WREXHAM Council’s leader says he is angered by the introduction of Wales’ new 20mph speed limit and that money spent on it could have been used to safeguard local services.
As Wrexham Council seeks to plug a projected £23m in-year budget overspend, leader Esclusham Cllr Mark Pritchard (Ind) says more attention needs to be paid by the UK government and Welsh Government to the financial struggles being faced by local authorities up and down the country.
Speaking at a council media briefing, Cllr Pritchard questioned plans to increase the number of MS’s in the Senedd and even queried whether the provision of free prescriptions for everyone in Wales should continue.
But the £33m being spent by the Welsh Government on introducing the 20mph speed limit last month drew most of his ire.
Cllr Pritchard said: “What really angers me, and I try to be balanced on this – we as 22 local authorities (across Wales) deliver services to the most vulnerable in our society, and we’re struggling because we’re not funded appropriately.
“They seem to think we’ll just keep on delivering. We do, but we just end up reducing the service. You deliver a less quality service and do what you can.
“I think it’s madness what they’re doing at this moment in time, spending millions of pounds on 20mph.
“It’s not the right time to do it, they should stop immediately and start funding local authorities appropriately because it’s all about choice.”
Cllr Pritchard added: “They’re looking to introduce more MS’s. It’s as if the world’s turned upside down in Cardiff, I just can’t understand it.
“There’s always a political time to do things and this is not the time to do what they’re doing, and I do think they need to review it.
“I’m really pleased there’s a robust challenge now from the general public on the 20mph, the petition, it’s playing out nationally.
“I would ask the Welsh Government to look at what they give.
“Do we need to give everyone free prescriptions across the country – in my opinion, no. Some people can pay for it and would willingly pay for it to take the pressure off the budget for the health board and that money could be transferred to local authorities.
“It’s madness that in these extremely difficult times, cost-of-living, electricity, utilities bills going through the roof that you’ve got governments implementing things.
“I’ve been in politics a long time, and I think they need to start listening and seeing what’s going on out there as I’m not sure they understand.
“When the First Minister is questioned in the Senedd and he gives a one-word answer ‘no’, that worries me.
“I have to come out as the leader of a council doing its very best to deliver services, when I think our budgets are being cut when they could give us more money.”
Speaking at a Welsh Government press conference introducing the new default speed limit, First Minister Mark Drakeford defended the £32 million cost of the 20mph roll-out, saying it would save the NHS three times as much a year.
“This is a manifesto commitment of the Labour Party, and it was in our election manifesto,” Mr Drakeford said.
“Politicians are very often criticised for not keeping their promises and this is a promise that we will be keeping here in Wales.
“We will invest around £32 million in one-off expenditure and that one-off money will save £92 million every single year in the NHS.
“We will be paid back many, many times over for the investment that we are making.”