The national picture may be uncertain but locally we have every right to be optimistic, says Leader of Wigan Council Councillor David Molyneux...
Brexit has cast a huge shadow over national politics throughout 2018.
The start of a new year is usually a time for optimism but the uncertainty the country faces seems to deepen as each day passes.
While the national government has been paralysed, local councils up and down the country have been quietly getting on with the important stuff that matters to people and keeping essential services running.
Wigan is no different – in fact Wigan Council has proven in 2018 that it is one of the very best councils in the country.
Despite the huge financial challenges the council has faced – with its budget being reduced by £160m since 2010 – we have continued to improve the way we work and put residents at the centre of all that we do.
This approach has led to us being shortlisted in the Local Government Chronicle’s Council of the Year award – one of six to be on the shortlist out of 150 councils nationally. We will find out if we have won this award in March.
We were also named the third most efficient council in England by consultants iMPower.
It has been a year of change at the top of the council with my predecessor as council leader Lord Peter Smith stepping down after 27 years in May and our chief executive Donna Hall announcing she will be retiring in February after eight years.
The biggest tribute I can pay to Peter and Donna is to continue the remarkable work they achieved through The Deal – while also being alert to the new challenges the borough will face in the coming years.
One such challenge is the future of our town centres.
With the dominance of online shopping and out of town centre shopping centres attracting both retailers and shoppers, our town centres are facing an unprecedented threat.
In March the council bought the Galleries in Wigan because we recognised the danger the town centre faced through a historic lack of investment in this huge centre.
We also recognised the big potential the Galleries site has to open up new uses for our town centre, to consolidate the retail offer there but also bring a more diverse offer to the town.
In 2019 we will unveil our long-term vision for the Galleries site and will share how this will be delivered.
This is a big undertaking for the council but one which we see as essential in supporting the town centre to be vibrant in the years ahead.
While the long-term planning work has been going on in the background we have not just been sat on our hands.
I have listened to concerns from market traders and local retailers as well as our residents and made car parking free on weekends until the end of January in all council car parks in Leigh and Wigan.
Businesses and residents tell me the offer has been successful so far and the evidence on how it has affected footfall will influence my decision on what happens after the trial period is over.
As well as exciting plans for Wigan and Leigh town centres I also want to show the council supports our smaller towns across the borough.
I want all our towns to prosper and for people to have a renewed sense of pride in the place where they identify to be from.
All of these issues came across loud and clear in our ‘Big Listening Project’ in which 2,500 people took part to tell us about their ideas for the future of the borough.
These views will inform our new strategy to take us up to 2030 and I thank each and every person who took the time to take part.
As well as town centres, people I speak to are quite rightly concerned about transport and having the right transport infrastructure in place.
I’m pleased that the construction of the A49 link road will be taking place throughout 2019 and will be completed in 2020.
The finances are also in place to build the M58 link road which once completed will create a fast route from the national motorway network into the centre of Wigan – something people have been wanting for decades.
A highlight of 2018 for me was the opening of the Armed Forces HQ at Withnell House in Wigan for the 22,000 veterans and serving personnel in the borough.
I look forward to this facility providing vital support services for our armed forces personnel through 2019 and beyond.
It also promises to be an exciting year for sport in Wigan.
As a Latics season ticket holder I am anticipating our new owners to have a positive impact on the club which will hopefully see us back in the Premier League before too long.
The Warriors have a World Club Championship to contest after a superb season – which we will mark with a civic reception for the men’s, women’s and U19s team at the town hall in January.
So while the national political picture is one of uncertainty I am confident that locally 2019 will be a year of stability, progress and success.
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.