Quest to balance the books in Wrexham

Reporter:

Geraint Jones

A raft of cuts have been proposed as Wrexham Council looks to balance the books.

Demolishing or transferring ownership of bowling greens and disused community centres, ending a funding agreement for PCSOs early,  higher council tax, fewer offices, increased school meals prices and charging Blue Badge holders for using car parks are among the many cuts and savings proposed in the draft Difficult Decisions consultation.

Wrexham Council needs to save around £13m in the next two financial years due to a reduced local government settlement.

In an introduction to the consultation, Cllr Mark Pritchard, leader of Wrexham Council, says the shortfall is in addition to the £18m already saved over the last three years. and an overall saving of £52m since 2008.

It is proposed that disused community centres in Kingsley Circle, Abenbury and Penycae are either transferred to a third party or “considered for disposal and demolition”.

This could save around £3,000 in 2018/19 and a further £11,000 in 2019/20.

The document proposes that £300,000 could be saved in 2019/20 by ending council funding for schools music.

An estimated £206,000 could be saved in 2018/19 with ‘general efficiencies’ in the environmental department, which would include offering bowling facilities and pavilions to community councils or bowling clubs to manage.

The document states that reduced staff numbers due to the reshaping of services means a reduced need for office space, and that an estimated £229,000 could be saved in 2019/20

It is also proposed to cut the number of rangers at the county borough’s 11 country parks, with the Streetscene service helping staff to clean the parks.

Facilities and staff that are grant supported will continue to be maintained according to the grant criteria.

The council provides funding to the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner to fund PCSOs, with the agreement set to end in March 2019. It is proposed to bring this forward to October 2018.

The document adds: “If this funding cannot be identified from elsewhere, this could result in the number of PCSOs within the county borough reducing.”

It is estimated to generate savings of approximately £140,000 in 2018/19 and a further £140,000 in 2019/20

Increasing the annual fee for concessionary bus passes to non-qualifying students on school transport services from £50 to £100 could generate  around £6,000 in the first year, the document adds.

A report to the council’s executive board by deputy leader, Cllr Hugh Jones, said that additional sums of £62m and £42m are built into the settlement to ensure that the Welsh Government share of core spending on schools and social care respectively are maintained at the level of 2017-18.

It is proposed that schools’ budgets are protected and given the same allocation as 2017/18, but not increased over the next two years.

This means that schools will be required to meet growth pressures and inflation which are currently estimated at £1,158,000 in 2018/19 and a further £1,408,000 in 2019/20.

A proposed 5p increase in school meal fees to £2.35 would generate £15,000 in 2018/19 and a further £7,000 in 2019/20.

The document also proposes increasing charges at Pentrebychan Crematorium April 1 2018 by £50 for single cremations, and £100 for joint/double cremations – which could generate an extra £100,000 in 2018/19.

If the proposals were approved, the council could generate around £25,000 in 2018/19 by charging Blue Badge holders to use car parks.

The consultation document also proposes introducing a 20p public toilet charge in Trevor, Chirk and Froncysyllte, which would generate an estimated £5,000 in 2018/19.

Residents will be asked in the consultation whether they would prefer a council tax increase of three per cent (£31.56 per year) or a higher increase of no more that five per cent (£52.60 per year), which would reduce the need for savings in other departments.

A review of library services is proposed over the next two years.

The document states that this “may involve looking at changes to existing service provision, including possible changes in location, accessibility to the services and alternative operating models including community ownership”.

The executive board will discuss the document on Tuesday, and if approved, the consultation will start on October 25 and end on November 30.

The draft consultation document can be viewed at www.wrexham.gov.uk.

Email:

geraint.jones@nwn.co.uk

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