The future of post-Brexit Wigan is called into question
Political activists have accused Wigan Council of complacency for producing no specific analysis of Brexit's impact on the borough.
Wigan Leigh and Makerfield Lib Dems said it was unacceptable that the only published assessments of how the borough will fare after Britain’s departure from the EU were regional ones done by Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).
The news came to light after the activists submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the town hall.
However, the local authority has strongly hit back at the claims, saying it has a group which regularly meets to discuss Brexit and civil servants are working hard behind the scenes.
The local Lib Dem activists, whose party has strongly criticised Brexit since the 2016 referendum, also drew a strong response from the borough’s
Labour leaders after accusing the party of burying its head in the sand on the issue.
WLM Lib Dems spokesperson Josh Hindle said: “It’s a frankly ridiculous admission from the council of frightful neglect of the responsibilities it has to the borough.
“We need to sort this out and it should be a concern for everybody. We want to see the council carry out its own recoemmendations and analysis. The GMCA can analyse the entire region but there are things specific to this borough that will affect it. The council is best placed to look at these risks to jobs and provide reassurance to the people of Wigan.
“A factory in Hindley closed last year with a big impact from Brexit and there are big developments planned on green belt land and industrial sites but what is the point of this if manufacturing is going ton be massively hit?
“The places that are going to be hit hardest are working class towns like Wigan. We are going to end up having to foot the bill for government failures in the negotiations.
“The council needs to be prepared to give clarity and details on the dangers we face.
“It may be fine for Labour to keep its head in the sand over Brexit but it’s not good enough for the borough.”
The FOI response to the WLM Lib Dems admitted that, “Wigan Council has not developed a Brexit plan, as it is not yet possible to foresee the many different scenarios in enough detail to make specific plans or recommendations.”
It then referred the activists back to the GMCA’s Brexit monitoring work.
However, the local authority bridled at the implication it was not doing enough.
Becca Heron, director for economy and skills, said: “We are working in partnership with GMCA to understand the impact of Brexit particularly looking at how it will impact on our economy and funding. We are involved in planning for these scenarios, which change frequently, to ensure Wigan is well placed and able to respond.
“There is a Wigan group which meets regularly and includes the business community. It looks at potential issues that may arise and the impact on our businesses as the negotiations continue.
“Our economy team is supporting local businesses, in partnership with the Manchester Growth Company, to help them understand the implications of, and prepare for Brexit.
“Our work to develop a new economic vision and strategy reflects the council’s commitment to creating a compelling offer for businesses and a resilient economy that can cope with external factors beyond our control such as Brexit or shifts in the global economy.
“Ultimately with the current level of uncertainty no organisation is able to say with confidence what the impact will be nationally or locally.”
Senior Labour leaders also hit back at the Lib Dems’ criticism of the party, citing the number of unknown factors at play making it difficult to move forward.
Deputy leader Coun Keith Cunliffe said: “We simply don’t know what the deal will be or even if there will be one. It is hard to plan for something if you don’t know what it is.
“Hopefully in the next few weeks we will have some clarity about that and that gives us six months at least to actually assess the options.
“We are aware of the possible consequences but we can’t work up any detailed plans until we have greater certainty. There are going to be implications with any deal that is arrived at. There may even be a people’s referendum.
“We will continue working around our Wigan and Greater Manchester strategies to create growth and jobs and promote business in the borough.
“We are in no different position to anybody else. There are different opinions as to whether it will be a good thing or a bad thing.”