DEFEATED candidate Lord Smith has hit out at the GM mayor selection process, accusing fellow council leaders of not choosing on merit.
The Labour veteran lost out to police commissioner Tony Lloyd but claimed members of the selection panel had made up their minds as a result of “political meetings.”
I was obviously disappointed with the outcome on Friday but, as the process continued, it became clear it was not an appointment based on merit but was predetermined in political meetingsLord Smith
Speaking exclusively to the Wigan Observer, Wigan’s council leader said he was “disappointed” with the result but reaffirmed his commitment to the borough, suggesting “Greater Manchester’s loss is Wigan’s gain.”
The panel - made up of the region’s 10 authority leaders, including borough deputy Coun David Molyneux - opted for former MP Mr Lloyd following hours of deliberation.
After, the new mayor paid tribute to his defeated rival describing Lord Smith as “one of the outstanding local government leaders in Britain.”
In contrast, Lord Smith lashed out at the process, with the job snub handed out in his own stomping ground with the interviews taking place at Leigh Sports Village.
He said: “I was obviously disappointed with the outcome on Friday but, as the process continued, it became clear it was not an appointment based on merit but was predetermined in political meetings.
“The Lib Dems even held a caucus earlier and decided who to vote for before the interview started.
“Others had their meetings in advance.”
The only two non-Labour members of the panel were Trafford council leader Sean Anstee (Conservative) and Stockport counterpart Sue Derbyshire (Lib Dem).
Unconfirmed reports have suggested the vote was split five to five for a majority of the deliberations.
Mr Lloyd will now oversee the handover of powers from Westminster as part of the Devo Manc agreement until mayoral elections take place in 2017.
He will work alongside the combined authority leaders, including Lord Smith, who will no longer act as the authority’s chair.
He added: “Peter Smith is one of the outstanding local government leaders in the Britain not just here in Greater Manchester, he has been a great servant.
“Everything I am able to do as interim mayor will be based on the work he has done over the years.
“Both the public in Wigan and across Greater Manchester, and even across Britain, owe him a big debt.
“I will be, on every occasion where it is appropriate, seeking his advice as the people of Wigan deserve that and Lord Smith himself deserves it.
“I’m bound to be pleased, I wouldn’t put my name to do it if I didn’t think it was going to be an enormous challenge and enormous potential.
“What matters is what the people of GM think because this post belongs to them.”
A special meeting of Wigan Council had been arranged next week to finalise the borough’s cabinet posts as a win for Lord Smith would have meant a new leader and deputy.
But now Coun Molyneux, who was set to step into the top role, will remain Lord Smith’s second in command.
Lord Smith said: “I have received a large number of supportive e-mails and phone-calls over the weekend. One said ‘GM’s loss is Wigan’s gain.’
“So I will now have more time to work with my colleagues in what is bound to be a difficult period of more cuts to local authorities.
“We will strive to work with local communities doing our level best to help local people.”
Mr Lloyd added he would work hard to ensure residents see the post as legitimate and countered claims the process had been “undemocratic” explaining he already had an electoral mandate through his police commissioner role.
He will combine the roles but not draw two salaries until the responsibilities are combined in 2017.
Selection panel member and leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese, said: “We’ve had a very difficult afternoon as the view of the panel is that we had two very good candidates indeed and we believe both were capable of carrying out the role of interim role.
“The unanimous view was that they were both appointable but it wasn’t a job share and we had to make a decision.
“One candidate was elected by GM as PCC and does have a GM mandate in that role.
“Peter Smith has been leader of Wigan for 20 years and chair of GMCA for 15 years so they were certainly tested by the ballot box regularly over the years.”