They say, ‘don’t let a good crisis go to waste’. It gives me the willies when I think about the crisis that we are about to face with local government funding. Lancashire County Council is looking to save £300 million over the next couple of years – over 40% of its budget. It’s going to be no bed of roses for the districts, Blackpool or Blackburn with Darwen either.
Given the above – why oh why does most of Lancashire double up with an antiquated two tier government structure?
I have long held the view that Lancashire has never recovered from the major Local Government reorganisation of 1974.
Lancashire was one of the wealthiest and most influential parts of the world in its day. Politically it gave England a King, Industrially it gave us King Cotton. From the shipyards in Barrow to the great ports of Lancaster and Liverpool. From the great inventions of the industrial revolution to innovation in aerospace – Lancashire had it all.
In 1974 it was carved up. Manchester and it’s neighbouring industrial towns were bundled with Stockport from Cheshire to form Greater Manchester – an ugly apathet which is rarely used in anyone’s address. Liverpool and its Lancashire neighbours joined with the Wirral and Runcorn to form Merseyside. These all became metropolitan authorities joined by proximity and a new made up name.
Barrow and Furness, the industrial north lands of Lancashire, joined the newly created Cumbria.
The bit in the middle remained Lancashire with a county council based in Preston and fourteen district councils. This state of affairs remained until 1997 when Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool regained unitary status.
That’s the history but what did it mean and why is this still a problem?
The North of England used to have two great roses – red and white. In 1974 Yorkshire remained largely intact – not administratively but in name. It lost Teeside and lost and gained a few minor boundary changes but Yorkshire is still seen as a region in its own right. Whilst Yorkshire remained, Lancashire shrank. It’s pride was carved up. The things that unite a region no longer really made sense. Preston has never won the hearts and minds of modern Lancastrians as a centre. The transport links across the administrative county are appalling. It’s controversial to say but Manchester was the beating heart of Lancashire.
Oldham, Bolton, Bury, Rochdale and Wigan are still commonly referred to as Lancashire Towns. I never hear this said of Manchester any more.
It was a mistake to create Greater Manchester and Merseyside. – It was right to create the metropolitan authorities but it would have been far kinder to the North West to have created a South Lancashire, a West Lancashire and a North Lancashire. The Lancastrian family would have remained intact and Lancastrians would have campaigned together with pride. This happened in Yorkshire.
I wasn’t born in Lancashire but my mother was – she was born in Oldham like her parents before her. My great grandfather started a business which is still going strong with his name above the door. It now has branches across the North West. George Hill would have called himself a Lancastrian and been proud of it. I’ve never heard anyone calling themselves a Greater Mancunian.
It seems to me inevitable that the two tiered administration called Lancashire in no longer viable. This point has been rubbed in over the past few years by Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool who have fared much better as unitary authorities. If the current Lancashire County Council and its districts are to become a number of unitaries then it is also the time to think about the wider Lancashire Pride. Few would be sorry to see Greater Manchester as a label disappear. Many on Merseyside would re-embrace the term Lancashire. It would be one of those rare occasions where looking back would be progressive.
If nothing else it would make sense of our national summer sport again – roll over Tebbit – I’ve created a new cricket test.