Wigan councillors pass borough's budget

The borough's elected representatives approved the local authority's budget for the next 12 months at the full council meeting.

Thursday, 8th March 2018, 10:16 am
Updated Thursday, 8th March 2018, 1:55 pm
Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

A total of 56 councillors approved the financial package on Wednesday evening, with three abstentions and Hindley Green independent Coun Bob Brierley against.

Council leader Lord Peter Smith repeatedly outlined how Wigan was in a stronger position to other local authorities in the region and across the country.

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Wigan Council leader Lord Smith

That meant there would be no increase in general council tax, but bills would be going up with a mayoral precept, a payment for the police and a three per cent addition to fund adult social care.

Lord Smith also unveiled spending promises, including £500,000 for roads and pavements badly affected by the winter which will tackle Wigan and Leigh’s pothole problem.

There was also £250,000 for developing local brownfield sites with social purposes and the same amount for community health services to ease pressure on the NHS.

There was also a £1m pledge for the Communities Investment Fund and £500,000 for families while the town hall will take on 20 extra apprentices.

Opposition leader Coun Michael Winstanley

Lord Smith said: "We didn't want to raise council tax because it is unfair and regressive, and Wigan stands out as the only council across Greater Manchester that has put nothing on.

"We don't want to go round slashing services in this period of austerity. We wanted to keep as much for the people of Wigan as we felt was necessary and we've had pretty good success at doing it.

"I'd like to thank everyone who trusted us with The Deal and the public and communities who have embraced what we are doing. We didn't know The Deal was going to work but it has paid off."

The cabinet also set out its priorities for the year, which included tackling domestic abuse as levels in Wigan are still high, rethinking how children with special educational needs are supported, boosting air quality and providing more affordable homes for sale or rent.

Wigan Council leader Lord Smith

Deputy leader Coun David Molyneux praised Wigan Business Expo, saying it was important to put the borough on the commercial map, while pledging to get work started on the A49 and M58 link road.

He said one of the priorities for the year ahead was "to get Wigan moving".

The controversial introduction of the three-week black bin rota was praised, with environment portfolio holder Coun Kevin Anderson saying it will lead to improved recycling rates, while fly-tipping hotspots are being targeted.

However, in his response Conservative leader Coun Michael Winstanley said the local authority had to remain vigilant on waste dumping as responses to him from residents suggested it was still a major problem.

Opposition leader Coun Michael Winstanley

Coun Winstanley and independent group leader Coun Debbie Fairhurst both said the digital strategy risked excluding people while Coun Brierley suggested issues such as potholes could be solved by cutting back on unnecessary spending.

The Conservative leader also put forward an amendment for money to be allocated to areas which had seen most new housing.

As the town hall would receive more in council tax from the properties they should be eligible for extra cash, he argued. He also said Wigan and Leigh town centres would be excluded as they are eligible for separate funding pots.

Lord Smith said he could not approve the idea as presented but understood the spirit of it, suggesting that before money was handed out the areas involved should be consulted and masterplans drawn up.

The Conservatives withdrew the amendment and Coun Winstanley said afterwards he was pleased by Lord Smith’s words and would hold him to his promise to make progress on the idea.

Tempers flared towards the end as Coun Steve Jones, who said the council should be more transparent, clashed with Lord Smith. The leader’s comment about refusing to take moral lessons or lectures from the Bryn representative led to a sharp objection from Coun Fairhurst.

Coun Jones also raised an issue with the public gallery, which was full. That meant a number of people wanting to watch proceedings were left outside.

The Bryn independent accused the council of moving the goalposts by setting up a list of reserved names when people had originally been told seats would be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

However, the town hall has now strongly rebuffed this claim.

A Wigan Council spokesperson said: “We would like to reassure residents that we did not reserve seats in the public gallery and there was no pre-written list dictating who should be allowed a seat.

"We utilise a first come first serve system and asked those there first to write their names down on arrival so we could monitor when the gallery was full.

“Before the council meeting, we acknowledged the hard work of our community investment funded groups with a pre-arranged celebration event and some of them were interested in staying afterwards. They therefore took some seats in the gallery alongside Coun Brierley’s guests and members of the public.

“If those who were unable to sit in the gallery last night wish to see the council meeting events unfold, they are welcome to watch a video on the council’s YouTube channel once uploaded.”