Wrexham Council cash cutbacks bombshell

Reporter:

Charlie Croasdale

COUNCIL leaders in Wrexham are facing up to further ‘horrendous’ cuts to their budget, which could top £60 million.

The authority revealed they have been informed by the Welsh Government to “prepare for the worst”, after being told their 2015-16 budget – originally expected to include cuts of £8.2 million - is now likely to contain £5 million more cost saving measures, meaning a “disastrous” figure of £13 million of cuts next financial year.

Official Welsh Government settlement figures are not expected until October, but council money bosses broke rank, arguing “can you imagine the reaction if we had kept this quiet until the autumn announcement?”.

Cllr Malcolm King, lead member for finance at the council, said the “bombshell” of now having to make an estimated £60 million of cuts between 2013 and 2018 – a third higher than previously feared – would have “huge consequences” for the county.

Cllr King said: “It’s going to be a harsh reality – the real bombshell here is we are now facing cuts of £45 million over the first three years. 

“I’d be surprised if the figure for the five-year period is not at least £60 million now. When you take out our ring-fenced services, such as education, which we can’t touch – we had about £90 million to work with at the start of this process. 

“If you take £60 million from that after five years, we’ll have around 30 per cent of our budget left.

“These are disastrous figures for local government in Wales and I think the system needs to be looked at. The consequences for the people of Wrexham will be huge.”

Libraries, community centres, public toilets and play areas have all been transferred over to community councils under this year’s cuts and Plas Madoc Leisure Centre was shut in order to save £500,000 annually.

But Cllr King said current projections for future years were “hopelessly optimistic”.

“We have been working on cutbacks based on the figure of a 1.5 per cent reduction for next year’s budget from the Welsh Government, but we have now been told that could be as high as 4.5 per cent,” he said. 

“We will prepare for the worst but hope for the best, but the figure of 1.5 per cent is hopelessly optimistic.

“As a result we are now planning cuts of at least £13 million for 2015-16, as opposed to £8.2 million we were originally forecasting. 

“It is incredibly frustrating as we felt we were on track to meet the £8.2 million of cuts with this month’s budget announcement. We will put forward more proposals for the consultation than we need to cut, in order for people to have their say. 

“I must stress all these cutbacks are only proposals at this stage – but to find an extra £5 million now on top of what we’ve had to find already, it’s pretty horrendous.”

Among unpopular mooted cuts for next year is further reductions from spending on grass cutting and a reduction in short-term break facilities to save £444,000.

The Welsh Government will inform local authorities across Wales what their budgets will be for 2015-16 in October, with exact figures expected to be available in November.

Wrexham Council leader, Cllr Neil Rogers, defended the authority’s decision to tell the public about the anticipated cuts. 

He said: “These are testing times for local government and there’s no getting away from the fact these cuts are horrendous.  “We’ve tried to be as honest as possible at this early stage with the public – can you imagine the reaction if we had kept this quiet until the autumn announcement?

“There are difficult times ahead and huge demand is being placed on local authorities.”

Neighbouring council, Flintshire, have cut senior management positions by almost half to save £2.5 million.

Cllr Arfon Jones, who represents Gwersyllt West, said Wrexham Council should have considered the option of cutting executive pay when the process began.

“I’ve argued since the cuts began that we should be looking at the infrastructure of the council, before cutting frontline services,” he said.

“Apart from not replacing John Bradbury, of the environment department, when he retired, there has been no restructuring.

“We have a chief executive, three strategic directors and eight council officers, all earning more than £70,000 per year.

“A restructuring would save tens of thousands of pounds per year. 

“I appreciate we have to cut some public services, but the damage could be limited.”

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