COUNCIL TAX ROW: Senior Councillors back 6.95% council tax increase
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A ROW has broken out between two political rivals as senior councillors in Wrexham backed a council tax rise of almost seven per cent.
Members of Wrexham Council’s ruling independent/Conservative executive board held a virtual meeting yesterday (Tuesday, 26 January) to discuss the local authority’s budget for the upcoming financial year.
For the second year in a row, it includes an increase of 6.95 per cent for ratepayers, which amounts to an extra £85 per year for an average band D property.
Council leader Mark Pritchard said the changes were being proposed in light of it receiving the second lowest increase in funding from the Welsh Government out of the 22 authorities in Wales.
He said he also wanted to invest in frontline services, with an extra £3.5m earmarked to go into social care following a critical inspection report on children’s services.
However, an argument erupted after Labour leader Dana Davies voiced concerns over plans for the council to dip into its reserves to cover some of the increased spending.
The leader of the largest opposition group said: “The report stresses the council’s current level of reserves are low and it also stresses an in-year overspend is a significant risk.
“Looking at this report purely from a financial governance and risk perspective and that overspend in children’s services, who signed off on that overspend? Who made the decision?”
She continued: “There’s a question of what is lawful expenditure, because projected expenditure needs to be signed off.
“ I’m really concerned about the governance and because of the reserve levels being so low, about potentially not having the reserves to cover that projected expenditure.”
Cllr Davies questioned whether it could lead to the council having to issue a Section 114 notice – effectively declaring itself bankrupt.
Cllr Pritchard hit back by criticising the Labour-run Welsh Government for handing the authority a budget uplift of only 2.3 per cent for 2021/22.
It compares to Newport Council, which received the highest increase of 5.6 per cent.
He said: “I hope there’s no games being played here this morning, because we’ve covered this in the budget workshop, and I thought we were in a comfortable place and all elected members understood it.
“Well, obviously from the comments this morning, they don’t.”
He added: “The frankness of it is that we’ve been underfunded from the Welsh Government for a long time.
“I’ve made it very clear; we have had the second lowest settlement in Wales.
“We’ve had a very poor settlement, the crumbs from the table, when other authorities in south Wales are having high rises, and that’s not fair.”
His comments led to a point of order being raised by Cllr Davies to clarify her remarks.
She said the funding issue was caused by the formula used to calculate the budget allocation for each council, rather than by the Welsh Government.
She said: “It’s not a political game – it’s taking our duties seriously and I’m also angry now.
“We’re all lobbying Welsh Government, but there is a huge need here to review the funding formula, because it’s that which dictates what all local authorities get.”
Cllr Pritchard responded by expressing his frustration at the government’s decision not to implement a funding floor to level out differences in increases for councils.
He said: “Dana, if you say that you’re angry, I’m very angry. For two years running, if the floor isn’t replaced, it will be taken away from us and that costs us millions of pounds in Wrexham.
“As I said earlier on, what’s the difference between Wrexham and an authority in south Wales which has a 5.6 per cent settlement and we have crumbs from the table?”
The budget proposals, including council tax levels, were unanimously backed by executive board members at the end of the debate.
They will now need to be considered at a full council meeting before receiving final approval.
Words: Liam Randall, Local Democracy Reporter
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