New forums spark row

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HARD-pressed council chiefs have been accused of wasting cash on a new level of bureaucracy.

Wigan’s Township Forums were axed last year as one of hundreds of changes within the £66m budget cuts programme, saving an estimated £130,000 a year in staffing and officer support.

But now the town hall opposition group is they have effectively re-introduced “by the back door”.

They claim that the council’s new Area Management Groups will do a similar job and prove to be a drain on resources.

Atherton Independent Coun Norman Bradbury said: “This is the reintroduction of the old Township Forum formula by another name, and even more remote from the communities it is supposed to represent.

“In the Community Governance review two years ago a massive 82 per cent of Atherton people voted for their own Town Council and 64.8 per cent didn’t want the Township Forum to continue to operate.”

He said that under the new system, local funding which is now controlled by individual councillors and spent on projects in their wards will go into a “central pot” which will then be spent by the AMG.

The result of this re-organisation, he claimed, will be that the ruling Labour Group will have the majority of votes in the AMG on how and where funds will be spent.

But Labour Cabinet member and fellow Atherton ward’s Coun Susan Loudon said that Coun Bradbury had failed to understand the role of the new AMGs even though he had attended a briefing seminar about them.

She pointed out that the only money that councillors direct in their ward was their Brighter Borough allowance ... and that has not changed.

While the other monies in which councillors could have a say over spending - used to address crime and anti-social behaviour in the ward - were not being taken away but would now be pooled.

Coun Loudon said: “Coun Bradbury is misleading the public about town councils. The vote was low with only 134 people actually voting in support of a town council as part of a population of 6,799.

“At a time when we are having to make vicious cuts to the services, the introduction of an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy would be wasteful.”