Boundaries get in the way

Cherwell District

Cherwell District

The Local Government Boundary Commission is conducting a review of Cherwell District Council’s ward boundaries.  These happen regularly at all levels of government and are always a nightmare to insiders and a matter of almost total indifference to electors generally.  Before reflecting on the likely outcome of the review, it might be quite illuminating to think about boundaries. Most of the time, I suspect we accept their existence and their impact on us without question. Take some examples:

I live at Nell Bridge House in Adderbury. The Post Office stipulates that I live in the Postal Town area of Banbury and totally ignores the county of Oxfordshire in its workings. I am five miles away from Banbury and do not feel part of it. My post code is OX17 which at least distinguishes Adderbury from Banbury (OX16). Bloxham and Bodicote enjoy OX15 but are also wrapped into Banbury as their Postal Town.  Cross the county boundary 100 yards from Nell Bridge House and you are in Northants but the Post Code is still OX17.  Turn left and drive to Kings Sutton and it is still Kings Sutton and the Postal Town remains Banbury despite the village being in Northants.  I wonder if HM The Queen includes Slough (her Postal Town) when writing from Windsor Castle?  I doubt it.

Energy companies and BT employ different boundaries.  The Thames Valley Police area covers three counties and is sub-divided along different lines and so it goes on.  It would be impossible to design coterminous boundaries for different organisations so we have to learn to live within what we are given – at least most of the time.

When it comes to government and local government, boundaries are even more confusing.  Locally, Nell Bridge House is in Adderbury which is a Parish in its own right with its own parish council, elected every four years.  In turn it is a part of Cherwell District Council which covers the three rural areas of Banbury, Bicester and Kidlington plus the villages that surround them.  Cherwell is elected in thirds with no elections in each fourth year when the county council elections occur (next due in 2016).  Cherwell is one of five district councils that make up the county of Oxfordshire.  The others are West Oxfordshire (also elected in thirds), South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse (both elected all-out once every four years) and Oxford City (elected in halves every two years).  Confusing?  It certainly is!

Towns like Banbury have a mayor as their civic leader; Kidlington is technically a village (allegedly the biggest one in England!) and, in common with other villages, the civic leader of their parish council is the chairman. District and county councils have a civic leader called a chairman except for the City of Oxford which, because it has Christchurch Cathedral, is entitled to have a lord mayor although he is not a peer!  If you live in a street on the edge of the City of Oxford, you may find that one side of the road is in the City with elections every other year while the other side of the road is in a district council with all-up elections once in four years.  all designed to confuse and dissuade people from taking an interest.

Moving up to the parliamentary level does not get any easier.  Most of Cherwell (Banbury, Bicester and their proximate villages) is in Banbury constituency but Kidlington is in Oxford West & Abingdon constituency.  Witney constituency is just about contiguous with West Oxfordshire District Council with the result that Cameron thinks of local government as equal to this tiny district and he has little conception of the major role played by county councils in two-tier areas.  Many MPs are the same.  It gets more confusing in the south of the county with Henley and Wantage constituencies plus Oxford East in the eastern half of Oxford City.

Now to the boundary review proposed for Cherwell District Council.  The Local Government Boundary Commission is an independent body whose duties are specified by law and is free to reach its decisions within that legal framework.  The review is charged with deciding:

  • the number of councillors appropriate for the council;
  • the number, boundaries and names of council wards;
  • the number of councillors in each ward.

Cherwell currently has 50 councillors serving 28 wards with a variety of arrangements as follows:

Banbury has 4 three-member wards: Easington, Grimsbury & Castle, Hardwick and  Ruscote and 2 tw0-member wards: Calthorpe and Neithrop.

Bicester has 4 two-member wards: East, North, South and Town and 1 three-member ward: West.

Kidlington has 1 two-member ward: North and 1 three-member ward: South.

Most of the villages are arranged in single member wards: Adderbury; Ambrosden & Chesterton; Caversfield; Cropredy; Deddington; Fringford; Hook Norton; Kirtlington;  Launton; Otmoor; Sibford and Wroxton.

However, Bloxham, Bodicote & Milcombe, The Astons & Heyfords and Yarnton, Gosford & Water Eaton are grouped into 3 two-member wards.

The Local Government Boundary Commission proposes significant changes of which I wholly disapprove. The Commission is driven by arithmetical equality of voters in each ward.  They argue that large differences in ward sizes are unfair because they give some voters more valuable votes than others.  If you remember that the sizes of parliamentary constituencies vary hugely (average electors in England 72,127;  in Scotland 66,.593; in Wales 57,040; in Northern Ireland 66,146) and you remember the appalling low turnout for local government elections, I think this argument for equality of representation per ward is utterly spurious and leads to wholly inappropriate division into wards.

The Commission has decided to impose 16 three-member wards on Cherwell.  While this has been broadly the pattern in the urban areas (two- or three-member wards are the norm), it is not true of the rural areas.  To understand the outcome of the proposals and why they are so undesirable, let us take a case study of Adderbury, the village in which I live.

At present, Adderbury is a single-member ward in Cherwell District Council and the elected member is Cllr Nigel Randall.  Nigel represents some 2,200 electors.  His ward is up for election once in four years when he will have to canvass some 1,000 houses in Adderbury.  There is a single parish council which he will be expected to attend as an observer monthly.

The Commission proposes creating a new ward comprising Adderbury, Bloxham and Bodicote with three councillors elected one in each of three years with a blank fourth year when the county elections occur.  This much larger ward will comprise close to 7,000 electors in some 3,4500 houses. If Nigel is one of the three councillors, he will be faced with two choices:

  • Nigel can either turn out once in four years to canvass 3,500 houses with whatever team of helpers he can muster or
  • Nigel can work with his other two colleagues and turn out in three years out of four to canvass the patch with his colleagues.

There are three parish councils in these three villages and it is not unreasonable that they will expect to see all three of their councillors every month.  The councillors could agree to split their responsibilities with one taking each parish council but this would only happen if all three elected members were from the same political party.

In order to make work manageable and to avoid duplication, it would make sense for the three councillors, once elected, to agree how they split their representation, each taking one of the three villages.  However this would only happen if they were of the same political party.  In any case, if they want to be re-elected, they have to ensure they are known across this large ward so the idea of dividing responsibilities is almost certainly a non-starter.  Will people like Nigel Randall and others presently looking after single-member wards want to take on a much more onerous role in 2016?  You will have to ask them but I suspect there will be quite a struggle to find willing candidates for this changed political landscape.

In my view the whole proposed arrangement is a complete nonsense and it would make much more sense to create three wards, albeit of different sizes called Adderbury (2,300 electors), Bloxham (2,900 electors) and Bodicote (1,800 electors). Electors would know quite clearly who was their councillor and could hold them properly to account.  In two or three-member wards, this accountability is lost.  Most electors will have no idea who is hard-working and who is idle.  Once again, the blind imposition of equality over all other values creates an undemocratic nonsense.

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Brothers Barack and Dave – a secret handshake?

I have been quite amused by the flurry of media comment after our Prime Minister let slip  that US President Barack Obama addresses our Dave as “Bro” in telephone calls.  The media have gone into overdrive to dissect the use of the word and its possible implications. The Guardian demonstrated its left-wing bias with the following swipe at our PM: “Let’s be real, David Cameron has a major man crush on Barack Obama. For years he has been trotting after the president doing whatever it takes to form a “special relationship” with the guy. They’ve taken bad-taste selfies together, played bad ping-pong together and spent hours chatting on the phone. Now, Cameron has exclusively revealed to the Mail on Sunday that all that bonding has paid off and, sometimes, Potus calls him ‘bro’.

Obama_CameronThe Guardian journalist, Miss Arwa Mahdawi, clearly had plenty of time on her hands to research use of the word “bro” in the USA, being sure to develop the theme of black and white differences and doing her best to rubbish our country’s special relationship with the USA and our Prime Minister in the process.  Just what you would expect from The Guardian.  Sadly, she missed a much more intriguing possibility.  Look at the picture.  Is there anything special about the handshake?  Could this be a Masonic greeting?  Miss Mahdawi is no doubt well-educated but I suspect she would know little about Freemasonry and it may not have crossed her mind that “Bro” or “Brother” is the universal greeting among Masons.

There were quite a few US Presidents who were Freemasons: George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Gerald Ford.  Might Barack Obama have taken the three degrees of Masonry?  I rather doubt it!  Freemasonry bans two topics in its meetings – religion and politics.  It is not a religion and it is not political in any sense.  However, membership requires belief in a Supreme Being and the Craft is strongly steeped in tradition and moral values.  Obama’s left-wing views and his attraction to political correctness would make it unlikely that he would feel attracted to the principles of Masonry and I rather suspect his wife would not encourage membership despite the fact that there are plenty of Lodges for lady Masons.

What neither of them may know and what I am sure Miss Mahdawi of the Guardian does not know is that one of the earliest US Lodges was Prince Hall Lodge, founded in 1784 as the African Lodge No 1 within the English Constitution and subsequently re-named as the Prince Hall Lodge.  Prince Hall was an African slave and a campaigning abolitionist of slavery.

dollar billRather more intriguing, the US dollar bill contains Masonic Statue of Libertysymbols as does the Statue of Liberty.  Masonry in the USA is much more open and much more accepted than in the UK.  While I do not agree with the style of US Masonry with mass initiations and mass membership, I do think their openness and public acceptance provides UK Masons with some real lessons.

Finally, to our Prime Minister.  Might he be a closet Freemason?  There are few senior politicians we know to be Masons apart from George Canning in the 19th century and Winston Churchill in the 20th.  I fear the silly falsehoods and resulting paranoia that Masonry still endures in the UK have probably prevented many senior politicians from pursuing a Masonic career or at least admitting to it. Sadly, I fear Freemasonry is not our Dave’s style and, even if it was, I suspect his media instincts would tell him not to engage.  This is his loss.

So, to conclude, I doubt the handshake between Barack and Dave had any Masonic connotations and neither did the salutation “bro” between two members of their metropolitan elites.   However, a better educated journalist with a wider and more open-minded perspective might have enjoyed that alternative speculation.


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That partridge in a pear tree

Twelve Days of XmasThere is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans and, especially, the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?  This week, I found out.  Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

  1. Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
  2. Three French hens stood for faith, hope and charity.
  3. Four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
  4. Five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
  5. Six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
  6. Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit – Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership & Mercy.
  7. Eight maids a-milking were the eight Beatitudes.
  8. Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit – Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self Control.
  9. Ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
  10. Eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
  11. The twelve drummers drumming symbolised the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

So there is your history for today and it reminds me of a very old Elvis Presley song or, if you are as old as me, you may remember Tex Ritter sung it before Elvis.  This is how it goes (more spoken than sung):

deck of cardsDuring the North African campaign a bunch of soldier boys had been on a long hike and they arrived in a little town called Cassino. The next day being Sunday, several of the boys went to church. After the chaplain had read the prayer the text was taken up. Those of the boys who had a prayer book took them out but this one boy had only a deck of cards and so he spread them out. The Sergeant who commanded the boys saw the cards and said, “Soldier put away those cards.” After the service was over, the soldier was taken prisoner and brought before the provost marshal.

The Marshal said, “Sergeant, why have you brought the man here?” He replied “For playing cards in church, Sir.” The Marshall asked “And what have you got to say for yourself, son?” and the soldier replied: “Much, Sir” . The Marshall said, “I hope so for, if not, I shall punish you more than any man was ever punished.” The soldier said, “Sir, I’ve been on the march for about six days, I had neither Bible nor prayer book but I hope to satisfy you, Sir, with the purity of my intentions.” With that, the boy started his story:

You see Sir, when I look at the “ACE”, it reminds me that there is but one God;

And the “DEUCE” reminds me that the Bible is divided into two parts; The Old and the New Testaments

And when I see the “THREE”, I think of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost

And when I see the “FOUR”, I think of the four Evangelists who preached the Gospel. There was Matthew, Mark, Luke & John

And when I see the “FIVE”, it reminds me of the five wise virgins who trimmed their lamps. There were ten of them, five were wise and were saved. Five were foolish and were shut out

And when I see the “SIX”, it reminds me that, in six days, God made this great heaven and earth;

When I see the “SEVEN”, it reminds me that on the seventh day, God rested from His great work;

And when I see the “EIGHT”, I think of the eight righteous persons God saved when He destroyed this earth. There was Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives

And when I see the “NINE”, I think of the lepers our Saviour cleansed and nine out of the ten didn’t even thank Him

When I see the “TEN”, I think of the Ten Commandments God handed down to Moses on a table of stone

When I see the “KING”, it reminds me that there is but one King of Heaven, God Almighty

And when I see the “QUEEN” I think of the Blessed Virgin Mary who is Queen of Heaven

And the “JACK” or “KNAVE” is the Devil

When I count the number of spots on a deck of cards, I find 365, the number of days in a year.  There’s 52 cards, the number of weeks in a year.  There’s 4 suits, the number of weeks in a month.  There’s 12 picture cards, the number of months in a year.  There’s 13 tricks, the number of weeks in a quarter.

So you see, Sir, my pack of cards serves me as a Bible, Almanac and Prayer Book.

Have a Happy New Year!

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Tally ho!

Bicester Hunt

Bicester Hunt

It is great to know that, as I write this post, hunts will have met up and down the country for their traditional Boxing Day meets and will have been greeted by thousands of people who went out to see this traditional spectacle and to express their support for hunting with hounds.  Locally, the Heythrop Hunt will have met in the centre of Chipping Norton and I know from past experience that the town will be crowded with pedestrians eager to cheer them on.  A little further away, at Winslow, the Bicester Hunt with Whaddon Chase will have held their Boxing Day meet and this small Buckinghamshire town will have been flooded with well wishers and supporters.  Some people simply turn out once a year to witness this part of our country’s tradition.  For others, it is a weekly pleasure to turn out on horseback or on foot and to follow hounds always, of course, within the law.

However, the Hunting Act is a stupid, vindictive and discriminatory law and it needs to be repealed so I am delighted to read that a Conservative government will pave the way for a free vote in Parliament to abolish the Hunting Act.  Of course, this requires the return of a Conservative majority at the 2015 General Election and that is still a matter far too close to call.  What is particularly interesting is the application of the West Lothian question to this issue.  The Hunting Act is applied to England and Wales.  Scotland has its own legislation.  Northern Ireland has none.  Logic would demand that Scottish MPs should not vote on legislation which only applies to England but logic can be notably absent when emotion runs high.

There are plenty of reasons for a Conservative government in 2015 that does not rely on a shaky coalition with another group.  There are also plenty of reasons why the West Lothian question needs resolving, leaving Scotland to pursue its own socialist goals – providing Scotland foots the bill for them – while England can enjoy a smaller state and rising prosperity for all of its citizens.  Allowing those who wish to hunt with hounds without the threat of a murky, illiberal and discriminatory law hanging over their heads is just one of them.

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More wheelchairs, buggies and buses


Well!  What an interesting time it has been since my earlier post on 13 November 2014!  What a fascinating flurry of abuse and disinformation it has set in train.  I can’t pretend to be surprised; I did not pen the first piece without having a clear idea of the  likely result.  There are some issues in this country where any divergence from the assumed “correct” norm is treated with ridicule, contempt, anger and rudeness.  Race is one; disability is another; equality tends to wrap the two together.  It means that an awful lot of people are afraid to speak up and challenge the received wisdom imposed by a powerful elite.

So, let’s start with what I wrote in my first blog.  I set out the reported news story of a clash between a wheelchair user trying to board a bus and a mother with a child in a buggy and occupying a space reserved for a wheelchair user.  I set out the position of the two protagonists; suggested who seemed to be in the wrong and noted what seemed incontrovertible – that two parties had refused to give way and the poor old bus company had taken the rap and the hefty fine.

Now, I was never going to have people flocking to my defence here.  I have too many black marks against me or should I say “spectrally absorbent” marks to be politically correct?

Firstly, I am not disabled. In fact, I have barely had a day’s illness in my life for which I am eternally grateful but it seems that, in the eyes of some correspondents, this disbars me from commenting on disability issues.  I don’t do gesture politics so I have never got into a wheelchair and wheeled myself around the streets.  I don’t need to do that to imagine what it is like.

Secondly, I am a Conservative and clearly seen as the devil incarnate by some of the correspondents to this piece.  To add to my sinful characteristics, I am white, male, past retirement age and not gay so consistently fail the Guardian test.

Thirdly, I spoke up for the poor old bus company that got a hefty fine for being caught up in a dispute between a wheelchair user and a mother with child.  You might have thought I was supporting Lehman Brothers or Genghis Khan to see the reaction of some correspondents.

Fourthly, another particularly dire black mark, I have been a local politician for 24 years.  Clearly, some correspondents regard all politicians as intrinsically evil, thoroughly venal, incapable of speaking the truth and only out for what they can get.  I deply resent that suggestion and reject it strongly.  As Leader of the Council I was fully aware of the requirements of disability legislation and my council was rigorous in meeting its obligations.

Fifthly, I was accused of being uncaring, out of touch with reality and of having a butler! If I had continued my career as a Chartered Accountant in the private sector for a second quarter century, I would probably have ended up wealthy enough to employ a butler and several other servants.  I did not do this.  I chose to enter public service in local government and spent eleven years as Leader of the Council, working a seven day week, fourteen hour day for the same pay as an Oxford bus driver.  I don’t regret this in the slightest;  it was a great job and it involved helping people less well off and less able to look after themselves so don’t preach to me about being on the make.

Finally, I had the temerity not to reply to the small deluge of responses from Mr Doug Paulley; Mrs Samantha Covington; someone calling herself “Emma594″ and someone rejoicing in the name of “Chris Squirrelpot”.  I simply uploaded their rude, aggressive and personal diatribes for the world to see.  This clearly infuriated my little band of correspondents and caused them to continue trying to taunt me into replies.  My amusement at their antics was proportionate to their irritation at my refusal to do so!

Something all politicians have to do constantly, is to judge the relative needs of different interest groups.  In doing so, they have to consider those needs dispassionately and to avoid being influenced by those who shout loudest or most often.  That may be disappointing and frustrating to those who are well equipped to make the most noise but it is an integral part of the politician’s role.

More recently, we have had a ruling from the European Court of Justice that extreme obesity is to be classified as a disability. Now, I recognise that, for some, extreme obesity can be the result of physiology beyond their control.  However, for many, it can be the result of their own stupid actions. If ever there was a case for an element of common sense in disability legislation, this surely has to be the starting point?  If someone who has deliberately eaten their way through mountains of inappropriate food for long enough to weigh 25 stone or more is to have automatic precedence over a mother with an infant in a pram or an old person with heavy shopping, there is something wrong with our laws or, at least, our submission to European laws of this kind.

I will close this Boxing Day Blog with my best wishes to the little band of correspondents I have listed above for a happy and, I hope, a busy new year.  May they live in interesting times!

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Wheelchairs, buggies and buses

Doug Paulley

Doug Paulley

What a muddle we seem to have with the First Bus Company having been found guilty of discrimination when a wheelchair user (36-year old Mr Doug Paulley) was unable to board one of their buses because the single space reserved on the bus for a disabled wheelchair passenger was occupied by a lady with a buggy who refused to move because her baby was sleeping.

Now, I can understand Mr Paulley being upset because he could not board the bus. had to wait for a later one and, therefore, missed a train connection  I can also understand the lady not wishing to wake her sleeping child although, technically it seems she was occupying a space specifically reserved for a disabled passenger so one might feel she was in the wrong here.  However, why the bus company should be found guilty of discrimination baffles me.  Indeed, why the bus company should be in the dock at all baffles me.  Should the driver have stopped the bus, ‘phoned his bosses and sought instruction, thus delaying everyone?  Should the company have told him to eject the lady and her pram, using force if necessary?

Royal Courts of Justice

Royal Courts of Justice

Now First Bus is appealing the decision of the County Court and, guess what, the appeal will be heard in the Appeal Court and is expected to last three days!  I assumed Mr Paulley was on legal aid but research shows that his costs are being funded by the Equality & Human Rights Commission which still means us the taxpayer.  No doubt the bus company is having to stump up its costs from its own resources which means its fare payers.  The net result, regardless of the outcome, is that the public will bear the cost of this unseemly dispute either through the legal aid bill that comes out of our taxes or because the bus company has to foot a hefty lawyers’ bill which will come out of their passengers’ fares.  Only the lawyers win here.

Where has common sense gone in this fruitless pursuit of equality?  What would have happened if the bus had already taken on board another wheelchair user who was lawfully occupying the single disabled passenger’s spot?  Would Mr Paulley still have won his discrimination case then?  Is this about creating a larger space in every bus for disabled users?  If so, isn’t it for legislators and not judges to make this decision and to reflect on the cost of such a requirement?

I rather think that, in 99% of incidents like this, common sense would have prevailed.  The wheelchair user, seeing a sleeping baby in the buggy might well have said “don’t worry lady; I will catch the next one”.  Equally, the lady might have picked up her baby, squashed him onto a seat and moved the buggy for the wheelchair if there was space.  We seem to have had a collision of two obdurate characters here; a wheelchair user demanding the full extent of his rights and a mother unwilling to disturb her baby’s sleep.  The victim, caught in the middle, is the poor old bus company and its driver stuck between a rock and a hard place and having to pay heftily for the privilege.

A little Googling reveals an interesting side to Mr Doug Paulley.  It seems he is a regular Tweeter and has his own web site in which he describes himself as a “web designer, environmentalist, animal rights activist and a disability activist” which may explain why common sense and good manners never featured in this case. I suppose he will be out with the hunt saboteurs next and taking some farmer to court for not providing disabled access across his farmland!

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A mayor for Oxfordshire?

Mayor of London

Mayor of London

George Osborne announced on Monday 3 November that Greater Manchester is to get its own directly-elected city-wide mayor with powers over transport, housing, planning and policing.  Although we tend to think of Manchester as a single, sprawling metropolis, in local government terms, it consists of 10 separate local councils: Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council, Bury Metropolitan Borough Council, Manchester City Council, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, Salford City Council, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council and Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council.   For some time these councils have been cooperating through membership of a Greater Manchester Combined Authority which represents these 10 authorities.

George Osborne’s announcement will lead, in time, to the election of a Mayor for the area with powers over a huge transport budget including bus services and integrated ticketing for all modes of public transport. He will be responsible for strategic planning for the area and will control a £300 million Housing Investment Fund.  Interestingly, he will take on the role of Police & Crime Commissioner.

This pretty much mirrors the role of Boris Johnson as Mayor of London.  Again, we think of London as a huge and sprawling metropolis but its local government is split between 32 London boroughs – 12 inner London and 20 outer London.  The concept of a directly-elected Mayor for London has clearly worked well; accountability is obvious, particularly with a colourful character like Boris.  The underground works well; the buses are better and the congestion charge has helped to reduce congestion and to improve air quality. Boris’s Barclays Bank bicycles have also been a boon for those who cycle.

What I find hugely amusing is that we are returning to a form of regional government enacted in a stealthy manner by a Conservative government.  Traditionally and, I think, wrongly, the Conservative Party has rejected the whole concept of regionalism when it should have been rejecting Labour’s version of it in the form of unelected regional assemblies.  It is pretty obvious that functional economic areas like London, Birmingham and Manchester will only function effectively if strategic decisions can be taken quickly and delivered locally.  The only alternative to strong regional bodies that are strategic is for Westminster to try to second guess what is best for an area and that will never work as well as local planning and implementation.  London could never achieve its maximum economic performance if its governance was left to 32 disparate and pretty small London boroughs.  Equally, Manchester found the need to combine the decision-making of its 10 authorities into a Greater Manchester Combiner Authority, led by Lord Peter Smith and Sir Richard Leese – two Labour politicians. The next obvious step is to create the mechanism for a directly-elected Mayor of Manchester and I strongly suspect Birmingham, Liverpool. Leeds and Newcastle will not be far behind.

Greater London has a population of 8½ million people.  Greater Manchester has 2½ million.  Greater Birmingham is close to 3 million while the Liverpool city region is some 2 million and Tyneside has close to 1 million people.  What binds them together is that they are functional economic areas, divided into several local government areas by boundaries that ignore economic reality.  What they need is coherent, strategic planning that stretches across those boundaries and could provide for strong economic growth and the power to argue for necessary infrastructure investment. I predict they will all have directly elected mayors within five years, regardless of the political colour of the government of the day.

I would like to see this political and economic devolution go much further.  There are plenty of slightly smaller parts of the country that are functional economic areas.  Oxfordshire is one such area with a population approaching 700,000, with a university City at its heart but with vibrant market towns and strong economic linkages across its 1,000 square miles.  This economic functionality is emphasised by travel to work patterns and a good transport network of road, rail and buses.  Like the bigger metropolitan areas, Oxfordshire is divided into five district councils and there is also an upper tier county council.  While the boundaries of the latter are broadly contiguous with the mapping of the functional economic area, the district boundaries cut straight across them and make no sense.  Indeed, they present a straight jacket that is suffocating the City of Oxford.  There are really two options to make Oxfordshire’s economy hum and to improve the quality of life for its population.  Either, create a single unitary county council for the whole of Oxfordshire to plan for the single economy that lies within it or create an elected-mayor along the lines of Manchester with powers and a budget for strategic planning, transport and economic development and leave the mayor to drive through policies that will turn Oxfordshire into the economic dynamo it has the potential to be but also to remain a great place in which to live and work.

I would never have dared to suggest either of these options while I was Leader of the County Council.  The large number of dual hatters would have caused my rapid downfall as Leader for advocating unitary government and directly-elected mayors are not too popular with many councillors because they would be expected to curb their powers.  Now I am too old to consider running for Oxfordshire’s Mayor, I feel a lot more able to extol the virtues of the idea without being accused of wanting the job for myself!

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