Spotlight turned on councillor expenses

Wigan Town Hall

Wigan Town Hall

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Wigan’s 75 councillors received more than £1.1m last year in allowances and expenses, according to a new report.

Figures collected by the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) show the collective bill of the borough’s elected representatives increased from the previous year.

The TPA has used the data to hit out at local authorities who have handed members above inflation pay rises while cutting back on services.

Waverley Council in Surrey, for example, has increased its basic allowance by 83 per cent since 2012.

In comparison, Wigan’s allowances were frozen between 2012 and 2014 but increased around three per cent from 11,682 to 12,059 for 2014/15.

The allowances and expenses total for the entire council chamber increased from 1,118,060 to 1,157,948 last year.

TPA chief executive Jonathan Isaby said: “Taxpayers will be shocked to discover the rate at which councillors’ allowances have risen over the last three years, despite local authorities pleading poverty and in many cases raising council tax or cutting services.

“It goes to show that not every council has prioritised finding savings or cutting taxes over awarding local politicians above inflation allowances.”

The number of councillors in the borough - and their resulting burden on the taxpayer - has been an issue recently raised by opposition members.

Former leader of the opposition Gary Wilkes raised the question several times in recent years of whether the number should be cut, proposing a reduction from 75 to 30.

The reduction calls have been supported at different times by several political parties in the borough including Wigan Independent Network and Ukip, which lists the reduction from three councillors per ward to two as one its borough election policies.

However, the move has always been met with firm resistance by the ruling Labour group that maintains a tight grip on the council chamber with 64 out of the 75 seats.

When challenged on the issue at council meetings, Lord Smith has always maintained that three councillors to each ward is the correct number given the amount of case-work each ward member carries out. The TPA report also reveals that council leader Lord Smith’s allowance increased from £35,050 to £36,179. Cabinet members - of which Wigan Council has eight - also receive extra payments on top of their basic allowance, as do the chairs of council committees.

Wigan’s basic allowance rate last year of £12,059 was second in Greater Manchester behind only central Manchester (16,043), more than Tameside (11,640), Bolton (11,082) and Salford (10,404) and the five remaining councils.

Mr Isaby said: “With the nation’s finances yet to be fixed, councillors across the country will continue to have to make difficult decisions.

“For them to have the moral authority to carry out that very important job they must show restraint on their own taxpayer-funded allowances and ease the burden on hard-pressed families.”