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Town hall proposes first ‘no cuts’ budget in a decade,

Friday, February 14th, 2020 7:18am

By  Niall Griffiths - Local Democracy Reporter

Wigan council has announced its first ‘no cuts’ budget for over a decade, with council tax set to be frozen for a seventh year in a row.

It is expected that Wigan will be one of the only local authorities across the country not to propose a tax hike for the coming year.

There will be no cuts to frontline services and the popular free weekend parking scheme for Wigan and Leigh town centres will be made permanent.

But there are plans to raise the adult social care precept by two per cent to provide more funding for looking after the borough’s most vulnerable residents.

Taxpayers will also have to pay more for regional services, with the Greater Manchester mayoral and police fees due to rise by £24 for the average household.

Here is a full breakdown of the proposals set to go before councillors on March 4.

Council tax

The government has allowed local authorities to raise their council tax by up to two per cent.

This is to meet growing pressures on adult social care, as well as a 6.2 per cent increase in the National Living Wage.

If Wigan council were to implement the government-approved council tax rise, this would raise an extra £2.4 million.

But the authority has decided to freeze the general council tax for 2020/21 – the seventh year in a row it’s been done – as part of their ‘Deal’ with residents.

The leader of the council, Coun David Molyneux, said: “Council tax is the biggest burden faced by families in low incomes, and it’s the only thing we can affect.”

Social care

The cost of looking after vulnerable adults and children is rising across the country.

Wigan council still needs to find £6.25 million next year to meet the cost of increasing demand and complexity of need for adults in their care.

Children’s social care is a ‘major risk area’ for its revenue budget, with the most significant costs coming from placing looked after children outside of the borough.

To help with this, an additional £1 billion in social care grants has been announced by the government for 2020/21 until 2023/24.

By raising the social care precept of council tax by two per cent, this will raise £2.3 million for the council.

While this will still leave a £3.9 million shortfall in the adult social care budget, the council says this can be filled by rates from new houses and businesses being built in the borough.

Coun Molyneux said: “The problems in social care is not just Wigan’s problem, it’s a national issue, and government funding needs to reflect that.

“Wigan has one of the oldest populations and while they are living for longer, their needs are growing more complex.”

Town centre parking

With the borough’s high streets struggling, the council has allowed visitors to park their cars for free in Wigan and Leigh town centre.

Cabinet members agreed to roll out the scheme until March this year, a move which has seen them miss out on £400,000 in revenue.

But with car park usage – and footfall – said to be on the rise, they are now being asked to pay £280,000 a year to make it permanent.

Coun Molyneux said the free parking was ‘essential’, adding: “In order to support our town centres we felt it was correct to continue pushing on this.”

Mayoral and emergency services precepts

Despite not having to pay any council tax, Wigan taxpayers are still required to put money towards the region’s mayor and emergency services.

Under proposals due to be signed off by the combined authority on Friday, residents will pay an extra £24 to cover the recruitment of more police and fire officers in Greater Manchester.

Band D properties in Wigan will pay £1,589.28 for their entire tax bill for 2020/21 – up from £1,565.28 the previous year.

Andy Burnham has promised a named neighbourhood beat officer and police community support officer in every ward amid plans to recruit 347 officers by the end of 2020/21.

The increase will also pay for 108 new firefighters.

Future funding uncertainty

The budget proposed is a far cry from the changes town hall bosses were expecting to make last year.

In March 2019 cuts of £8.5 million had been earmarked for 2020/21, a figure that jumped up to £13 million in August.

This all changed with the government’s provisional local government financial settlement, which provided the extra money needed to protect frontline services.

But the settlement is for one year only, meaning that councils across the UK are unable to plan further ahead.

The government has ordered reviews into local government funding and business rates, but both pieces of work have been delayed for another year.

Based upon current estimates, Wigan council will prepare to make cuts of £14 million over three years, with none this year, £9.8 million in 2021/22 and £4.2 million in 2022/23.

Coun Molyneux said: “In order to make the sort investments we want in adult social care we need a level of certainty, but one-year settlements don’t give us that.”

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