At the full meeting of Wigan Council last night Clive, Paul and Marie supported Labour's proposed budget, which will take effect from April 1. It means thousands of local residents will see their council tax bill frozen this year. Wigan Council has even agreed to absorb the proposed rise in the police precept so residents don’t see their bills increase.
The budget includes savings of £14m but money has also been earmarked for investment with £1m used to pay for apprenticeships for local young people and £500,000 used to improve the highway network and repair potholes. A further £250,000 over 4 years has been set aside to pay for events commemorating the centenary of the First World War.
And the budget plans also include a second round of the Community Investment Fund – the council’s flagship community project that gives money to groups working on ideas to tackle the borough’s big social problems. Last year the council gave £2m to 12 groups including a community farm, a music cooperative and a homeless charity. The budget allocates another £2m for the investment fund from the council’s financial reserves.
This supports the council’s aim to see the public take a more active role in their communities - a key part of The Deal, which was also approved with the budget last night. The Deal is an informal contract between the council and residents and includes a commitment for both sides to work together to transform public services, minimise the impact of spending cuts and help make Wigan Borough a better place.
Along with the council tax freeze, The Deal commits the council to a series of pledges. This includes helping communities to support each other. The council will do this through schemes such as the Community Investment Fund. Another pledge is to cut red tape and provide value for money. One of the ways the council will do this is by reducing its administrative buildings from 20 to four – saving £1m a year.
The other pledges include creating opportunities for young people and supporting the local economy to grow. Among the ways the council will achieve these is by extending its successful apprenticeship scheme and building on the popular Business Expo.
In return, the council hopes community groups will run some of the services it can no longer afford to provide. This process has already started. For example, the Pelican Group in Tyldesley now runs a former council swimming pool and volunteers have taken over a former council daycentre in Scholes, Wigan and volunteers play a role in delivering Library services from the Grange Complex.
But The Deal also involves a commitment from the public to recycle more, support local businesses, get online and stay active and healthy. For example, if residents could recycle more it would save the council money by reducing the amount of non-recyclable waste it sends to landfill. Just a five per cent reduction in non-recyclable waste would save the council £322,000 every year.
The council wants to use The Deal to help it cope with a huge reduction in its funding from central government. It has to cut £105.8m by the end of 2016/17, a total reduction of more than 30 percent of its budget – one of the largest cuts faced by any local authority in the country. Savings totalling £64.8m have already been made. The council must cut another £14m during 2014/15 to meet its targets.
More information about The Deal is available here.