Sunday, 3 July 2011

Find your own hole

My grandfather was a volunteer in the First World War. He joined the Northumberland Fusiliers and operated as a Lewis gunner in all the major battles of the First World War being promoted to corporal. I often talked with him about his experiences but he seldom talked about the horrific things he witnessed while in France. He preferred to show me his collection of Bairnsfather cartoons or tell his favourite joke about the woman coming up to British soldiers shouting "Merci Merci". "There's no mercy in the British Army growled the sargeant."
"Keep yer 'ead still, or I'll 'ave yer blinkin' ear off."

My grandfather was a localist. He was from the north east, worked for the London and North Eastern Railway company and joined his local regiment. He went to war with local people he would know who shared a common local bond. There was a sense amongst my grandfather and his fellow soldiers that they were not only defending Britain's interests but were committed to Northumberland's interests within that wider context.

What would have been entirely "foreign" to my grandfather is the idea that Northumberland Fusiliers could go to war while the rest of the British Army stayed at home. Their localism was grounded in the knowledge that they were also part of a bigger picture.

Well, if you know of a better 'ole, Go to it!
This is probably the nub of the localism question. Where do our real interests lie? With our neighbourhood? with our City? With our Region? With our country? Which is the appropriate level for decisions on regeneration to be made?

Liverpool benefitted greatly from The European Union determining that it should be included in the Objective One programme which brought a lot of resources to the city. It has also benefitted from national UK decisions to fund programmes such as the Single Regeneration Budget. When the UK government decided that the appropriate level for economic development strategy was regional then Liverpool similarly benefitted from North West Development Agency allocation of resources. What we think of as local is not easily defined.

"They've evidently seen me"
The Government's Localism bill is contentious because of this quandry.  While no one would dispute that decisions should be influenced by and take account of the neighbourhood dimension, the question is whether the best interests of a city are simply the sum total of what is best for its individual neighbourhoods. A practical example of this might be decisions on which roads should be repaired. If decisions were to be made entirely at a localised neighbourhood level what impact would this have on the strategic road network in the city? Would these neighbourhood level decisions take account of the economic interests of the city? Would investment take place in a road to the docks to assist the businesses of the city or be invested in a neighbourhood's residential streets. Or, for example, if a decision were to be made on waste management would individual neighbourhoods' interests make it impossible to establish a rational city wide system of waste disposal in a time when simply digging a hole somewhere in the countryside and filling it up, or tipping it all into the river, is just not acceptable.

We have to recognise that each neighbourhood is not just another Bairnsfather hole.  My grandfather recognised that Northumberland, Durham, Surrey and Essex's interests were bound up in Britain's interests as they headed off for France. Our neighbourhoods' interests are ultimately bound up with Liverpool's economic interests, as Liverpool's are bound up with regional and national interests. Getting the balance right and decision making focus correct will be crucial as we work out in practice how the localism bill will operate.

No comments:

Post a Comment