Good housekeeping limiting the damage

Wigan Business Awards Evening at The DW Stadium Wigan.'Lord Peter Smith
Wigan Business Awards Evening at The DW Stadium Wigan.'Lord Peter Smith
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HARD work and difficult decisions mean Wigan Council’s balance sheet is improving – despite the unprecedented cuts to its funding.

So said town hall chiefs today as efforts to balance the books have seen huge changes to how the authority works.

Further government cuts to local authority funding mean the borough will be severely affected for years to come.

But the council’s annual accounts – which have just been published – show thanks to careful money management and prudent financial planning the authority has dealt with its reduced funding effectively. The books are balanced and savings targets have been beaten.

Leader of Wigan Council, Lord Smith, said: “I’ve been involved in local government in Wigan borough for 30 years and have never known a more difficult period. The cuts have had a significant impact on the council and our residents. And the government’s most recent announcement suggests we can expect more pain to come.

“We’ve dealt with this challenging climate as best we can. That’s meant responding early to the cuts and adapting quickly. It’s taken a lot of effort and meant taking some very tough choices. We’ve cut our back office functions, restructured our management team and changed working practices across the council. But we’ve been able to ensure services for the vulnerable are protected and done everything possible to minimise disruption for residents.

“Our annual accounts show we are coping effectively with our constrained budget. This is important because the authority must be able to pay its way. The last few years have been challenging but by acting early we are in a much better position today.”

The council has cut £66m from its budget since 2011. Over the next two financial years, we face cuts of at least another £14 million. This has led to huge changes to services, job cuts and tough saving targets. Projects such as a shared IT contract with Bolton Council have reduced costs while a plan to move more staff into Wigan Town Hall will cut the number of buildings the council uses.

The annual statement of accounts will be presented to the council’s audit committee on July 11. They reveal the number of staff at the council earning more than £50,000 has halved since 2011. They also show the annual dividend from the council’s shareholding in the Manchester Airport Group has risen since the company acquired Stansted Airport last year. The holding generated £1.4 million in 2012-2013 – up £400,000 on the previous year. This money will be used to off-set cuts from the government.