IT’S hard to believe now, but when Peter Smith was first elected to Wigan Council he won by just one vote after several recounts.
Thirty-six years later he is not only still in office, but Leader of the Authority, Chairman of Greater Manchester Combined Authority and a peer of the realm for his services to local government.
And now to add to all his plaudits, Lord Smith has been given the “judges’ special award for contribution to local government” at the Councillor Achievement Awards: an annual prize-giving event that honours the country’s best councillors.
Lord Smith was praised for his work chairing the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and his length of service on Wigan Council.
He has been a councillor for 36 years including 22 years as leader – making him one of the longest-serving council leaders in the country.
Lord Smith was first elected onto Wigan Council in 1978 representing a ward in his home town of Leigh.
He said: “My election was dramatic. It was the days of Jim Callaghan’s unpopular minority government and anger at the 1974 local government reorganisation was still raw. I won by one vote after a series of recounts. For many years afterwards people would come up to me to say ‘I was your one vote’.”
He said: “It’s a great honour to be given this award and I’d like to thank the judges for their kind comments.
“I’ve always felt extremely privileged to lead Wigan Council. Thanks to the hard work of other councillors and council staff, and of course the outstanding contribution of residents, the council is now considered one of the best in the country.
“We’ve faced huge challenges, particularly in recent years, but I’m proud of our achievements and believe the council – and the borough - has a great future.”
The judges described praised Lord Smith as “a powerful voice of local government in the House of Lords, leading debates on big issues that affect councils”.
Deputy Leader of Wigan Council, Coun David Molyneux, said: “I’ve known him for 30 years and his passion for this borough and determination to bring about improvements to people’s lives is an inspiration.
“But I’m glad the country’s best councillors are recognised and if prizes are being handed out, it is only right Peter is honoured.”