Local decision making – not there to avoid hard decisions

Disappointing result from the Manchester congestion charge referendum, but not unexpected. The adverts I saw around Wigan from the YES campaign were dull and uninspired – probably not wishing to show people smiling and happy with their shiny new public transport. The NO campaign was easy – don’t let the bastards take more of your hard earned money. Mix that with a recession and your three year plans towards a referendum quite easily go up in smoke.

Would the vote have been won if there wasn’t a recession? No. The margin would have been closer, perhaps 70/30 instead of 80/20.

But improving the public transport infrastructure and getting more cars off the roads is essential – particularly in cities like Manchester. It amazes me that Ormskirk is considered to have unusually bad traffic problems. Yes there are things that we need to sort out, but when you travel around towns in Gtr Manchester you realise that something radical needs to be done across the board.

Which gets to my main concern: the charade of local decision making on issues such as this.

I think that the rejection of the transport innovation fund in Manchester is similar to the rejection of free swimming by our local council and many others around the country. A quick google search found EIGHT local councils on the first page of ten results.
These were:

I’m sure there would be plenty more had I bothered to click on “next page”, but the point is obvious. West Lancs isn’t the only Council choosing to betray it’s children or old folk, they’re doing it all over the country.

Why? Because the Government gave the Councils a choice in the first place. They could have said “Here’s your share of £140 million for free swimming – now go and get on with it”… instead they gave Councils the opportunity to reject the cash.

And there are plenty of reasons for local councils to reject the money – not least because if you’re running a local council but want to win the local parliamentary seat, you don’t want to be giving Labour the prize of free swimming in the area. Especially if you can then paint the Government of wanting to push up council tax for the privilege.

In my humble view, if the Government thinks that free swimming for the under 16s and the over 60s is important, then it should have found a way for it to be paid for universally. For goodness sake, we should have the courage of our convictions and insist that it is done.

Ditto the transport referendum. It’s obvious that something radical and different is needed to tackle the problems in our towns and cities. Yet, surely it is also obvious that there is a range of powerful and wealthy organisations lined up to fund opposition campaigns should the proposals be put to the people.

We don’t take this approach with smokers (a referendum, perhaps, on increasing cigarette duty to pay for NHS costs); nor do we with environmental issues: recycling, carbon emissions, etc. Why then, do we choose to do it with swimming and transport?

The Manchester scheme wasn’t perfect, and perhaps it would have been different had it not needed to go to a referendum (a verdict at Council elections might have sharpened local Council leaders’ minds.) Yet the Government can say that it put the money on the table and the opposition can say that the people have spoken and the status quo
continues.

With the swimming, the Government can claim that it offered investment and local councils are free to reject it… and the status quo remains.

Eleven years after sweeping away the Tories on a promise of change, Labour can’t hide behind a screen of supposed local decision making to do nothing where radical changes are needed.