Leader: Tough times ahead despite savings

Lord Peter Smith
Lord Peter Smith
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THE leader of Wigan Council is warning tough times remain ahead even though the local authority’s savings drive is on target.

The town hall’s annual statement of accounts show the council actually managed to save more money than expected in 2014-15, with a balance of £15.359m at the end of March this year compared to the 2014 figure of £14.864m.

However, leader Lord Peter Smith said further expected cuts to authority budgets meant there was no room for complacency.

Lord Smith and assistant director of finance Andrew Taylor said the savings were due to the ongoing transformation of how services are provided and restructuring of council departments.

The town hall is also waiting for the autumn comprehensive spending review to find out just how much money it will have to save.

Lord Smith said: “These savings are not going to go away. It is better to be planning for them early and get the savings coming through.

“We are going to have to work very differently in future because it’s the only way we can survive as a council.

“We know there will be more difficult decisions to make and a significant sum to find in savings again in autumn, but our position is better than those authorities trying to catch up.”

The council successfully hit its target of saving £14m in 2014-5, on top of the £64m removed from its budget in the previous three years.

The under-spend has been ploughed back into The Deal and an armed forces community hub.

The town hall has also increased its level of reserves, mainly from joint working with the clinical commissioning group (CCG) on health and adult social care programmes.

Other reserves are being kept for investment in facilities at Robin Park and the Leigh Sports Village, with Mr Taylor backing the policy.

He said: “We need to maintain assets because we get income from them which sustains them. Like any business, it makes sense to invest in the fabric of our facilities.”

The council also said it is building up a stock of money to cover expected drops in business rates due to revaluation of the amount firms must pay on their premises.

The current restructuring of adult services, which includes a greater role for third sector organisations and voluntary groups recently boosted by extra money for the Community Investment Fund (CIF), will be rolled out into other departments.

The council has also reduced its portfolio of buildings and hopes to eventually have just half a dozen offices.