A winter of civil disobedience/unrest?

Without a significant change in government direction, my feeling is that civil disobedience/unrest is all but inevitable this autumn and winter over fuel prices, rampant inflation and the consequent poverty many are being forced into.

In an odd way, civil disobedience has already become a common thing on our roads since the first Covid lockdown. I refer of course to red light jumping and excessive speeding which has become all but the norm for too many drivers. So we’ve already got a section of our society who frankly have taken the view that the rules of the road are just not for them and that’s a simple choice they’ve made with no pressure upon them to do it.

The next stage in the breakdown of our social order will be by folk with nothing, who probably can’t even afford to run a car, who can’t pay their fuel bills and may not even be able to eat regularly due to the cost of living. Our governments have been growing this section of our society for quite a while now as the ever-expanding use of food banks attests to. Now, however, the numbers being pushed into poverty are growing hugely due to inflation and fuel costs. This winter could prove to be a breaking point and it may well start with large numbers of people simply refusing to pay their fuel bills, indeed campaigns to organise such civil resistance are building right now.

But will refuse to pay stop there? How about folks stopping paying their council tax bills, their water bills, TV License bills etc. etc. Surely, those will follow and pretty soon our whole civil society will be breaking up. The wealthy will, of course, weather the storm or will they? Depending on how things develop we could see the rebalancing of wealth within our society although our politicians will fight hard against such a move. What I’m saying is that this process could well put our unbalanced capital-based society/economy under threat and many would be happy for that to happen. You never know Universal Basic Income (UBI) may well be a positive outcome from the chaos.

Politicians in power can of course put in place mitigating measures to stop the worst from happening but can you see our weak government and ineffective opposition pulling significant levers and putting the interests of those with little or nothing first? That goes against pretty much everything our governments have stood for as long as we can remember. And the small levers they’ve pulled so far? They’ll hardly make a dent in the economic hardship many will face.

Just look at Sri Lanka to see how a reasonably well-ordered society can collapse due to shortages of pretty much everything and rampant inflation. We are nowhere near that sort of collapse but we are in the foothills of such an economic catastrophe.

If I had a God I’d probably now say, as Dave Allen always did, ‘may your God go with you’ because if you’ve got little of nothing the outlook looks bleak indeed. I hope I’m wrong and that we can find leaders who will make poverty and its causes a major priority, but I’ll not be holding my breath.

So what does OPSTA think should happen?

OPSTA Response to LCR Local Transport Plan Consultation

OPSTA logo

I’ve been a member of OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Assn for more years than I care to mention because they consistently campaign for improved local rail services. Here’s their submission to the Liverpool City Region which has been running a consultation process about the future of local transport:-

‘This submission is on behalf of the Ormskirk Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association (OPSTA) a non political group that uses an evidence-based approach to campaign for improved public transport in the north of the City Region and south-west Lancashire. We have a longstanding relationship with the CTA.

It outlines the case for extending Merseyrail services north of Ormskirk to Preston and through re-instatement of the south junction at Burscough to Southport and similarly extension of public transport links from Kirkby Headbolt Lane to Skelmersdale and Wigan.

The planned implementation of an extended rail service to a new station at Headbolt Lane demonstrates what can be achieved in a short timescale and the potential of the new Class 777 trains when battery-equipped.

Extension of Ormskirk service to Burscough

OPSTA recommends this as a fast follower project to Headbolt lane as it could be delivered very simply and quickly at very low capital cost.

There is a strong and increasing passenger demand case with counts conducted by OPSTA showing continuous growth of journeys made between Burscough Junction and Ormskirk (present entry point to Merseyrail) despite the disruption of recent years. Moreover, it is known there is significant rail heading at Ormskirk, Maghull North and even Aintree by people travelling along the A59. The population of Burscough all within 15 minutes walking distance of the station will soon have increased by over 50% in the last few years.

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Northern trains meet.

Liverpool – Ormskirk – Preston service

OPSTA passenger surveys conducted between 2013 and 2019 have shown consistently that around 25% of those using the Northern Trains’ service use a connecting Merseyrail service towards Liverpool.

Many from Preston and Lancashire will travel into the City Region for work, education and leisure. Similarly, residents in the City Region travel into Lancashire for work and leisure reasons and notably to Preston for education (UCLAN) and connections with northbound services.

A Merseyrail service between the two cities would complement and add capacity/services to the route between Lime Street and Preston; an easier and quicker route for residents north of Liverpool would encourage use of the train while reducing the numbers of passengers passing through very busy city centre stations to travel elsewhere. It would also alleviate congestion all along the A59 arterial road into the city centre thus helping to meet zero carbon and air quality targets.

Liverpool – Ormskirk – Southport via Burscough South Curve

With a through line at Ormskirk, reinstatement of the south junction at Burscough would connect it to the Southport – Wigan line and enable a frequent and fast Merseyrail service between Southport and Ormskirk, Aughton, Maghull and Aintree and bringing Meols Cop into the Merseyrail network.

Previous journey requirement analysis and modelling conducted by the rail consultancy Steers incorporated in a formal proposition made in 2021 for the Burscough Curves demonstrated that there is a unique demand that is not met by the ‘fingers’ of the current Merseyrail Northern lines estimated to be 350-400k journeys annually. A rail options report by WSP Global consultancy in August 2020 also recommended reinstatement of the south curve.

Improved transport links from Kirkby Headbolt Lane to Skelmersdale and Wigan

Now it is clear that the Department for Transport will not fund and progress the development of a new rail line the latent demand for fast and efficient public transport links remains.

A dedicated and fast rail bus service connecting the town to the Merseyrail network would be a very low-cost and quickly implemented option that appears to be a good fit with the City Region’s plans for bus services and multi-modal transport, with cognizance this would be within Lancashire and need a partnership approach with the County Council.

The Dft decision also creates an opportunity to extend the Merseyrail service from Headbolt lane to Wigan instead for which there are similar benefit case arguments for operating through services to Preston. Along this rail corridor demand for rail travel to Liverpool will be strengthened by the house building taking place close to stations and it will facilitate access to Manchester for those residing inside the City Region.’

Passing Merseyrail trains at Aughton Park Station on Merseyrail’s Northern LIne to Ormskirk

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

Skem’s reconnection to national rail network hits buffers

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of 1960’s progress!

Well, it’s been a long time coming and I guess quite a bit of cash must have been spent (in person-hours particularly) in the planning but Government has probably unsurprisingly run for the hills over the cost of reconnecting Skelmersdale to the national rail network. The BBC has the story on its website – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-62087680

I say unsurprisingly as folk I know who are knowledgeable of Lancashire’s politics and indeed its railways have been indicating such an outcome pretty much ever since this major project, with its eye-watering costs, was first proposed. Here’s a link back to an earlier posting of mine (from 2015) on the matter:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/11/skelmersdale-the-detail-of-the-skem-rail-link-project/

Of course, the new and 2nd Merseyrail station for Kirkby at Headbolt Lane did get the go-ahead (plus funding) and it is actually being built right now.

When you consider that this latest knock-back for the North West comes on top of the HS2 Goulbourne link being axed and the reconnection of Burscough Curves being blocked yet again it makes the ‘Levelling-Up’ agenda look as worthless as was the Northern Powerhouse, or Poorhouse as my old chum, Jim Ford, accurately once labelled it.

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 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.