Preston needs changing to stay the same…

Preston City Councillor Bill Shannon, (LibDem, Ingol), has set out why he believes the city council requires serious reform if it is to survive in the long-term. In short, Cllr. Shannon believes Preston can no longer remain as a mid-sized unit on the banks of the River Ribble, constrained by the compromise boundaries drawn around it forty-ish years ago.

Whilst disagreeing with Cllr. Shannon on certain subjects I won’t go into here, he’s absolutely right about the future of our city. For Preston to survive, it needs to change, and that means a slow but sure process of amalgamating services as a precursor to full merger with neighbouring administrations.

The fix-and-fudge of local government reform generations ago has left its mark across the country, particularly England where there’s been less change than in either Scotland or Wales. Almost all the local authorities created in the 1970s as a compromise position to the contentious Redcliffe-Maud report remain in place today, their sizes and shapes unmoved despite mammoth changes in population, work-load and responsibilities, employment and the like.

Nobody in Manchester, for example, can fully explain why the council area is such an elongated blob. Of course cynics can suggest plenty of reasons – it kept out largely Tory-leaning bits in Trafford and the semi-rural north, it ensured the Airport and its growth area had to use the “Manchester” name, and so on. Generations away from the map redrawing, the reality on the ground is a population almost unrelated to the official demarcation lines.

Preston, like Manchester, is a city constrained by the flicks of an administrator’s pencil. The city doesn’t stop at the Ribble; people who live to the south are no less “Prestonian”, or less likely to work in Preston, on the grounds of living on the opposite side of an arbitrary border.  The reality of life in this part of Lancashire has seen Preston grow in stature and relevance, and all within the lines of a borough decided upon on a coin-toss in the 1970s.

The financial consequence for the city and its people is profound and dangerous. The only way to safeguard the integrity of Preston, and to ensure the financial security for the services provided for people who live here, is to be bold on the manner in which administrations are formed.

Cllr. Shannon builds a two-step process. Initially councils need to share services, cutting back on duplication which builds up in the everyday processes of providing day-to-day services. As Preston is a two-tier city, served by 57 city councillors and ten County Councillors, there’s plenty of duplication amongst the administrative scaffolding around the representative buildings housed here. Numerous towns and cities across the country are dealing with the Government’s budget slashing by sharing services, and this process can only continue.

The next step, hinted at in Cllr. Shannon’s statement, is a full merger with neighbouring authorities, and is something I’ve always supported. It’s not enough for back-room staff in Preston to work alongside those in the Boroughs of Fylde and South Ribble. Preston is an economic possibility stifled by its status, locked in by suspicious and cynical council leaders in neighbouring towns.

The modern economic reality is too serious for such parochialism. Our city boundaries need to respect that work, study and play in this part of Central Lancashire is no longer respectful of invisible lines drawn on across rivers and along roads. There’s no legitimate reason for South Ribble, Chorley or Fylde being separate when hundreds of thousands of residents already treat Preston as their “hub” for employment, university or college study, or social/piss-up outpost. There’s no legitimate reason why, having cooperated in reducing costs by merging backroom jobs, local councils can’t take the natural step to amalgamate.

My principle is “sphere of influence”. If you live in Tarleton, you’re within the Southport “sphere of influence”, only to be denied by the decision to create Sefton in the 1970s. Preston suffers the same – thousands of potential workers, students, and wealth creators living in Bamber Bridge, Leyland, Chorley, Kirkham, Lytham, all denied by an arbitrary line on a map.

Let’s respect opportunity more than geography. I’ve no time for the types in historic county organisations who wish to reclaim parts of the world which have no existed in forty or more years. I don’t accept calls to “bring back” such places as Middlesex or Westmorland, no more than I do any request to scrap decimal currency.

There’s far too much broken with our democracy – the voting systems at local councils are as close to “corrupt” as you can get, and Scotland is proof of how to resolve that simply by converting to the STV voting system. One other issue is the size and composition of the councils at this level – outdated boundaries drawn for partisan reasons. Cllr. Shannon says we need the “necessary courage” to create a new council, what would inevitably be called “Greater Preston”. I agree with him.

“Preston” was once over  half the size it is now, growing in size only when the separate borough of Fulwood was added in the 1970s. Now the next step has to be taken, not just to correct the problems of Prestonians living far beyond official borders, but to ensure the financial security of Lancashire’s true heart. Anything else is not an option – staying still won’t mean staying the same.

Lancashire – Boundary Review, take 2

And so it’s here, Schrödinger’s review, a wholesale review of Parliamentary boundaries which is both alive and dead, relevant and pointless, current and abandoned. Is it ongoing whilst also aware of its demise? It could be worth sitting down with a large cup of tea, or something stronger, to consider its position. First of all, a personal point. Whilst I had every faith that the Commission would take some notice of the Liberal Democrat proposals I supported (and in some cases assisted in selling at two public meetings), it appears that we failed to convince the scribes there to come round to our way of thinking. In some parts of this region the revised recommendations are – somehow – worse than the already cuckoo-bananas initial ideas. I challenge anyone to find a smaller community than “Reddish North” to be name-checked in a constituency. Anyway, to focus on the red rose county, here’s what the Commission now think should be the parliamentary make-up of Lancashire. You’ll find the maps for Lancashire over here.

Blackburn, Blackpool North and Fleetwood and Blackpool South are all unchanged from the initial proposals.

 Burnley and Accrington East and Pendle are significantly different from the initial proposals. Burnley is no longer divided somewhat arbitrarily across the town centre, which is a breakout of normality. It’s good to see Accrington isn’t cut up like a badly hacked onion either, though the justification for joining the two towns together is still fairly flimsy. There’s something of the “flat map syndrome” about it to my eyes, but at least the word “Pendle” has re-appeared on a constituency map. No explanation behind the reason to ditch it in the first place, by the way.

 The seat of Chorley has been left untouched, meaning it follow the size and shape of the council boundaries as initially proposed, as will Fylde.

 In the west of Lancashire, there’s a slightly different shape and a familiar name for Lancaster and Wyre, a modified version of the initially recommended “Lancaster”. The boundary alteration is the loss of Greyfriars, the most Fulwoodian of all Preston’s Fulwood wards, which is moved from Preston to join the towns of the A6 corridor all the way up to Lancaster city centre.

As ever, the city of Lancaster is split in half at Skerton, allowing Morecambe and Lunesdale to remain unchanged, All three parties agreed with each other on the “Fishwick issue”, brought about by the Commission initially proposing that the Preston ward of Fishwick should be attached to the rural expanse of Ribble Valley.

To balance up the numbers, Fishwick is now back with Preston, which loses Greyfriars but is otherwise exactly the same, so if these changes actually make it through the Commons (stop laughing), the constituency would be formed from almost the entire city, omitting Lea/Cottam, Greyfriars and the rural communities to the north. The modified Ribble Valley is essentially the seat fought at the 2010 election, taking in Bowland, Clitheroe, Longridge and Bamber Bridge/Walton-le-Dale. The ne thing this time round is the addition of Rishton and Great Harwood (dare I suggest amending the name to “Valleys of Ribble and Hynd”?).

South Ribble and West Lancashire have not been changed either, meaning that the former stretches from Leyland to the Southport border, crossing the River Douglas, and the latter brings together Ormskirk, Skelmersdale and all points surrounding. This leaves us with two very peculiar East Lancashire seats indeed, and these really are the Commission at their most…erm….well, peculiar. The new Rossendale and Oswaldtwistle gets a bonus point for mentioning Oswaldtwistle (let’s please have an honourable member for Oswaldtwistle.). The geography of the area is a bit tenuous, to put it nicely. I suppose it’s something that the connecting road is tarmaced at least. The shape of the seat resembles a dead rabbit, just squint.

Bolton North and Darwen joins together the northern suburbs from Bolton with the town of Darwen, logically enough, with a fair amount of hilly bits, moorland and twisty turny roads in between. To be fair, it’s an improvement on Rossendale and Darwen as currently exists (which the Commission seems to hate in its dismissal of our proposal). Wiser men than I will conclude what this means for the defending parties in each seat. It’s true that some already existing marginal seats will remain so – Blackpool, Chorley and South Ribble are already knife-edge without being altered too much. Significant additions of Tory territory into Lancaster and Preston will give Labour a bigger threat than usual, and in the east all three parties will face tough challenges in Burnley and Pendle.

Of course, all of this may be so much photocopier paper and highlighter pens. If there is no agreement between Coalition partners, never mind any other parties, there will be no boundary changes at all. Here’s to a whole host of “What might have been….”

Wales under review

Much later to the party than their counterparts across the other bits of the country, the Boundary Commissioners for Wales are gearing up to show off how they’ve managed to carve up Cymru under the new parliamentary constituency rules.

Reducing the number of MPs to 600 was never going to be without controversy – the English Commission was accused of treating the exercise like men of Empire armed with a ruler, a sharp HB and northern Africa. Their “Mersey Banks” will go down in legend.

Welsh MPs and commentators have been heavily critical of the consequences of the law, as the country will lose ten MPs,  25% in one strike. Arguments for and against have been oft-repeated – the Valleys seats are too small, the Valleys seats have to be that small, Welsh language constituencies must be protected, there should not be any protection for seats in Wales as there has been in the Highlands. Perhaps inevitably, Labour have been most critical, claiming the new legislation disrespects the Welsh people and their parliamentary history. In one waft of a hand, ten constituencies are removed from the map, Wales loses any influence within Parliament for purely partisan reasons.

These claims are so much fluff and bluster. The loss of MPs everywhere as part of this process does not rob anyone of their voice, influence or supply of green ink to write letters to the local gazette on the matter. Britain has always had too many parliamentarians – the reduction to 600 should be a first-step, not the final destination. Wales has its own Assembly and will have forty MPs shouting very loudly for attention – I don’t believe the loss of influence argument much at all.

The Welsh Commission have left it this late through all manner of confusion and administrative cock-ups. Their Local Government colleagues dropped enough balls to drown the First XI, which impacted on the national review. We’ve finally got whispers and hints on what’s to come this week, putting into motion the very tight timetable which has to end by October 2013.

North Wales should be the easiest for the Commissioners to fathom. Ynys Mon (Isle of Anglesey to you and me) has to be attached to the mainland somehow, which is handy because the Menai Strait isn’t exactly the Amazon (if you allow me to coin a phrase). The towns of the North Welsh coast are compacted together like neat jigsaw pieces, so expect Wrexham, Denbighshire, Flintshire and (Aber)Conwy to be largely touched. Good news for the three parties in contention to mop up the seats here – y Blaid will pick up the Anglesey/Bangor seat, Labour and Conservatives will divvy up the rest. One to watch? Wrexham, a dim and distant Conservative target which might yet one day turn blue.

South Wales has a trickier time of it. There’s a fair few mountains and valleys which get in the way, and the small town attitude is not mere awkwardness. The pride and tradition of the industrial and mining past will live on as long as women of ample bosom have enough breath in their lungs to belt out “Land of my Fathers” at fifty paces. This is where the problems start. Cardiff will lose a seat, and this puts the Liberal Democrats under particular strain in holding on to their only bit of the capital city. Swansea will be divided into two – one bit attached to Gower – whilst Newport is likely to be broken up into “doughnut” style into central and outer seats.

What happens to the Labour bankers (if you will) depends on how many mountain passes and mining villages the Commissioners choose to split down the middle.

Mid Wales will see both east and west sides of the country carved up as never before – the statutory minimum constituency size is not kind to sparsely populated rural hinterlands and as a result there will be clumsy rural/urban combinations. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will be concerned with how the Carmarthen/Pembroke mathematics work out. Geography may have to mean nothing for the sake of making the numbers work – as the English Commission has so enthusiastically displayed.

For your perusal, a very convincing 30-seat Wales is presented on the Syniadu blog, written by blogger Penddu.

The Boundary Commission will present its initial proposals this week on their website

Ballot papers decide elections though the administrator’s pencil is sharp enough to make points in the fabric of democracy. How Wales is governed in the long-term depends on the decisions of the Assembly and of Westminster – the loss of 10 MPs in one go will colour that debate intensely.

Boundary proposals – North West England

I have agreed to help the North West Region LibDems with their submission for this year’s great Parliamentary Boundary jamboree, so this post should be treated more a précis than any suggestion of what the Region is suggesting instead.

In very brief terms, what the Boundary Commission for England has performed is a highly impressive, highly skilled, and ultimately very controversial. In some cases, the proposals are simply not workable. They should be cohesive, coherent, and democratically valid.

However, commenting much on these proposals in this medium won’t get me very far with the bods in Region, so I present instead a quick overview of what is being proposed.

If you want to react to these changes, either do so in this blog (for I’m always up for seeing what other people suggest), or go to the Boundary Commission’s website.

City of Manchester

1) Blackley and Broughton.  Includes the Broughton and Kersal wards of Salford Council, and brings in Cheetham, Moston, Newton Heath, Crumpsall and surrounding areas.  The Charlestown ward is moved into a proposed cross-border seat called Middleton


2) Manchester Central.  Two city centres in this proposal – Manchester and Salford, four wards from each coming together into one constituency.

3)Manchester Gorton, Takes Ardwick, Gorton, Levenhsulme, Longsight, Moss Side and Rusholme

4) Manchester Withington. Loses Didsbury from the existing seat.  Includes such areas as Chorlton and Chorlton Park, Old Moat, Whalley Range and Fallowfield.

5) Middleton. Very close to an idea I had for a “Middleton, Moston and Failsworth” seat way back when, this new cross-border creation brings together communities whose common theme is close proximity to the point at which three local councils meet. Includes Chadderton, Heywood and Middleton

6) Wythenshawe. The southern quarter of Manchester, with Sale Moor ward from Trafford, also incorporates Didsbury.

City of Liverpool

1) Bootle.  Due to the size and shape of Sefton’s wards, it’s no wonder things are a bit messy round there. One Liverpool ward is attached (they call it an “orphan” in the business) to this slight return to a previous constituency.  Kirkdale joins the southern swathes of Sefton.

2) Huyton and Halewood. This is the natural successor to existing Garston and Halewood, and incorporates only two Liverpool wards.  Why it drops “Garston” is a mystery.

3) Liverpool North A boring name for a pick-n-mix seat including, amongst other bits, Kirkby Central, Croxteth, Warbrek, and the Netherton/Orrell ward from Sefton.

4) Liverpool Riverside An expanded version of the existing seat –  includes the city centre, Everton, Picton and St Michael’s

5) Liverpool Wavertree  I think this is unchanged – includes Allerton, Hunts Cross,  Cressington, Woolton and Wavertree itself.

6) Liverpool West Derby Has been expanded and includes, amongst others,  Anfield, Knotty Ash, Tuebrook/Stoneycroft, Yew tree and Stockbridge from Knowsley.

City of Salford

1) Blackley and Broughton. As above

2) Leigh. In what is a badly drawn and incorrectly named seat (this is me trying not to judge or suggest alternatives), the outskirts of Leigh are attached to Irlam, Walkden and Little Hulton.  So not quite “Leigh” really, more “Salford East and Tyldesley”.

3) Manchester Central. As above

4) Swinton Or perhaps “Eccles and something, something”.  This is the left-over bits of Salford – Barton, Eccles, Pendlebury, Winton, Swinton, and Worsley.

Borough of Wigan

1) Leigh. As above

2) Makerfield Altered a bit – includes Ashton, Bryn, Lowton (both East and West), Winstanley and perennially mispronounced pub-quiz favourite Worsley Mesnes. Clue – it’s not “mes-nes”

3) Westhoughton The border-line fringes of both Wigan and Bolton combine in this one – includes Hindley and Leigh West, the latter being, pretty much, the town of Leigh.

4) Wigan. No change – the town itself plus Standish, Pemberton, Ince, Shevington and the ward name which looks like a mis-print “Aspull New Springs Whelley”.  No commas.

Borough of Bolton

1) Bolton North. Incorporates Astley Bridge, Heaton, one half of Horwich, Tonge with the Haulgh, and Crompton.

2) Bolton South which brings together Kearsley, Farnworth, a trio of Levers and Harper Green.

3) Bury North is over 90% Bury, and brings in Bradshaw ward from Bolton

4) Weshoughton as above

Borough of St Helens

1)  St Helens North 
2) St Helens South and Whiston   Neither of which change at all

Borough of Trafford

1) Altrincham and Sale.  The existing seat extended a bit further.

2) Stretford and Urmston.  Not much change here either –  Davyhulme, Stretford, Urmston, Clifford and Ashton-upon-Mersey all incorporated.

3) Wythenshawe  As above.

Borough of Oldham

1) Ashton-under-Lyne Takes the three Ashton wards and combines with Failsworth, Hollinwood and one half of Chadderton.  Name change needed perhaps?

2) Middleton. As above

3) Oldham and Saddleworth An expanded version of the existing Oldham East

4) Rochdale South No, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s Crompton, Royton’s northern ward and Shaw attached to Castleton, Kingsway and Deeplish amongst others.

Borough of Rochdale

1) Middleton As above

2) Rochdale North and Rawtenstall  A very ye-olde Lancashire seat this one, taking the town centre of Rochdale and all parts around and attaching it to the southern cotton and factory villages of Rossendale.

3) Rochdale South As above

Borough of Stockport

1) Cheadle  Combines, amongst others, Bramhall, Cheadle, Davenport and Heald Green

2) Denton Gives one ward – Bredbury and Woodley – to a cross-border seat with the Denton and Droylsden parts of Tameside

3) Hazel Grove and Poynton. Attaches Hazel Grove and Marple with Poynton from over the border in Cheshire

4) Stockport  The town itself, also including both Heatons and Reddish. I don’t mind saying at this point that I had proposed “Didsbury and The Heatons” but this was swiftly never spoken of again

Borough of Bury

1) Bury North takes Bradshaw from Bolton
2) Bury South doesn’t appear changed at all

Borough of Tameside

1) Ashton-under-Lyne As above

2) Denton As above

3) Stalybridge and Hyde. The existing seat, plus Dukinfield

Borough of Knowsley

1) Huyton and Halewood,. As above.

2) Liverpool North.  As above.

3) Liverpool West Derby. As above.

4) Maghull. One of the posher bits of Sefton (the other being Southport) attached to left over bits of Knowsley. The ward names are fairly anonymous – Park, Northwood, Whitefield – though these cover the northwest fringes of Kirkby.

5) St Helens South and Whiston.  As above.

Borough of Sefton

1) Bootle. As above

2) Liverpool North. As above.

3) Maghull. As above

4) Southport.  The existing town of Southport with approximately 2/3rd  Formby.

Lancashire –  Boroughs of Chorley, West Lancashire, and South Ribble

1) Chorley is drawn to be completely coterminous with the Borough

2) South Ribble is barely changed at all, adding Farington and Lostock Hall back into a seat they should not have been taken away from in the first place.  Also includes Tarleton, North Meols, Hesketh Bank, and Rufford from West Lancashire.

3) West Lancashire is unchanged – Ormskirk, Skelmersdale, Burscough and surrounding fields of what appears from the train to be two-thirds of the county’s entire vegetable import for the year

Lancashire – City of Preston, Boroughs of Fylde, Wyre,  Blackpool and Ribble Valley

1) Preston expands to take almost all the city wards – oddly, and somewhat free of all logic and reason, this means Lea, Cottam and Fishwick are all excluded. Would be the first time since, I think, before the Second World War that so much of the borough was included in the same constituency – only the rural parishes and Lea and Fishwick are elsewhere.

2) Fylde continues to incorporate the parish of Lea and Cottam. Otherwise the other major addition is Poulton-le-Fylde from Wyre.

3) Lancaster is very oddly named – the boundaries are essentially the same as “Lancaster and Wyre” which existed between 1997 and 2010.  Anyway, this is “Lancaster, the M6 Corridor and bits of rural Preston”, including Grimsargh, Goosnargh and Woodplumpton. I’m not making up any of those place-names.

4) Blackpool North and Fleetwood is essentially status quo ante

5) Blackpool South avoids the temptation to cross into Lytham St Annes and cause a riot, by  moving ever more suburban. Includes Squire’s Gate, Layton, Stanley, Waterloo, Bloomfield and Claremont.  I think the Tower is in this seat.

6) Ribble Valley continues to be a right old funny one – not only continuing to include Bamber Bridge, but now Fishwick, which would mean one of Preston’s main thoroughfares (not to mention some of the most socially and economically troubled parts of England) are hobbled onto one of the most expansive and rural.

Lancashire – City of Lancaster

1) Lancaster. As above

2) Morecambe and Lunesdale  A slightly bigger version of the current seat

Lancashire – Boroughs of Blackburn and Darwen, Hyndburn, and Rossendale

1) Blackburn is virtually unchanged. Includes only seats within and surrounding the town itself – amongst their number, Audley, Ewood, Livesey with Pleasington, Wensley Fold, Little Harwood and Roe Lee.

2) Darwen and Haslingden takes areas from three boroughs, including Oswaldtwistle and Haslingden, expanding the current Rossendale and Darwen seat into new directions,

3) Burnley South and Accrington joins together the industrial bits from both these stoic northern towns, including Cliviger, Huncoat, Hapton, Rosehill, Clayton-le-Moors, Overton and Gawthorpe.

4)Rochale North and Rawtenstall As above.

Lancashire – Boroughs of Burnley and Pendle

1) Burnley North and Nelson. Takes the borough of Pendle and slots the most immediate neighbours at the bottom. Nostalgics amongst you might think it’s a reinvention of an old seat, but it is pretty much untested territory.

2) Burnley South and Accrington. As above.