Council cash awards row

A dispute about transparency in the funding of community groups looks set to rumble on after Wigan Council responded to an activist's claims.

Tuesday, 2nd January 2018, 10:21 am
Updated Tuesday, 2nd January 2018, 3:50 pm
Gareth Fairhurst is unhappy with Wigan Councils response to his questions

Gareth Fairhurst, who is closely associated with the Standish Independents group, says there are question marks over the involvement of elected representatives in organisations awarded large sums of money through The Deal.

The council has now sent back a detailed response explaining exactly what the mechanisms for allocating money through the Community Investment Fund are. It also emphasised it believed the arrangements are completely sound and can command public confidence.

But Mr Fairhurst says he is dissatisfied with the reply and has escalated his complaint, threatening to take the matter to the national level.

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He is particularly unhappy that politicians from the Labour ruling cabinet are on the executive group which provides the final level of scrutiny on investment decisions.

Mr Fairhurst said: “My response is that this is not satisfactory and has actually raised more questions than answers.

“They have sent me a diagram of the process saying anything above £10,000 goes to an extra panel to look at and there are Labour councillors on it with officers there as well.

“This is not extra due diligence but worrying. I’ve raised this to the next stage of complaints.

“They’ve got one more chance to get this right and if they don’t come back with a satisfactory response then it goes to the ombudsman.”

The town hall says Community Investment Funding allocations of up to £10,000, known as either small or start-up grants, go before a panel of officers before the final decision is made by the Executive Board, which consists of two senior councillors and five officers at the director and executive levels.

Larger grants of more than £10,000 have to be looked at by a steering group of 19 officers before being passed to the Executive Board. If it is approved there it moves on to a second scrutiny stage which includes a report being prepared for the senior management team.

The local authority said it is confident the set-up meets the council’s constitution and its accounts are audited.

Assistant director for legal services Brendan Whitworth said: “The council is satisfied that the process for allocation of Community Investment Funding complies with all relevant legal requirements. The accounts were signed off by our external auditors who complimented the council on its performance.”

Wigan Council said it had received the stage two complaint from Mr Fairhurst.