£114m - the true cost of cuts laid bare

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THE full, devastating impact on Wigan town hall finances is laid bare for the first time today.

Latest figures show that when a further three years of Government-enforced cuts are implemented, a colossal £114m will have been cut from our council’s budget since austerity measures began.

According to the Financial Times, Wigan Council has faced the third biggest cut to its coffers of any local authority in the country.

And yet it is still on track to balance its budget again, despite having to make massive cuts totalling £14m this year.

But the authority is warning that even more money will have to be saved in the future as “there’s no respite from the austerity programme”.

A report to the council’s cabinet shows it is on course to break even this year – thanks to a series of modernisation programmes that have delivered savings by changing the way the council works.

For example, the recent centralisation of the council’s environmental services in a single depot has saved £1m a year.

The council has also saved money by restructuring its management and received more revenue than budgeted for from its shareholding in the Manchester Airport Group.

However, it still has to make savings of £14m this year and £12m for each of the next three financial years.

In total the council will have cut £114m from its budget since the austerity measures began in 2010.

Despite that, an independent survey carried out in the summer found resident satisfaction with the council had increased to 62 per cent.

Council leader and former economics lecturer Lord Smith has been involved in setting council budgets for more than 30 years.

He says Wigan is in a strong financial position because it has taken difficult decisions early, acted quickly and sought to modernise its services.

Lord Smith, who also chairs the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, said: “The last few years have been extremely difficult for local authorities. We’ve faced cuts on an unprecedented scale. The impact here in Wigan Borough has been particularly severe.

“That we are now in a stable and secure financial position is down to the hard work of councillors and officers who grasped the seriousness of the situation and accepted significant changes would have to be made.

“Rather than make cuts across the board we opted to introduce a series of modernisation programmes to transform our services.

“We’ve saved money by changing how we work and by investing where we can in ideas that will save us money in the long-term.

“It’s been a difficult process, and there is more work to do in the future, but thankfully we’re now in a stronger position than many other councils.

“We’ve been able to invest in schemes to support our communities such as our successful apprenticeship programme, through which we’ve been able to take on 80 local young people, and our Community Investment Fund, where we’ve offered £4m to community groups with ideas to tackle our biggest social problems.

“Whatever the Chancellor says today in his Autumn Statement, our independent analysis suggests the austerity programme for local government will continue for many years yet. That’s why it is important we continue to make changes and meet our savings targets.”