The 'Wigan Deal': Council asks residents to help it save money with new 'contract'
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Communities, Finance
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Wigan Council will confront the “new reality” it faces by transforming its services, working differently and asking residents to help it save money.
The council has seen cuts to its budget “way beyond expectations” but believes its books can be balanced if the public helps by doing things like recycling more, volunteering in their communities and using online services. In return, the authority will protect frontline services and keep council tax down.
It wants a new contract with residents – the 'Wigan Deal' – to help it cope with its diminished resources. The council says that if the public plays its part, major cuts to frontline services and significant job losses can be avoided. It says it will also be able to freeze council tax for the next year.
As well as involving the public, the local authority is aiming to save money by taking a new approach to the way it works – such as looking to community groups and other organisations to run services. This process has already started with groups running libraries and swimming pools and a project that’s seen the community in one neighbourhood take on some social care responsibilities.
Last year the council launched a £2 million investment fund and gave money to 13 community groups with ideas to tackle social problems.
The council has to cut £107.8m by the end of 2016/17, a total reduction of more than 30% 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 £15m during 2014/15 to meet its targets.
Leader of Wigan Council Lord Peter Smith said: “We have to face up to the new reality local councils live in. The situation has changed. The government is cutting grants to councils and people will have seen in the media what other authorities are having to do to make ends meet.
“We simply can’t do what we used to do - or do things in the way we used to do them. We must recognise the traditional role of councils is changing. It’s no longer just about providing services. It’s about working with communities and other organisations. It’s about achieving our goals – and the goals of our residents – in new ways.
“We have to be smarter, think differently and make savings wherever we can. It’s about doing more with less and ensuring we spend our diminished budget as effectively as possible. That way we can protect frontline services.”
Among the savings planned over the next year include cutting £300,000 by centralising services and staff in Wigan Town Hall. This is part of the council’s aim to reduce its number of buildings. Savings will also be made through the continuing programme to cut staff sickness and move more services online.
The council has already saved £1m a year by opening a new integrated depot and another £1m has been saved through a joint IT contract with Bolton Council. Another £2.6m a year has been saved by reducing the number of senior managers from 73 to 28 since the government’s austerity measures began.
Lord Peter Smith added: “We're grateful already to the public for improving recycling rates, which has contributed £1m to our savings. But we need their help in other ways too. We want them to see their relationship with the council as a contract. We’ll keep taxes down and provide the best services we can if they can play their part by recycling more, volunteering in local projects, helping to keep where they live neat and tidy and by using our online services more.
“This new way of working has been forced on us by the drastic cuts to our budget. We expected to see our grant from central government reduced but the reality has been way beyond expectations. We have already made £64.8m worth of savings and still have another £43m to save over the next three years.
“We have sought to mitigate the impact of the cuts by acting early and taking a prudent approach to financial planning. It’s been hard work, and involved some painful decisions, yet I think this council is now in a strong position financially. We are achieving our saving targets and still managing to maintain the vital services our residents rely on. I’m particularly pleased we will be able to freeze council tax this year, which will help our residents who are struggling with the rising cost of living.
“There is still pain to come, and transforming the way we work is a huge challenge, but we are in a strong position to meet that challenge and if the residents of Wigan Borough work with us, we can move forward with confidence.”