Wigan leader Smith steps down

Lord Peter Smith, a key figure in regional government, is to leave his role as leader of Wigan Council, a position he has held for 27 years.

As well as his role in leading Wigan, Smith has been an important politician at North West and Greater Manchester level. Positions he has held include chairing the North West Regional Assembly and sitting as vice-president of the Local Government Association. For a time he was chairman of Manchester Airport and also served a term on the board of the North West Development Agency.

From 2000, he chaired the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, the predecessor body for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and was part of the GMCA leadership team that delivered the city region’s devolution deal in 2014. He is currently chairman of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership Board.

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Peter Smith is an exceptional local government leader.

“In his period of office Wigan has been a consistently high performing council and through the Wigan Deal it has built a relationship with its citizens that is the envy of the local government world.

“Beyond that, for almost two decades he was the glue that held Greater Manchester together and without his leadership we would not have achieved a devolution deal with more decisions now being taken locally than anywhere else in England.”

Smith started his career in local government when he was elected as a Labour ward councillor for Leigh West in 1978, a position to which he was again re-elected last week. He established a reputation in council finance, spending nine years as chairman of the finance committee before becoming leader. In 1999 he was made Lord Smith of Leigh.

Throughout the 2000s, as AGMA developed into a body of significance, Smith was generally the most visible figure from outside Manchester Town Hall. Like Leese and Sir Howard Bernstein, his reputation took a hit when proposals for a Greater Manchester congestion charge were defeated in 2008, Smith having featured prominently in the Yes campaign.

Donna Hall, chief executive of Wigan Council, said: “Peter Smith has been an incredible leader for Wigan Borough. He is decisive, intelligent and always prepared to be courageous with a fierce dedication to improving the lives of our residents and we will miss him hugely.”

At Leigh level, Smith was involved in driving the Leigh Sports Village project, completed in 2009, and last year announced the £5m Believe In Leigh fund to improve the town centre and provide more facilities for young people.

He said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as leader of the council and I’m proud to have made a difference to the borough and its people.

“I will continue with the important task of delivering a successful devolution of health and social care for Greater Manchester as well continuing to serve the people of Leigh West.”

Wigan Council’s ruling Labour Party group will decide their next leader in a meeting on Monday.

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How fortunate Wigan has been under the leadership of Peter Smith. The Authority has gone from strength to strength under his leadership and not to overlook the contribution Joy has made to the Borough.

By Philip YG

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