for next year, but we will know for sure in September, October time.”

Cllr King admitted last year’s process gave the public limited time to give their opinions about the proposed cuts and hoped this year’s timescale would be “a lot better”.

“We have started the process two months earlier this year in order to give the public a warning as early as possible about what is to come. Last year we were criticised for not giving the public more time for consultation so we hope to address that.

“None of us came into politics to have to make huge cuts but our hands our tied.”

Helen Patterson, chief executive said: “We have tried to look at the whole spectrum and there are cuts in this budget from a wide-range of services, not just one area.”

Cllr Mark Pritchard, deputy leader and lead member for housing and planning, said:

“The figure, around £8.2 million, is a minimum figure, which could get worse.

“We do not want to make these cuts but the fact of the matter is we have to make the savings somewhere and the public need to realise it is going to get harder and more painful before it gets better.”

Johnstown councillor David Bithell criticised the report and said the local authority would soon have to “start listening to the people.”

“Already this year we have seen price increases, town centre car park charges going up, Plas Madoc closed, grass cutting reduced and bus subsidies cut,” he said.

“It seems like the staff are going to bear the brunt of the cuts as there are many staff reviews ongoing.

“We hear a lot of talk from Wrexham Council these days on reshaping services when services are being withdrawn.

“We seem to be cutting front line services instead of reshaping at the top and working our way down.”

See full story in the Leader

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