Tax freeze to trigger windfall

The Deal launch at Sunshine House
The Deal launch at Sunshine House
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WIGAN Council is set to unlock a share of a multi-million pound grant from central Government because of its decision to freeze council tax.

More than 200 local authorities have already pledged to freeze their bills, according to new figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

They will be entitled to a share of a £550m windfall - with DCLG figures suggesting Wigan will be eligible to claim more than £1.1m.

The council tax freeze in Wigan is part of the council’s newly launched Deal, calling on residents to help the authority tackle the effects of budget cuts.

Wiganers are being urged to volunteer in their community, improve recycling rates and use online services in return for the council’s pledge to keep tax bills down and “provide the best services we can.”

Leader Lord Peter Smith said: “I’m pleased we’ve been able to freeze council tax as I know many families throughout the borough are struggling with the cost of living. Hopefully, this will ease the financial pressures they face.

“Last year we decided not to freeze council tax and claim the grant because there was no guarantee from the Government that it would not just be a one-off.

“But we have had assurances that it will be a permanent addition so that contributed to the decision.

“We will protect frontline jobs and services but we can only do this by finding creative solutions to the challenges we face and by encouraging the public to play their part.”

The council has already had to make £64.8m worth of savings and is making plans for another £43m over the next three years.

As part of this year’s budget, £1m will be used to pay for apprenticeships and £500,000 has been allocated to improve the highway network and repair potholes.

Last year, council bosses voted against a council tax freeze but this year’s financial plans - including the freeze and the Wigan Deal - were voted through at this week’s meeting of the full council.

At the meeting, opposition councillors criticised the ruling Labour group for not using the authority’s financial reserves - in the region of £70m - for a council tax reduction rather than a freeze.

Wigan Independent Network’s (WIN) Coun Gary Wilkes - who submitted his own budget proposals - said: “If we’re saving for a rainy day, look out the window, it’s pouring.

“A two per cent reduction of council tax would have sent a message to the people of the borough. We have £70m in reserve, £50m of that could have been used.”

WIN’s budget proposal was rejected and the ruling group’s budget subsequently voted through.

In total, Wigan Council will receive £1,190,103 from central Government for the council tax freeze.

A DCLG statement said: “Local authorities that freeze or reduce their relevant amount of council tax will receive a grant equivalent to a one per cent increase on 2013 to 2014 band D council tax levels, multiplied by their tax base.”

“Since 2010, the Government has worked with local authorities to reduce the cost of living by freezing council tax, cutting average bills in England by 10 per cent in real terms.”

For more about National Apprenticeship Week see the Wigan Evening Post (Friday) ...