Bad drivers make bad cyclists (2)

OR If you are a careful driver, you’ll probably be a considerate cyclist

As a pedestrian, cyclist and driver I found the link below from the BBC website interesting:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41346237

Cycling has really taken off in recent years due to the high cost of driving, a need for folk to be fitter and for environmental benefits too. Of course, this means that some who become cyclists have not ridden a bike since they were a child. In turn, this can make them think they can ride around like they did when they were a child i.e. at speed, on the pavement and that scattering old ladies is fun. NO, no, no……

Adults should be riding on the road, not the pavement

In my view, the police should tackle adults riding on pavements as they are a danger to pedestrians, except where a wide/widened pavement has been designated for shared use between cyclists and pedestrians. Such shared spaces/routes are normally marked out, although one council (Sefton on Merseyside) created a shared space/route alongside the A59 through part of Maghull some years ago but has still to mark it out, despite being reminded to do so by me!

But I digress. So having established that adult cyclists should be on our roads, excepting the above of course, then why aren’t they? Two reasons I guess:-

* they were told to ride on the pavement as a child so still do
* they are frightened/lack the confidence of riding in traffic with vehicles

Yet when I’m out and about I do see some parents teaching their youngsters to ride safely and on the road too. It’s all about building confidence and experience and learning the rules of the road as a cyclist. I took my Cycling Proficiency Test when I was 9 or 10 in 1968. I even have a photo of the event at Rochdale Town Hall – see below (I’m 3rd from the right):-

That old test is now called ‘Bikeability‘ but is still essentially a similar thing to what I took i.e. it prepares youngsters and indeed the not-so-young for our roads so they can ride safely and confidently.

There are so many bad drivers these days, there’s no surprise that when a bad driver gets on a cycle they’ll be a bad cyclist too!

If we are to meet environmental targets to combat global warming many more of us are going to need to walk and cycle short journeys in and around our communities. Yes, of course, the elderly and those with disabilities may well not be able to do this but you get my drift. This means that the number of cycles on our roads is only going to increase and that’s surely a good thing. However, I’m not convinced that compulsory cycling testing is the way forward as it will push against folks taking cycling up. Yes, I’d like to see all cyclists taking safety and confidence-building training but I’m not going to say you have to. Driving a vehicle is akin to being given your own private guided missile; vehicles are dangerous because of the speeds they can do. Cycles are hugely different and are positive because of their beneficial attributes – environmentally friendly, improve the fitness/health of riders and they are very cheap to run/maintain.

Yes, those who have spent many years driving everywhere all the time will be horrified by this blog posting as they probably see cyclists as being all but their enemy because they

* slow vehicles down
* get in the way
* their riders (some of them anyway) have poor road sense just like many drivers

The point here is that increased cycling and walking and less vehicle use is actually all about change and we don’t really like change, do we?

On yer bike

Simple answers to complex matters

Politicians have always known how to play to our prejudices and to keep us thinking about supposedly simple answers to complex issues. Of course, little in our society and world can be solved by simple sound-bite political slogans but how many of us are sucked into simplistic/easy answers whilst we can’t really be bothered with all the complexities? I’d been thinking about this for a while and then an issue popped up again which could well be of great significance but which has mainly been brushed under the political carpet. See the link below:-

www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/jul/16/carole-cadwalladr-boris-johnson-lebedevs-prime-ministers-defining-scandal?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

Carole Cadwalladr is one of the foremost investigative journalists of our times or if you are into simplistic answers from the right of our politics, someone who should be silenced and ridiculed. Of course, the Government will dismiss her concerns as ‘nothing much at all, let’s move on’ but the murky world she’s been uncovering should really worry us all.

Leaving the EU was an example of a hugely complex matter, no matter what view you held, yet we had a simplistic debate and a ridiculous referendum that couldn’t possibly have delivered a considered result through which the electorate expressed a clear and most importantly an informed opinion. It was a ‘let’s play to the anti-EU prejudices of an ill-informed electorate’ built up over generations by our right-wing press. That vote also played into racism and Little Englanderism yet it was a massively complex matter where the implications of Leave were not understood by the majority of us. Even the lead Brexiteers seemed to have their own individual versions of what Leave meant. But all this is now very much apparent with recent opinion polls telling us that we know we made a pigs ear of a hugely important matter because many of us were voting for things which had little if anything to do with the EU.

But what else is being fed to us by our populist political classes and/or what do they sweep under their carpet which they very much don’t want us to know about? Presently, we are being promised tax cuts by the Tory Leadership candidates and cutting of EU red tape, despite the fact that leaving the EU has created huge amounts of er red tape! Obviously, simplistic answers to the complex mess the UK presently finds itself in just won’t cut it but, of course, those candidates are actually only speaking to the 100,000 to 200,000 Conservative Party members as no one else will get a vote. Just think, those members will predominately be of a mature age, mainly anti-EU, anti-foreigners, wealthy and consumers of the Daily Mail. On that basis, you can dismiss the candidate’s rhetoric as pretty much irrelevant to good governance as they’ll all mostly say anything to win a majority of this small electorate. Yet with all of us, except the Conservative voting well off, feeling the pinch at present someone offering you a tax cut and the cutting of red tape too may well get a hearing with the wider electorate.

Our public services are in a terrible mess across the board because of austerity, poor governance, Covid, Brexit and global economic conditions. More tax cuts will inevitably mean more cuts to public services no matter how you look at it. Yes, you’ll be told that ‘we’ll make the NHS, Councils, our railways etc.’ more efficient to counter the reduced money being given to them but shouldn’t the government be doing that all the time? In reality, the efficiencies will be negligible but the cuts will be deep. However, the very same politicians have also promised us ‘Levelling Up’, 40 new NHS hospitals (a medium-sized one costs in excess £500m*), many more GPs, nurses and dentists than you can shake a stick at (and all desperately required) so where will the money come from if another era of austerity/small state is the real agenda? None of this makes any sense. What we really need is a debate about how we can get the UK back on the rails not simplistic politician’s pledges which effectively tell us we can have everything for nothing yet again.

And back to Cadwalladr’s investigations, as without the likes of her, we’d know nothing of what our leaders get up to. The trouble is much of our press sees its job as backing a political party rather than holding all our leaders, no matter what their political colour, to account. My view of politics is never to trust anyone with power no matter who they are, just look what has become of us all because the electorate thought Johnson would be a bit of a laugh!

* Government has committed £3.7bn to the New Hospital Building Programme – £16.3bn short of what would be required to build 40 new hospitals – Source Dr Phil Hammond in Private Eye No.1577

Sefton Council – Struggling on, at best!

I was a Sefton Councillor representing communities in the East Parishes (Molyneux and Park wards) part of the Borough for 16 years from 1999 to 2015 and had the great honour to be Council Leader from 2004 to 2011. I can’t, in all honesty, say that Sefton Council was one of the best local authorities in England but during my time on it, I’d say it was fair to middling with credible aspects to it.

I say this as in recent years the Council has troubled me. I still live in the Borough, pay my Council tax and use the Council’s services. Sefton has 3 issues that for me are examples of poor local governance. It has:-

* ended up with government-imposed commissioners overseeing its Children’s Services operations following a grim OFSTED report
* been failing significantly for some months now with regard to its refuse and recycling kerbside collections
* failed to put right a situation, of its own making, whereby residents living in areas where Parish Councils maintain local parks & gardens pay twice for this service

Children’s Services in dire straights

If a Council is failing to offer a good children’s services operation it means that the most vulnerable youngsters in our communities are being let down and the consequences can be very serious indeed. I appreciate that cuts in government funding will be a huge influencing factor but why has Sefton ended up with government-appointed commissioners taking the reigns when this is not a common factor across other English councils with children’s services responsibilities. Commissioners are not appointed to run/oversee local government services very often and yes, of course, I’m aware that neighbouring Liverpool City Council has significant governance problems with Commissioners being sent in. So Sefton’s Children’s Services must have been in a dire state. Having said that I hear that significant progress is being made to address the concerns of OFSTED but never the less the Borough should not have ended up where it has found itself.

Best bin service to worst in the blink of an eye

Kerbside refuse/recycling collections in Sefton have been a shining light of the way to do it and pretty much for as many years as the Borough has been in existence – 1974. But oh dear the wheels have come off in recent months causing great anger across the Borough. The Council majors on sickness being the cause, whilst the trade unions representing the refuse/recycling collectors say they’re working to rule following a dispute over management changes to how they work. I suspect that both issues are true although for some odd reason the Council doesn’t seem to want to talk about the latter. Whatever the causes many residents have now had their green (garden waste) bins out on the pavements of the Borough for weeks and weeks. They’re supposed to be collected every 3 weeks but some locals say it feels like it’s slipped to 3 monthly collections, at best. Grey and Brown bin collections have also been impacted too, across many parts of the Borough, although with these the Council is just about keeping its head above water. When it comes to a service that all residents rely on and use on a weekly basis Sefton has gone from very good to very bad in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Treating Maghull, Lydiate & Aintree Village Council taxpayers as 2nd class?

Paying twice, otherwise known as double-rating, with regard to parks and gardens is very much a Sefton Council-created problem. It affects council taxpayers in Lydiate, Maghull and Aintree Village where in all 3 cases the local parish/town council maintains all of the parks and gardens in those communities but the Borough charges the same amount of Council tax as everywhere else. The ridiculous aspect of this is that Sefton Council actually fixed the situation back during my time as Council Leader, indeed I made sure it was fixed. Then under the umbrella of austerity cuts, the problem was recreated i.e. the Council taxpayers of Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village were put back to financial disadvantage by our now Labour-run Council. Yes, money being spent on parks and gardens maintenance was having to be reduced across the Borough but why on earth, in effect, make bigger cuts in these 3 communities, forcing their parish/town councils to have to increase the precept (the name for the part of Council tax raised by parish/town councils) to compensate! Why does the Sefton Council seemingly look upon Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village as being less equal than the other communities in our diverse Borough?

So there you have it, my issues with Sefton Council. As my old school reports used to say ‘with more effort could do better’ and that’s being polite about the Borough’s governance as I see it.

Why Tories won’t mind losing 1 election & why all eyes should be on Labour’s PR stance

It’s the day after the next General Election here in the UK and progressives are seemingly in a majority, if you mistakenly assume that all Labour MPs are progressive which of course they’re not. There is a lot of celebrating as the Conservatives have finally lost their majority but it will take a ‘coalition* of willing progressives’ to create a workable left of centre government. Here are a few reasons why that ‘progressive alliance’, for want of another term, is likely to fail in short order leading to another populist government of the right.

Firstly, Labour, who have won some extra seats, really aren’t looking much like progressives at all, having run a campaign based on a centre-right platform. The SNP are more progressive but their independence or bust approach to working with other parties is a big stumbling block when you consider that both Labour and, sadly from my perspective, the Lib Dems are firmly unionist in their outlook.

The Lib Dems, who have won a significant number of seats from the Tories, are in reality two differing types of Liberals – Economic Liberals (Nick Clegg was one I guess) and Social Liberals. Whilst they share numerous Liberal values the Social Liberals tend to be very much of the left in UK political terms although many of them baulk at being seen as of the left. However, they’re the ones who realised early on that that Nick Clegg’s negotiated coalition with the Conservatives back in 2010 was going to be a disaster. Of course, they were right as Clegg backed out of the Lib Dem’s flagship policy of opposing Student Tuition Fee increases. It was pretty much all downhill for the Libs from there onwards for the next 10 years.

Would the SNP, having seen what Clegg did to the Lib Dems, even for a moment, contemplate watering down their independence for Scotland stance to make working with unionists in other parties easier or even possible. Frankly, they would be mad too, so how can a multi-party progressive government be formed in a way that brings an independent Scotland to the fore?

It’s proportional representation stupid

And then there’s proportional representation, which for generations Labour has opposed; a position that’s exposed it as being anti-progressive. Labour’s pretty much on its own amongst all left of centre parties across Europe and beyond over its heel-dragging with regard to PR. They got close to backing PR in 2021, of course, and now seem to be in a position where they no longer oppose PR but don’t really back it with any great enthusiasm either. The problem is they can’t be trusted to see through a PR agenda by progressive parties who probably look upon Starmer’s party as being akin to Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Liberals. They, having previously backed/promoted PR, pretty much ran away from delivering it. The SNP, Lib Dems and Greens think Starmer’s lot will pull a similar trick, and they’d probably be right to fear such an outcome.

Labour’s still a Brext party?

Too many of Labour’s MPs continue to be right of centre or they represent white, working-class, right-wing leaning constituencies even when they’re progressively inclined themselves. This was of course the very bind that drew Labour into at best sitting on its hands and at worst enabling a Brexit which has probably damaged poorer areas of the UK more than anywhere else. Of course the Lib Dems, SNP and Greens were utterly opposed to Brexit so here’s another big sticking point which creates barriers to progressives being able to work with Labour.

And look who Labour will probably want to be Chancellor, one Rachel Reeves who’s infamous, with this progressive anyway, for her 2013 utterance that Labour will be tougher than the Tories when it comes to slashing benefits, or words to that effect. She’s going to go down well with progressives in the Greens, SNP and Lib Dems NOT.

So can a Tory opposition so disparate and so very different from each other really carry the day? It could but only on a very limited agenda and proportional representation would very much have to lead that agenda. A further Scots Independent referendum would clearly need to be part of it together with an unbreakable commitment to devolve many more powers to Scotland, N Ireland, Wales and the regions of England, whether the Scots referendum delivers independence or not. This latter point should get the Lib Dems onside as they have long proposed powerful regional governance for the whole of the UK as opposed to the very limited and messy decentralisation which presently exists in differing ways in different parts of the UK. The only other potential issue for this limited agenda could be an emergency financial NHS rescue package. Surely, all progressives could get behind such an initiative? But that’s about it and of course, if Labour will not implement PR then all bets should be off. Certainly, Ed Davey would not survive any brokered deal that simply props up a Starmer Government; he won’t get away with what Clegg did!

And the alternative for anything like a progressive way forward? A minority Labour Government which progressive parties would back but only on matters/policies, they agreed with. On that basis, Starmer’ would be thrown to the wolves if he tried to pursue any right of centre agendas. I’m sure there will be other barriers to non-Conservative parties working together, I’ve just picked out the obvious ones here!

A UK version of Trumpism, that’ll probably be our future

No matter which way you cut it the Tories may only be out of power for one election (under our warped First Past the Post system that is) and they could live with that outcome. Without proportional representation being enacted we’ll be back to Tory Governments most of the time and they’ll probably not be of the benign John Major-type either. Right-wing populism has taken over the Tory Party of old and putting it back in its box will be the devil’s job. No PR Labour? Then settle back for a UK version of Trumpism because that’ll probably be our future.

* Oh and one last thing the Lib Dems have previously ruled themselves out (under Tim Farron’s leadership) of participating in any future coalition government and who on earth could blame them after they were Clegged!

Why we need more Low traffic Neighbourhoods

As far as I can see we are still building new communities and housing estates so they’re car-dependent when clearly we should be doing just the opposite!

I’ve been trying to get my head around another green initiative called ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ and here’s a good explanation of what they are from Sustrans:-

www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/get-active/2020/in-your-community/what-is-a-low-traffic-neighbourhood

Car drivers often get very angry when there are suggestions/plans to reduce car use. Their often irrational response is because they’re addicted to their car which they use for virtually every journey. Indeed, their whole life has been built around them being car-dependent and they want it to stay that way as they know and care little about alternatives. Pedestrians are strange, why walk when you can drive, aren’t these people weird? Cyclists are a damn nuisance who need running off our roads. Horse riders should be in fields. Drivers who follow speed limits are forcing me to take on dangerous overtaking manoeuvres to get past them.

Does pollution not matter to these drivers? Well no, not unless someone in their family has been made ill by airborne pollution. And what about vehicle accidents?, oh they happen to others, not to me. Green issues generally?, oh that’s for politicians to sort out, nothing to do with my car. In reality, the vast majority of vehicle drivers will never volunteer to reduce their car use. They may well buy an electric car (if they are comfortably well off that is) as it may make them feel ‘green’ when actually the production of their ‘green’ car is anything but green!

I suppose it comes down to this. We all want the road we live on and the one our child goes to school on to be car-free and safe but we want every other road to be a vehicle free for all where we can drive however we want and not suffer any consequences.

The approach of the government is to build car-dependent communities as developers like, where they like. It’s for another generation to sort out the mess that poorly planned housing developments are creating. Oh and let’s build more new roads even though we know they just generate more traffic. And the climate change/green agenda?……………………

Editor’s Note – I Drive, Cycle and walk.

Maghull Health Centre – My letter to Champion newspaper

Dear Sir,

I read with a sense of déjà vu your article about the frustrations of MP Bill Esterson regarding the lack of action/urgency within the NHS to rebuild Maghull Health Centre as I and my then Sefton Council Colleagues, in particular Cllr. Geoff Howe, went around very similar circles about this very same project years ago.

That Maghull Health Centre has not been rebuilt in 2022 and for it not to be a fully-fledged NHS Drop-In Centre is a scandal in my view. I ceased to be a Lib Dem Sefton Councillor for Maghull in 2015 but from around 2000 Geoff and I badgered and pushed various local and regional NHS bodies to get on with a significant rebuild of this outdated building only to go through a cycle of yes, no, and maybes year after year.

It culminated in a senior Sefton Council Officer of the time confirming to me that NHS approvals had been given for the project only for me to be then subsequently attacked by the NHS when I made this news public! This must have been around 2010ish.

That Bill Esterson MP is now getting a similar run-around and is at the end of his tether with NHS funding bodies years later is both depressing but sadly unsurprising.

Yours Sincerely

Tony Robertson

Published 30/03/2022