Council costs in spotlight

Wigan Town Hall

Wigan Town Hall

The cost of Wigan’s councillors to the taxpayer is to come under scrutiny by an independent panel in the coming months.

The borough’s council chamber will be asked to confirm the members of the remuneration panel tomorrow ahead of a review of the allowance system.

Local authority rules mean each council must conduct a review every five years with Wigan’s last one taking place in 2011.

The panel will include Dr Declan Hall, an academic who specialises in the field of members’ allowances, Martin Honor, a manager at the Co-Op bank group and Marion Andrews, a retired bank manager.

Allowances for elected members were frozen this year at £12,059 although the total for the entire council chamber’s allowances and expenses rose from £1,118,060 the previous year to £1,157,948.

The £1m cost of the chamber has been regularly by opposition parties with several calls for the number of councillors to be cut from 75 to 50 to ease the burden on the taxpayer.

The panel will scrutinise the basic allowance rate, special responsibility payments, subsistence and travel costs by taking into account the size of the council and comparing it to similar neighbouring authorities, according to council meeting documents.

Wigan’s basic allowance rate last year of £12,059 was second in Greater Manchester behind only central Manchester (16,043), more than Tameside (11,640), Bolton (11,082) and Salford (10,404) and the five other councils.

The calls for a reduction in seats to two per ward have been supported at different times by several political parties in the borough including Wigan Independent Network and Ukip, which listed the move as one of its borough election policies.

However, the move has always been met with firm resistance by the ruling Labour group that maintains a tight grip on the council chamber with 65 out of the 75 seats.

When challenged on the issue at council meetings, Lord Smith has always maintained that three councillors to each ward is the correct number given the amount of case-work each ward member carries out.

A report calling for chamber approval for the remuneration panel, which will be presented to members, tomorrow reads: “The Local Authorities (Members Allowances for England) Regulations 2003 require an independent panel to review remuneration and pensions for elected members of local authorities at least every four years and as the last review was done in 2011, this is now due.”