Council’s £63m spending spree

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

WIGAN Council is set to delve deep into its pockets cutting reserves by around 85 per cent, finance bosses have predicted. The move will see £63m invested into various projects across the borough, representing a drastic change in policy regarding back-up funds.

Revealed in a committee report, finance chief Paul McKevitt has told councillors the town hall will reduce its general reserves from £74m to £11m “in the next few years.” Council bosses have in recent years highlighted the impact of cuts to local government from Westminster which has meant more than £100m of savings will have to be found by the end of this austerity period. But they have also had to fend off constant criticism from opposition councillors about their approach to savings and the amount they have kept in reserve.

By being able to use these council reserves it leaves us with a much better proposition to be able to fund transformation projects without the need for costly loans

Paul McKevitt

Paul McKevitt, deputy chief executive of Wigan Council, said: “There are a variety of different reserve budgets which will go towards funding a number of schemes including apprenticeship programmes, confident futures programme, World War One commemorations, 20mph scheme, The Deal for the Community and Armed Forces Hub.

“There are also reserves held for joint projects with Wigan Clinical Commissioning Group such as the investment to reduce emergency hospital admissions. Much of the other reserves will be spent in improving facilities across the borough.

“By being able to use these council reserves it leaves us with a much better proposition to be able to fund transformation projects without the need for costly loans.”

Despite already finding around £80m in savings since the austerity period began, the council’s reserve fund has remained around the £70m to £80m mark with some councillors claiming it to have topped £100m.

The change of policy by the Labour controlled town hall to reduce the fund comes after the Conservatives secured an election win in May, with no mention of the investment at meetings earlier in the year.

Former leader of the opposition on the council, Gary Wilkes had earlier in the year criticised the town hall’s new budget for the amount held up in reserves.

In a committee report, strategic finance manager Tony Clarke said: “As the council had made difficult decisions in terms of savings early on, it had been able to place some savings within the council’s reserves for use in delivering the council’s transformation agenda.

“It was anticipated that the level of reserves would drop to approximately £11mover the next few years.”