Wigan Council braces itself for more austerity as latest savings targets are met

Wigan Council has hit its most recent savings target but finance bosses have warned about continuing “financial challenges”.

Tuesday, 2nd July 2019, 10:14 am
Updated Tuesday, 2nd July 2019, 11:14 am
Wigan Town Hall

The town hall had earmarked cutting £12m from its budget in 2018/19, part of £141m efficiency savings it has had to make during the austerity period.

This target has been delivered, according to a report tabled for leading members next week, along with a surplus of £303,000.

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Further cutbacks of £19m are scheduled over the next three years, council finance bosses have previously said.

Speaking at the launch of the 2019/20 budget earlier this year, leader David Molyneux said savings of £8.5m were being targeted for the year but there would be no cuts to frontline services.

The cabinet report, by finance bosses Paul McKevitt and Tony Clarke, warns “there are no foreseeable improvements in government funding” and “there are many challenges facing the council” despite claims from Westminster that austerity is over.

It highlights that uncertainty and delays on issuing the final financial settlement for local government and the completion of a funding review are adding to the difficulty for town hall budget-setters.

"Due to Brexit continuing to absorb all the government’s resources it is highly unlikely that we will be provided with any financial uncertainty until later this year,” the report reads.

Continuing pressures in children’s services – provision for looked after children, in particular – are highlighted, although the report also states that reforms “are starting to have an impact”.

“For example: we have not placed a child in out of borough residential care since November 2018 thus avoiding increased residential care costs,” the report reads. “In addition, our numbers of foster carers are increasing and we are starting to entice agency foster carers to transfer to the council.”

The increasing cost of waste disposal is also listed as an extra budget pressure.

The financial outturn report will be discussed by cabinet on Thursday. Members will be asked to approve the transfer of the £303,000 surplus into the council’s general balances.

The report concludes: “The 2018/19 outturn provides assurance that the council remains in a strong financial position and whilst it faces further financial challenges over the next few years it has plans in place to deliver the required cuts whilst protecting and improving its front-line services.”

Wigan Council’s ability to make ends meet in trying circumstances was recently flagged up by a national think tank.

The independent report titled A Citizen-led Approach to Health and Care: Lessons From the Wigan Deal has been published by The King’s Fund, highlighting the authority’s approach to transformation which, it argues, could be applied to national NHS organisations.

Since 2011, the council has saved more than £140m by handing over some services it traditionally provided to charities, volunteers and community organisations.

In that time, the borough has seen a significant increase in healthy life expectancy, bucking the national trend due to new asset-based approach to health. And there has been significant improvement in the quality of care homes, with a remarkable increase in those rated “good” by the CQC, staff engagement has improved, school readiness figures are now in line with the national average and in March the Local Government Chronicle named Wigan its Council of the Year.

The report authors wrote: “The approach to leadership developed in Wigan is something that the NHS would do well to learn from.”