Lord Peter Smith has announced he is stepping down after 27 successful years as leader of Wigan Council.
Lord Smith has served as leader of Wigan Council since 1991 and over the past three decades has gained a reputation as one of the most influential council leaders in the UK.
In paying tribute to his public service, leading figures in local government described Lord Smith as “an inspirational leader” and “the glue that held Greater Manchester together”.
Lord Smith’s commitment and determination to improve Wigan Borough has driven forward the transformation of the area from post-mining decline to a thriving and modern borough.
His leadership over many years on a regional stage through the Greater Manchester Combined Authority was key to delivering the devolution deal which saw Greater Manchester take control of powers and budgets from Whitehall in 2014.
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, led the tributes.
Sir Richard 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.”
Sir Howard Bernstein, the former long-serving chief executive of Manchester City Council and the GMCA, said:
“Peter has been one of the most inspirational leaders to be found anywhere in local government and has been a force for good in Wigan and Greater Manchester.I will always be grateful to him for the support he has given me over many years.”
Lord Smith, who started his career in local government when he was elected as a Labour Party ward councillor for Leigh West in 1978, gained his political reputation in the area of council finance, moving from chairman of the finance committee for nine years into council leader.
His success as council leader led to many regional and national appointments throughout the 1980s and 1990s including chair of the North West Regional Assembly and vice-president of the Local Government Association.
In 1999 he was made Lord Smith of Leigh in recognition of his work in local government.
As a big sports fan and supporter of Leigh Centurions rugby league club, Lord Smith was determined to boost the health of local people and provide the very best sports facilities in the borough.
This led to the development of Leigh Sports Village, now the home of Leigh Centurions, which was officially opened by the Queen in May 2009.
Other high profile projects achieved in his tenure include the building of the DW Stadium, the home of Wigan Athletic and Wigan Warriors, Robin Park and The Grand Arcade shopping centre.
His passion for health and wellbeing has seen him lead the work on health devolution on a Greater Manchester level as well as in Wigan Borough.
He is chairman of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership Board and has led on health devolution, bringing health and social care services across the city-region closer together to improve health and ensure the vulnerable and elderly get the best care.
A former board member and chairman of Manchester Airport his retention of airport shares for Wigan Council is now resulting in millions of pounds of annual dividends to support investment in communities.
His leadership also saw Wigan Council cope with some of the worst budget council cuts in its history in 2010 yet through Lord Smith taking a different approach the council improved services and increased resident satisfaction.
Branded as The Deal, this approach has since been followed by councils across the country and has won numerous national awards.
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.
“His determination to protect those on low incomes saw him commit to freezing council tax despite government funding to councils being drastically reduced.
“Our transformation from a traditional council to one which works with residents and communities through The Deal to make the borough a better place could not have been achieved without his political vision, hard work and passion.”
David Hope from GMB Union said: “Despite government funding cuts in Wigan, staff have had a fantastic relationship with Peter through the Wigan Deal and we are so sorry to see him step down as leader.
“It’s great that we are seen as the best council to work for in the UK by staff. We would all like to wish him all the best for the future.”
As a proud Leyther Lord Smith has always ensured the east of the borough had its fair share of funding and the announcement of the £5m Believe In Leigh fund last year to improve the town centre and provide more facilities for young people will be a lasting legacy.
Lord Smith will continue as a ward councillor for Leigh West, a position he has held for 40 years and was re-elected to in May’s local elections, as well continue in his capacity as lead member for the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership.
Lord Smith 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.
“It is now time to pass the baton on and I wish my successor well.
“I will continue with the important task of delivering a successful devolution of health and social care for Greater Manchester as well as continuing to serve the people of Leigh West.”
Wigan Council’s Labour Party group will decide their next leader in a meeting on Monday the 14th May.