Improved behaviour could spark merger at town hall

Standards committee chairman Coun Charles Rigby
Standards committee chairman Coun Charles Rigby

Wigan’s better behaving councillors could see the town hall’s standards body merged with another committee to save funds.

The move would have been unthinkable a few years ago given the amount of complaints the authority was having to consider.

But fewer cases of bad behaviour in the past 12 months mean council bosses are now considering combining its conduct watchdog with the audit committee.

The full chamber will discuss the proposals at next week’s meeting of the full council.

An independent report has suggested the move, referencing that other councils have already made similar merger decisions as part of cost-cutting measures.

The standards committee’s annual report, released earlier this year, revealed the number of complaints against councillors had fallen from 17 to seven since last year, the lowest number in six years.

This fall was welcomed by council finance bosses who said dealing with fewer cases was saving the cash-strapped authority huge sums, with costs falling from £110,000 the previous year to £76,000.

The reduction in cases comes in stark contrast to a few years previous when authority chiefs were repeatedly criticising a “small number” of councillors who were subject to numerous code of conduct complaints.

Meetings had been dogged with bad behaviour which saw police officers called to the chamber on several occasions.

But standards of conduct have improved dramatically in recent months.

The annual report also highlighted the importance of the committee though, with chair Coun Charles Rigby stating: “Behaviours will continue to matter, holders of public office regardless of their political allegiances are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public.”

The audit committee currently has 12 councillors as members compared with the standards body’s nine, the combining of the two would save on costs with the chair of each paid an extra fee on top of their standard allowance.

The report reads: “A number of other local authorities have merged their standards and audit and governance committees.

“Given the reduction in complaints, the panel were informed of a potential decision for Wigan to follow suit and also merge these committees.”

Meanwhile, the council has confirmed its new monitoring officer following the high profile departure of Linda Fisher earlier this year.

Ms Fisher, who had been credited with improving behaviour standards among councillors, officially left her post in September.

She has been replaced permanently by Brendan Whitworth who becomes monitoring officer.