Labour sets itself apart on local issues

Lord Smith

Lord Smith

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Wigan’s ruling Labour group has defied orders from “national figures” in protecting residents from austerity, Lord Smith has said.

In a statement issued to the Evening Post ahead of this week’s elections, the council leader indicates the local party is at odds with national colleagues on several issues.

The comments come as pollsters have predicted that Labour is set to lose a significant number of council seats nationally in what has been billed as the first real litmus test for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Lord Smith said: “Some national figures in the party have told Labour local authorities to make people feel the impact of Tory cuts.

“However, in Wigan, we believe exactly the opposite and we are working to protect our citizens from the austerity.

“We shall continue to work for the best interests of local people and not under national instructions.”

The Labour grandee also suggested the council’s support of army veterans set it out in contrast to the national party.

He said Mr Corbyn has been accused of showing a “lack of respect” to veteran communities, something which has caused concern for local ex-servicemen and women.

He added: “Nothing illustrates the contrast between Labour locally and nationally than attitudes towards veterans.

“In this borough we are very proud of the contribution of veterans to our country and we will set up a hub to support the over 20,000 veterans living in the borough.”

Pollsters have predicted Labour could lose up to 150 council seats across the country although borough leaders will be confident of adding to their 64 seats in the council chamber.

This week Mr Corbyn said Labour will not lose any seats and has dismissed claims that bad results could be seen as a challenge to his leadership.

The local Labour campaign is focussed on delivering the Deal and “doing our best to protect local people”, Lord Smith explained.

He said: “Cuts are unfairly affecting local authorities – Wigan has lost £100m, £363 per household whilst West Oxfordshire, David Cameron’s council has only lost £17 per household.

“However, Wigan’s Labour Council rolled up its sleeves, recognising it would have to change how it worked if it was to best serve local people.

“The most obvious change has been much closer working with community groups and investing £5m more into them at a time when most councils were cutting back.

“These community groups have responded magnificently and have helped support some of the most vulnerable in the borough.”