Bob’s budget set to start debate

Councillor Bob Brierley
Councillor Bob Brierley

AN independent councillor has produced his own alternative Wigan budget.

Hindley Green’s Bob Brierley, who describes himself as a “hard working businessman,” is pledging to find his own solutions to the latest round of coalition Government spending blasting the borough with a further £20m (6.9 per cent) reduction.

He acknowledges that his propsals stand no chance of progressing.

But hopes it will at the very least provoke debate and challenge the Labour hierarchy who have their hands on the purse strings.

Under the Brierley plan, savings will come from ending the cabinet’s special responsibility allowances and putting all councillors including chairman and those representing the borough on outside bodies on the back benchers flat rate allowance.

He also wants to end the outside management of the borough’s 21,000 stock of council housing, abolishing Wigan and Leigh Housing and bringing maintenance back “in house” by returning the council’s former Direct Labour Organisation workforce to its former strength.

Coun Brierley claims that the council’s reliance on “sub contractors sub-contracting more sub contractors” offers “terrible value for money”.

He also wants to end Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust’s (WLCT) management agreement to run Haigh Hall and the borough’s other recreational facilities, including sport pitches, swimming pools and the Crematorium service.

Coun Brierley said: “I’m presenting my own budget because Lord Peter Smith keeps saying that no opposition councillors ever put anything forward as an alternative, so I have taken up the challenge.

“The Labour group are wasting shed loads of money and they also favour the Labour wards with the spending which is so unfair being as all the wards bring in £4m which is virtually the same amount of council tax revenue.

“Allowances for Cabinet members are a joke considering they don’t run Wigan, the chief officers do.”

Speakling to the Wigan Evening Post, council leader Lord Smith, whose budget proposes 200 job losses and closing half of the borough’s old peoples’ day centres, was quick to dismiss Coun Brierley’s proposals.

He said: “We shall treat this alternative budget as it deserves.

“It seems that Coun Brierley has typically identified peanuts when the council has to save many millions due to the coalition’s attack on local authorities.

“In difficult times it sometimes helps to have something amusing to lighten the mood.”

He added that putting leisure services in the hands of WLCT saved £400,000 business rates each year which could then be re-invested

The fact that it has its own pay and conditions packages for staff could mean a fresh round of equal pay claims if the services were bought back in house, he added.

Lord Smith also insisted that having council housing managed by the Wigan and Leigh Housing was working well with management fees “reducing year on year” as well as seeing new social housing built.

Others affected by Coun Brierly’s alternative budget also hit back at his proposals.

A spokesman for the Leisure Trust said: “As a registered charity we work within stringent financial guidelines to ensure these services are managed and delivered to the very highest standard and in the most cost effective way.

“The trust is also subject to numerous audit checks and scrutiny arrangements, in a similar manner to Wigan Council, and these help to ensure good value for money in all our services.”

Neil Turner, chairman of Wigan and Leigh Housing, said: “Performance is constantly monitored and challenged.

“That is why continuing improvements have been made in the ten years since WALH took over the management of the council’s housing stock which has been reflected in the consistent rise in tenant satisfaction year on year.

“WALH is governed by a board on which the largest group is the elected representatives of the tenants and this tenant voice would be lost if the service were to be taken back in-house.

“All repair and improvement programmes are subject to a tendering process, where price and quality of the tender are closely assessed.”