Wigan Council needs to find another £13m in savings

Wigan town hall
Wigan town hall

Wigan Council will have to find another £13m in savings, with town hall leaders saying cuts are required due to a lack of Government leadership.

The ruling cabinet was this week given budget forecasts for the next few years to consider and told there is still a black hole in local authority finances which will need filling.

The report says planning for the future is currently being made extremely difficult due to a number of national decisions which were meant to have been taken in Westminster but on which nothing has been done.

The ongoing Brexit negotiations, together with the change of prime minister, has slowed the creation of a new four-year local government financial settlement, with a fast-track review expected to be out next month but a full spending analysis likely to wait until 2020.

Ministers have also failed to give a timetable for their plans to reset the business rates system and it is not known if the 100 per cent business rates retention pilot, which Wigan is taking part in, will continue or will change to a 75 per cent scheme.

A green paper on adult social care, one of the most difficult areas of the budget, is also some 18 months delayed, having been promised in Spring 2018 but still not issued.

To further compound the difficulties a Fair Funding Review of town hall money allocation has been put in motion but the report consultations have not been published.

Leader of the council, Coun David Molyneux, said: “There is a lack of clarity in how local government will be funded in the future with the government failing to provide any reassurance to councils on this matter.

“We need to acknowledge that further cuts are likely and plan ahead to ensure that we maintain our strong financial position where possible.

“Planning early will help us to deliver a balanced budget but currently we’re only expecting an indication of our funding for the next year, rather than for the next four years, which makes it virtually impossible to plan long-term.

“We know we can no longer rely on government grants which are likely to stop and through our own assessments we’re predicting we’ll have an additional £13m to save in the next year.

“By setting out our strategy through The Deal we’ve been able to achieve our savings target to date while improving services but like many authorities we are facing a point where this won’t be possible.

“We have challenges ahead, particularly from the areas of adult social care and children’s services which are under significant financial pressure.

“We’re also awaiting a number of government reviews.

“Not having clarity on these adds further uncertainty to our financial position.”

Other question marks remaining over finances include the New Homes Bonus, which currently tops up council coffers by around £3m.

It is known that 2019-20 would be the final year for the scheme but the Government promised a replacement without delivering one.

Wigan Council has also been keeping tax at the lowest level in Greater Manchester and has no plans to change this, but the report acknowledged a two per cent rise would generate £7m per year between 2020-21 and 2022-23.

The worst problems are in adult social care, which needs £2.3m a year just to keep services at the current level.