IN a town hall meeting that saw council house rents upped by 7.7 per cent, it was a plea to ban the ‘archaic practice’ of giving away animals as prizes which caused the most backlash.

The latest rise will help the council invest in its housing stock and carry out essential maintenance for the health and safety of residents, Wigan Town Hall heard. 

Coun Gambles and her Housing Advisory Panel reluctantly endorsed the rise followed by the cabinet. The Independent Network and the other Independent councillors voted against the rise as they believed it to be wrong, but it was approved by the majority of Labour members in the chamber.

Coun James Paul Watson questioned why the council is paying £14m a year to the government in interest alone for loan repayments and asked to prioritise filling up the empty council homes.

Coun Gambles responded in agreement regarding the issues and told the chamber how they are asking the government to look at the loan. She added that work to reduce times when council homes sit empty is a big priority for her housing team and the issue is being addressed.

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Proposals to ban giving live animals as prizes

Later in the meeting, councillors scolded Coun Sam Brown’s motion to ban giving away live animals as prizes, in any form on Wigan Council land. They believed there are more pressing matters to discuss, even if it was something they disagreed with. Coun Maureen O’Bern questioned why goldfish are more important than demand for council homes, a motion she had been refused.

Her fellow Independent Coun Stuart Gerrard said: “I think the giving away animals as prizes is archaic, but at the end of the day where do we stop this. 

“Do we stop giving chocolate and sweets away due to the obesity crisis? A goldfish at a fair has happened for years, but there are more pressing matters.”

Coun Brown, a self-professed animal lover said this relates to any live animals given away as prizes, not just goldfish. She added that this ‘outdated’ practice needs to be banned, and she had received numerous contacts about this which is why it was brought to full council.

Further support to children's services and hospices

Two motions asking for more funds for children’s services and to give more support to the hospices were passed unanimously.

Coun Gina Merrett told the chamber how demands upon children’s services have risen significantly to levels that will not be sustainable for councils going forward. She added that  the government has offered only a fraction of the £2.6 billion an independent review says is needed to make their social care strategy feasible. 

Coun Merrett asked the council to write to the government asking for funding for children’s services to: finance family hubs for all areas; increase resources for early intervention; and meet growing demand for special educational needs support.

Deputy leader, Coun Keith Cunliffe, putting forward his hospice motion, said: “Over 40 years many people have benefitted from the hospice service. The hospice needs to raise £12,000 every single day of the year to fund its services. 

“The partial statutory funding may have worked in the early days, but now they’re expected to put on a full healthcare service. There is no other area of healthcare in the country that relies so heavily on charitable income for what is an important healthcare service.”

He explained that the hospice model works via partial funding, where the NHS fronts only a third of the costs – the rest comes from charitable donations and fundraisers. This motion had strong emotion attached to it as Coun Chris Ready spoke about his friend and Coun Paul Prescott spoke about his father and their personal experiences with Wigan and Leigh Hospice.

The call was simple for health bosses locally and nationally, the hospice service needs more financial support otherwise they could see a reduction in the service due to increased cost and reliance on charitable donations.

The last motion of the night was in regard to ‘out of town taxis’ and Coun Yvonne Klieve wanted to see a long term legislative solution from the government that modernises the taxi and private hire vehicle sector. Coun John Vickers pointed out that they have no power to reprimand taxi drivers, mainly private hires who use companies like Uber, who are not registered with them.

Coun Klieve wants legal changes so that councils can regain control of their taxi drivers. The motion was unanimously supported.