The borough is the most north western in Greater Manchester. Within Greater Manchester, it borders the Metropolitan Borough of Bolton to the north-east and east, and the City of Salford to the east. Outwith Greater Manchester, in the south it borders Warrington (a unitary authority in Cheshire); to the south-west it borders the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens in Merseyside. To the west it borders the West Lancashire district, and to the north it borders the Chorley borough, both in Lancashire.
Wigan Metropolitan Borough's new coat of arms is based on various elements from the arms of the predecessor districts.
Prior to its creation, the name Wigan-Leigh was used in the Redcliffe-Maud Report. It was then suggested that the new metropolitan borough be named Makerfield (with reference to Makerfield). However borh names were rejected for Wigan, by a vote of 12 to 2.
From 1974, local government was under a two-tier system, with Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council covering most functions, and the Greater Manchester County Council. The county council was abolished in 1986 by the Local Government Act 1985.
The population of the borough has stayed roughly static since the 1970s at around 300,000.
Four parliamentary constituencies cover the borough: Wigan, Makerfield, Leigh, and Worsley. Worsley also covers parts of Salford. New constituencies boundaries recommended by the Boundary Commission will see the link to Salford broken, and part of the borough (the Atherton ward) included in the Bolton West constituency. All four seats are considered safe seats for the Labour Party, and they or predecessors have returned Labour members consistently since the Second World War. Makerfield is the only constituency to have returned Labour MPs continuously since 1906.
The first elections to the borough council were held on 10 May 1973. Each ward has three councillors, and elections are by third, with one councillor from each ward up for re-election in each election year. The 2004 election was for all seats, as ward boundaries had changed. The next elections are planned for 2007.
The borough council has a leader and cabinet system. The current leader is Peter Smith, who also sits in the House of Lords as a Labour Party life peer, under the title Lord Smith of Leigh. He first became leader in 1991.. The council rejected the idea of a directly-elected mayor following a consultation in 2001.
Wigan is traditionally a Labour stronghold - the council has been Labour Party-controlled since its creation. The local elections in 1998 resulted in a council with only 2 non-Labour members.
Labour have a majority with 43 seats as of the 2006 election. The second largest party on the council is the local Community Action Party, also active in St Helens and Warrington, which had 15 seats. Community Action first contested Wigan elections in 2002, and won 18 seats in the 2004 election following the re-warding - their councilors are for wards in the middle of the borough, between Wigan and Leigh. The Conservative Party has nine seats, and the Liberal Democrats eight.
The council uses Wigan Town Hall as its main headquarters. Leigh Town Hall is used as a secondary base.
The previous wards were
The ONS identify a Wigan Urban Area in the west of the district with a population of 166,840. It considers towns in the east of the borough to be part of the Greater Manchester Urban Area. Ashton-in-Makerfield, Aspull, Golborne and Shevington are identified as standalone urban areas.
|Ashton-in-Makerfield / Bryn||Ashton; Bryn|
|Hindley / Abram||Abram; Hindley; Hindley Green|
|Leigh||Atherleigh; Leigh North; Leigh South; Leigh West|
|Lowton / Golborne||Golborne and Lowton West; Lowton East|
|Orrell / Higher End / Winstanley||Orrell; Winstanley; Billinge Higher End|
|Standish / Aspull / Shevington||Aspull-New Springs-Whelley; Shevington with Lower Ground; Standish with Langtree|
|Tyldesley / Astley||Astley-Mosley Common; Tyldesley|
|Wigan North||Ince; Wigan Central; Wigan West|
|Wigan South||Douglas; Pemberton; Worsley Mesnes|
With a population of around 300,000, Wigan is the second most populous borough of Greater Manchester, after Manchester itself. It also has one of the lowest non-white populations, with the 2001 census reporting 98.7% of the population as white. Unemployment is around average for England and Wales. 9.5% of the population is "permanently sick or disabled" compared to an average of 5.5%.
Crime in the borough has continued to fall in recent years, and is now statistically the safest borough in Greater Manchester.
According to an opinion poll, 26% of 299 residents surveyed felt they belonged "very strongly" or "fairly strongly" (4% very strongly) to Greater Manchester, 64% (28% very strongly) to the borough of Wigan, and 63% (31% very strongly) to Lancashire.
Leigh is the largest town in the UK whitout a railway station. One station, on the Bolton and Leigh Railway, closed in 1954. The second, on a loop of the Manchester to Wigan Line was closed in 1969.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal passes through the borough, as does the M6 motorway, which runs through the west of the borough, and serves Ashton-in-Makerfield (junction 24 north only), Bryn (25 south only), Wigan/Orrell (26) and Standish (27). The M58 motorway, to northern Liverpool, terminates at junction 26 of the M6.
Wigan was twinned with Angers in France in 1988.