Council probe launched in community funding row

Gareth Fairhurst

Wigan Council is looking into an opposition activist’s claims that the town hall was too quick to award taxpayers’ money to schemes backed by elected representatives.

The local authority has confirmed it has launched a probe after Gareth Fairhurst alleged more checks should have been made before hundreds of thousands of pounds of funding were dished out.

Mr Fairhurst, who is closely associated with the Standish Independents and Shevington Independents, says he has identified numerous examples where large amounts of investment have gone to organisations where past or present councillors are involved at a senior level.

So far he has not directly accused any elected member of wrongdoing but says he believes the town hall should do more to counter any suspicion that there could be political influence on how money is doled out.

He also said he is prepared to take the matter further if he does not believe the council is sufficiently committed to transparency.

Mr Fairhurst said: “We are talking considerable sums of money here, not just a few hundred pounds from Brighter Borough.

“I’m not saying anything is wrong but there have to be extra checks in place. Where there are all these vast sums of money and councillors involved there needs to be that extra due diligence and that’s my main gripe.

“We don’t know if there’s anything wrong or not here because as far as I can see the council has failed to put that due diligence in place, even though it is a governance requirement.

“If they don’t deal with this complaint appropriately then I will take the matter to the ombudsman.”

A council spokesman said: “We have received a formal complaint and it will be investigated in accordance with our complaints procedure.”

Mr Fairhurst stressed he did not have any issue with the charities and community groups or their work, instead saying the issue was how the town hall had agreed to fund them with taxpayers’ money and whether the processes were transparent enough.

Wigan Council’s funding of outside organisations through schemes such as The Deal and the Community Investment Fund has been something of a hot topic among the borough’s opposition in recent weeks.

Independent representative for Bryn ward Coun Steve Jones ended up in hot water and had his ability to give out Brighter Borough money suspended for a string of comments he made on Facebook about the local authority’s chief executive Donna Hall.

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