Posted: Thu 29th Feb 2024

Row Breaks Out Over Denbighshire Council’s £3m Budget Shortfall

North Wales news and information

A row broke out after a councillor questioned how Denbighshire Council could set a balanced budget when it still had a £3m shortfall for 2024/25.
At a council meeting on Tuesday, councillors were tasked with rubber-stamping Denbighshire’s 9.34% council tax rise.
Whilst the final budget was set at a meeting in January, councillors were legally required to agree on the level of council tax.
But the authority is yet to find an additional £3m in savings so that the books for 2024/25 properly balance.
After the item was introduced for debate by lead member for finance Cllr Gwyneth Ellis, Cllr Huw Hilditch Roberts questioned how members could vote for a budget that didn’t yet balance.
Despite a 3.7% local government settlement rise, the highest in north Wales, Denbighshire faced a £25m black hole, and consequently made a series of budget cuts.
But despite efficiencies, savings, and reductions in costs and services, the cuts still mean the council needs to find a further £3m or face dipping into its reserves.
All heads of service have consequently been tasked with finding a further saving of £3m.
Cllr Hilditch-Roberts said: “Seventeen people on this authority voted against the last budget because I think they believed it wasn’t a balanced budget because there was a £3m shortfall.
“So if we are legally setting the council tax, which means there is no going back on the figure we set today, if those £3m savings have not been found, which I’m not aware they have, it is a month on (since the budget was agreed), and we are still £3m short.
“We still don’t have a balanced budget, yet we are legally going to set the council tax now, but we may still have a deficit.”
Cllr Ellis responded: “I’m struggling a little bit to understand exactly what you are asking.
“That is, we’ve had this argument last month about the £3m and how we go about achieving that.
“We will also be looking at the reserves we have got and our strategy as to regard those reserves.
“I’m not sure whether you are proposing that we increase the council tax.”
Cllr Hilditch-Roberts attempted to explain but was then told by the monitoring officer he had made a disrespectful comment for addressing the lead member as “Gwyneth Bach”.
Cllr Hilditch-Roberts apologised, explaining it was meant as an endearing term.
He added: “We still don’t have a balanced budget, yet we are now setting a legal council tax, so there may be a need to increase that figure.
“I’m asking that question because this is the last chance we get before we set it, and I’m asking you as lead member, are you comfortable?”
Cllr Ellis responded: “As lead member, I’m comfortable in our budget process. We don’t have the £3m savings yet, but we never intended to have it by this month.
“I’m comfortable with this level of council tax based on the budget we’ve got.
“It might be helpful, (Cllr) Huw, if you do think we need a higher council tax that you say so.”
Cllr Hilditch-Roberts responded the £3m was still “up in the air”.
Cllr Ellis then said Cllr Hilditch-Roberts was free to propose a new council tax figure, but the monitoring officer intervened, insisting it was too late for a new motion, and the chamber backed the rise.

By Richard Evans – Local Democracy Reporter

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