COUNCILLORS confirmed that tax will rise by 4.99 per cent after a majority vote came in following four hours of debate.

Wigan Town hall was packed out on Wednesday, March 1, for the first full council meeting of 2023 – where the main topic of discussion was the budget.

Across the borough, a 4.99 per cent tax rise was confirmed which incorporates a 2.99 per cent increase in the General rate of council tax and a two per cent rise for the adult social care precept.

Councillors emphasised that despite this tax rise, it is still the lowest council tax rate in Greater Manchester and is expected to be the lowest for a metropolitan borough across the UK.

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Leigh Journal:

No cuts to services or council jobs, maintenance of leisure facilities, a funding boost for child and adult social care, an ‘ambitious’ social housing programme and a plan to tackle damp and mould in council-owned homes were all dependent on this tax rise, the chamber heard.

Free weekend parking across Wigan and Leigh will be extended for a fifth year, while 'Our Town' will also return to deliver environmental projects across the borough.

Coun Nazia Rehman, Portfolio holder for Finance, Resources and Transformation, said: "“We found ourselves dominated by the worst cost of living crisis in generations. We’ve had three Prime Ministers, a handful of chancellors and a disastrous mini-budget.

“I have no pleasure delivering this budget tonight. I’m proud of Wigan Labour who have responded to the predicament we have found ourselves in.”

Speaking directly to the residents of the borough, Cllr Rehman added: “You are not alone, our hard working staff and elected representatives are here for you if you need our help. We are on your side.”

Leigh Journal: Cllr Cunliffe said how important the tax rise is for the social care sectorCllr Cunliffe said how important the tax rise is for the social care sector (Image: Wigan Council)

At the council meeting, Deputy leader Coun Keith Cunliffe hit home how important this tax rise was for maintaining adult social care.

Coun Cunliffe told the chamber that by 2040 the population of 65+ people in Wigan will have increased by 60 per cent. This means there will be more people with additional needs for care – increasing pressure on adult social care services, the meeting heard.

The tax rise is still “far inadequate to deal with the problem in adult care”, councillors were told.

Coun Cunliffe believed the Government should cough up the money themselves and that it was “unfair and disadvantageous” to the taxpayers of Wigan to front the bill.

Leigh Journal: Cllr Stuart Gerrard stated his concerns about the amount of money being spent on the Galleries in WiganCllr Stuart Gerrard stated his concerns about the amount of money being spent on the Galleries in Wigan (Image: Stuart Gerarrd)

Although they complimented the Labour-run council on their success of 2022, Atherton Coun Stuart Gerrard, leader of the Independent Alliance as part of the Independent Network, was concerned about the multi-million pound redevelopment in Wigan town centre, which is backed by Beijing-backed developer BCEGI.

Coun Gerrard, echoing many comments from other independent members, questioned why money was so tight and tax ‘needed to rise’ when £135 million was being spent on the Galleries.

“At the moment they’re knocking the Galleries down for £135 million,” he said. “In real man’s terms if the council tax rise goes through tonight – they could’ve frozen it for 30+ years [if they didn’t go ahead with the Galleries project].

“You can’t say you’re Labour when you’re going along with this. I can’t vote to go along with this council tax rise when you’re going ahead with stupid projects.”

Leigh Journal: The Galleries in Wigan is currently undergoing a £135m redevelopmentThe Galleries in Wigan is currently undergoing a £135m redevelopment (Image: Wigan Council)

After the barrage of trashing the Conservative government from the heavily Labour council in the chamber, the Tory leader Coun Steven Evans even admitted he was “very frustrated with the government”.

Both the Independent Alliance and the Conservatives proposed amendments to the budget which mainly incorporated small infrastructure changes to wards largely controlled by their own individual parties. These were both soundly squashed by the large Labour force in attendance.

As the debate roared on, a letter from the secretary of state, sent to the Leigh MP James Grundy was read aloud by Coun Edward Houlton, deputy leader for the Conservatives, stating that the council was not ‘under instruction from government’ to raise council tax by 4.99% as the cabinet has suggested.

In her later rebuttal, Coun Rehman simply stated that it was the Conservatives who caused this problem in the first place, and questioned where the £6.2 million promise for adult social care had gone. 

When the vote finally came just before the 10pm mark, it was passed by the majority of members in attendance.