Article on town splits opinion

Site of the former Wigan Pier nightclub
Site of the former Wigan Pier nightclub
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REACTIONS to a national magazine article depicting Wigan as a community “left behind” have placed two political figures at loggerheads.

For the second time in recent weeks, borough MP Lisa Nandy and council leader Lord Smith are poles apart, this time about the piece in the New Statesman.

If the New Statesman would like to do a thoughtful piece on how Wigan can prosper, it would do better to talk to those who know what its future might be, rather than those who spend their time propping up a pub bar

Lord Smith

This follows a fall-out over Devo Manc arrangements.

Ms Nandy had played host to the current affairs magazine which is not the first in the lead-up in the general election to make comparisons between modern-day Wigan and conditions in the borough when George Orwell’s classic social comment work The Road to Wigan Pier was written in the 1930s.

But Lord Smith said he did not recognise “the picture painted” of Wigan.

He told the Evening Post: “A town somewhat left behind is not an image that I, nor the vast majority of residents and businesses, recognise. This isn’t the Wigan borough that has been at the very heart of the £8bn devolution deal because of our innovative approaches to supporting thousands of people to get better care and our forward looking programmes.

“Wigan, like most northern towns, has suffered the impact of industrial decline and the economic downturn.

“But, Wigan Council is coping better than most with the impact of cuts in part by a radical approach to rethinking service delivery.”

The piece quotes members of the Left Unity party, something Lord Smith refers to as a “fatal flaw”, as the party does not represent an accurate reflection of the community, he argues.

He added: “If the New Statesman would like to do a thoughtful piece on how Wigan can prosper, it would do better to talk to those who know what its future might be, rather than those who spend their time propping up a pub bar.

“I’d be more than happy to personally show them around Wigan and let the people who work hard day in, day out to make our borough successful have their voices heard.”

MP Lisa Nandy said the article highlighted the borough’s community spirit and reflected how the town has coped with the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms.

She said: “Wigan has a long tradition of people coming together and looking out for each other. When Thatcher led an assault on industry, people rallied around and helped each other to get through it. Now, with another Tory Government choosing to hand millionaires a tax cut whilst dismantling the public services we rely on, we can see that.

“You only have to look at the sure start centres, schools and walk in centres, new buildings that will last for generations to see the benefits brought by Labour. Contrast that with five years of Tory led government and our high street is blighted by payday lenders.

“I am incredibly proud to represent Wigan and as the town’s MP I see every day why we need a Labour Government who refuse to stand on the side-lines and watch people suffer.”