Home » North Wales councils ‘must collaborate to deliver services’
Denbighshire North Wales Politics

North Wales councils ‘must collaborate to deliver services’

Denbighshire County Council

DENBIGHSHIRE ’S leader says north Wales’ cash-strapped councils are talking about collaborating so they can better deliver services.

Leader Cllr Jason McLellan says he believes many residents understand Denbighshire has been forced to increase council tax by 9.34% due to cuts made by Westminster.

Denbighshire County Council agreed its budget at a meeting last month but is set to rubber-stamp the council tax rise at a meeting at Ruthin’s County Hall on Tuesday (February 27).

The authority ramped up council tax, claiming pressures amounted to £24.561m.

Denbighshire claimed it would need a local government settlement of around 13.06% to balance the books, instead of the 3.7% received from the Labour Welsh Government.

The settlement of 3.7% would only award Denbighshire £6.720m in additional revenue, leaving a funding gap of £17.841m – caused by inflation and mandatory staff pay increases.

online casinos UK

But whilst Denbighshire’s 3.7% compares less favourably with Newport in south Wales receiving 4.7% – not to mention Cardiff and Swansea’s 4.1% and 3.8% – the authority has enjoyed the highest rise in north Wales.

Both Conwy and Gwynedd received the lowest rises in Wales at 2% whilst Flintshire received the third lowest rise in Wales at 2.2%, Anglesey an additional 2.5%, and Wrexham 3.2%.

Consequently, Denbighshire will have to look to make major savings across the board – with even schools being asked to make 3% cuts.
Heads of service, too, have been asked to make savings of £2.388m – and have now been told to find an additional £3m savings, yet to be identified.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with the local democracy reporting service, Denbighshire’s Labour leader Cllr Jason McLellan blamed Tory cuts at Westminster for the council tax hike and cuts.

But Cllr McLellan said the cuts had forced the six north Wales authorities to look at working together to deliver services – despite plans to amalgamate councils being shelved a decade ago.

“I’ve talked about the importance of delivering public services and how really challenging that is when finances are tight,” said Cllr McLellan.

“One way of doing that is working collaboratively, local authorities working together to deliver those services.”

But wouldn’t that lead to job losses if councils centralised or specialised in delivering specific services?

“Not necessarily,” said Cllr McLellan.

“It would depend on how you did it, wouldn’t it? It would be about pooling resources across a wider area, more cost effectively. Those are the conversations that are happening.

“There is no formal lead at the moment, like the way there was 10 years ago, but certainly we’ve got to change the way we deliver services in these challenging times, and working collaboratively across local authorities has got to be part of that picture.”

He added: “Everyone is thinking out of the box in terms of delivering services and saving money. Working collaboratively is definitely part of the conversation.”

Other councils have justified service cuts and council tax increases, reminding constituents the ‘outdated’ formula used to calculate the sum each council receives was kinder to Denbighshire.

But Cllr McLellan argues Denbighshire’s rise is not much better.

“This is something that is often put to us, that Denbighshire got a higher settlement than other councils in North Wales,” said Cllr McLellan.

“I would say we got the least worst. You can’t say it is a better settlement when it is so poor there’s not enough money to deliver the services we want to.”

He added: “We’ve got the least worst in North Wales, and in terms of actual cash, it doesn’t give us that much more to play with. It doesn’t give us enough to plug the budget gap we’ve got.”

But other leaders, such as Conwy’s leader Cllr Charlie McCoubrey, say neighbouring councils have fared far worse than Denbighshire and in successive years.

“That is the result of quite a rigid (local government settlement) formula,” said Cllr McLellan.

“I’d be happy to be part of a conversation with Welsh Government looking at that formula to make it fairer all round.”

Cllr McLellan, though, is under no illusions to where he feels the problem stems – the UK Conservative Government that funds the Labour Welsh Government.

“The budget process for this year and next year is the most challenging it has ever been for local government,” he said.

“This is by far the most challenging environment we find ourselves in. And for me that’s a consequence of 14 years of UK Government austerity of year-in, year-out cuts.

“I didn’t go into politics to make cuts to public services. I’m a Labour politician, and I believe in councils that properly fund local services.

But you have to play the cards you are dealt. The UK Government has taken billions out of Wales during the last 14 years.”

He added: “And what that means is there is limited funding, and we have a duty to present a balanced budget, and that’s what we’ve done. We’ve seen in England councils going bust because of public funding. It’s a reality of central government not giving enough money to fund services. That’s why there were cuts.”

And do Denbighshire constituents understand Cllr McLellan blames central government?

“We all need and rely on public services,” said Cllr McLellan.

“We’ve got a general election coming up, and I speak to constituents and residents who aren’t happy. But they understand why we have to do this because of cuts from central government.

“We are pretty similar to other councils. But I completely understand people’s frustration as to why they are paying more for their council tax. I understand their frustration, I really do.”

A UK Government spokeswoman commented: “The Welsh Government funds Welsh councils and is currently receiving a record £18 billion per year settlement from the UK Government – the largest in the history of devolution.”

Author