Calls for council to run the trust

CALLS have been made for the Council to take back control of Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust.

An opposition councillor is demanding the town hall once again run its recreation services – from parks and football pitches to libraries and crematoria – because of the money allegedly lost at last year’s Haigh Fest pop concerts.

Standish Independent Coun George Fairhurst, backed by his daughter-in-law Debbie Fairhurst, a former Shevington councillor, is to put forward a motion to the next full council meeting calling for the Metro and the Trust to go their separate ways because of the cost to council tax payers.

He has heard that the festival, which attracted such acts as Ronan Keating, McFly and Welsh opera diva Katherine Jenkins to Haigh Hall, lost more than a quarter of a million pounds.

However the Trust has used its charity status to maintain that its accounts are commercially sensitive and “private.” Indeed they have refused a Freedom of Information request from the Wigan Evening Post on this subject, saying they don’t have to provide the information because they are a charity.

Coun Farhurst is also hoping that his motion will be finally able to reveal the success or otherwise of the popular event.

Coun George Fairhurst said today that Debbie Fairhurst had asked what was the cost of the festival at Haigh Hall was before losing her seat in the council elections in May.

She was told by the council that they would only know the figure once the year end accounts had been completed.

But that time has now passed and the Trust, he claimed, were still declining to disclose the figure to Wigan Council.

He said: “I was at this meeting when Debbie asked these questions and it was agreed that we would get the information.

“I am now so concerned that this organisation is being run in this manner that I will be putting a motion to the next Full Council asking the Council suspends its funding unless they become open and transparent and release the data.

“It is now up to the Leisure Trust to decide whether it wants to be open or not with what it does with Wigan Taxpayers money or risk being closed down – which would happen if the Council suspends or cancels the Contract. If they want to play hard ball then the Council should play hard ball back and not be held to ransom. Elected Councillors are answerable and so should everything that is done with taxpayers money.”

Mrs Fairhurst said that she had heard unofficially that the Leisure Trust lost nearly £250,000 on Haigh Fest 2010 but until they “open the books” council tax payers won’t know whether this is “right or wrong.”

The council declined to comment but a spokesperson for Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust said: “We are an independent charitable organisation and social enterprise which has a contract to manage some council services, for that we will receive funding this financial year of £14.9m from Wigan Council. This is reducing each year to an expected level of £12.5m by the year 2013/14 as a result of government imposed public sector spending cuts. “Like any charitable body our accounts are published annually and are publicly available. “They are due to be published in the next few months and will show that during the financial year 2010/11 – despite extremely difficult national economic trading conditions - the organisation hit all its key financial targets and delivered on the performance requirements of our main client Wigan Council.”

He added that last year’s Haigh concerts were funded through Wigan and Leisure Culture Enterprise’s Ltd, which is the trading arm of the Trust and as such it works in highly competitive market, and so some information has to be regarded as “commercially sensitive.”