Wigan Council defends its staff ceremony costs

Celebrations at a BeWigan Staff Awards ceremony
Celebrations at a BeWigan Staff Awards ceremony
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Wigan Council spends almost three times the national town hall average on awards ceremonies for staff.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance said that while there was nothing wrong with congratulating employees, it has accused some cash-strapped authorities of “unnecessary extravagances” when they should be prioritising public money on frontline services.

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The campaign group surveyed councils across the country, asking through Freedom of Information Act requests how much money was spent on in-house awards events between April 2015 and March 2018.

And the figures reveal that Wigan Council paid £55,000 when the average cost to the UK taxpayer over that period was £18,064 per authority.

But borough chiefs hit back today, saying that its BeWigan Staff Awards were good value for money.

Deputy chief executive Alison Mckenzie-Folan said: “This cost relates to one event which takes place each year, which is to recognise our staff who work hard every day to improve the lives of our residents. This event also recognises community groups, the voluntary sector and partners.

“This works out approximately £5 per staff member each year, and in comparison to the extra efforts that they go to for our 320,000 residents, this isn’t a significant cost.

“Without them supporting The Deal we wouldn’t be in a position where we are able to freeze council tax for the sixth year running.

“Unlike 97 per cent of other councils who are intending to increase their council tax.”

The TPA singled out Burnley Council for spending an estimated £25,000 on the bi-annual Burnley Business Awards in 2017, which included a champagne reception, live music and entertainers dressed as trees, shrubbery and wildlife.

Bury Council spent £16,000 a year to be headline sponsor at the Made in Bury Business Awards. Wigan’s Business Awards, by the way, are organised by Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

The TPA said some councils avoided carrying the costs of award events by seeking alternative sponsorship arrangements.

Tory-controlled Derbyshire County Council forked out £218,483 on award events - the highest in the country.

A total of 13 councils spent more than £100,000 while 65 spent nothing.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said many of the events listed were “fully funded by sponsorship”.

According to the TPA report, councils spent £6,593,523 on award ceremonies in total.

Derbyshire County Council’s spending was over 12 times the national average and £14,658 more than all Welsh councils combined, the report said.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council in Northern Ireland spent the second most among local authorities, a total of £162,189.

It is followed by Manchester City Council (£155,500), Glasgow City Council (£144,284), and Hertfordshire County Council (£143,653).

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TPA, said families would be “disappointed” to discover councils spending money on “unnecessary extravagances”.

He added: “There’s nothing wrong with congratulating staff who work hard or celebrating local businesses, but councils should prioritise the essential services that they are paid to provide.

“It’s encouraging to see that so many councils were successful in negotiating sponsorship arrangements to pay for some ceremonies, and all local authorities in the UK should seek to do the same.”

The LGA spokesman said: “Awards ceremonies range from the promotion and support of local businesses, recognising the valuable work of volunteers or bringing communities together to celebrate what is positive about where they live.

“The value of these events is worth far more to communities and local economies than their cost.”