It is very sad that the Oldham Chronicle has ceased publication after 150 years. It is the latest local paper to fall victim to the surge in on-line advertising and falling readership. For years local newspaper owners have cut the journalists to save costs and then been surprised when the thin content drove away even more readers. Most local papers used to have a correspondent who was an expert on local government and aware of what was going on at the Town Hall. Now they are nearly all gone. The media concentrates excessively on national politicians leaving the leaders, even of some large cities, largely unknown.

The assertion is made that local politics is boring. That is lazy thinking by people who are not prepared to scrutinise the way billions of pounds of our money is spent. It is true that people in one council area don’t really care about what goes on next door but in the great days of local papers, they were the go to places for people to get information on their council alongside coverage of other authorities.

Does this matter? After all a new world has opened on line with a vast range of people offering their opinions about what is going on at national and local level. This blog is one of them. But we will miss the dedicated, independent local government correspondents who exposed scandals like Newcastle’s John Poulson and Westminster’s Dame Shirley Porter. Town Halls still provide many of the services we rely on and are often left to sort out the consequences of ill thought through Whitehall decisions.

But who is keeping an eye on our councillors? Council meetings are rarely reported. The Cabinet system has left most councillors with little to do. The scrutiny they are meant to carry out is a pale shadow of the Westminster Select Committee system it was meant to replicate at a local level.

So, can we rely on central government to do the job? Not really. Eric Pickles, the worst Local Government Secretary in recent history, abolished the Audit Commission. It was responsible for audit and inspection of local government. It reported publicly.

The vast majority of councillors and officers do a great job in difficult circumstances. They are subject to big cuts in their budgets and are dealing first hand with tricky personal services like allocating school places to children and elderly people to a care home.

That said local relationships and big money contracts can lead to corruption. Who’s going to report it consistently and professionally to a wide audience in the future? If the answer is nobody then we should worry.


Well at least the, Downtown inspired, crisis conference on the future of the Northern Powerhouse(NP) managed to get the Chancellor to come north this week.

Philip Hammond can be in no doubt at the anger directed towards the Transport Secretary who simultaneously cut back on promises to northern rail while giving the go ahead for Crossrail 2 in London. But it led to no promises while he was here, just a hint that there might be something in the Budget.

Well, Phil the Till, there better be or the NP will be dead in the water.

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How long will the Lib Dem grass roots allow Nick Clegg to stay in a coalition where right wing Tory backbenchers call all the shots? David Cameron has had to placate them this week and his Lib Dem partners just look on in dismay.


I don’t think enough has been said about the sacking of Ken Clarke, for that is what it is. I know he can still attend Cabinet as Minister Without Portfolio. Without power or influence more like. I’m surprised he didn’t resign outright. For a man who has been Chancellor and Home Secretary to hang on in this way is undignified. It gives a cloak of respectability to what has really happened.


The last Tory with a sane view on our relations with the European Union (and prison policy) has been removed. So now the decks are clear for the vicious circle to accelerate. The anti EU press will continue to mislead the public about Europe, the politicians will respond and before we know it we will be having an in-out referendum. The nation will vote to come out of the EU, then stand by for an economic slump that will make this one look like prosperity.


But back to the reshuffle and further evidence of a swing to the right. The new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has been brought in to smooth the way for a third runway at Heathrow which will ignore the strong case to develop our regional airports. Promises of this being the greenest government yet were already withering, and that’s set to continue with Owen Paterson in charge at Environment. By the way hard luck to Liverpool’s Peter Cranie on not getting the leadership of the Green Party this week.


Sayeeda Warsi is another Cabinet Minister who should have made a clean break. The former Tory Chairman has taken a minor job at the Foreign Office. It’s a blow for ethnic minority representation in the government. I liked her down to earth approach and she impressed a gathering of Tory grass roots members meeting in Liverpool recently. It’s a shame.


Tory talent in the North West has been almost totally overlooked by the Prime Minister with the exception of the spiky and talented Esther McVey. The Wirral West MP is a rare asset for the Conservative Party. A media savvy business woman from Merseyside she’s got an interesting first job in government. She’s a Minister at Work and Pensions. The Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith refused to move and will fight to implement his universal credit benefit system. The Treasury is worried about the new system’s dependence on a vast computer network. We know from past experience that central government and big computer systems mean a big price tag and almost certain failure.


McVey is the only North West promotion. What about Pendle’s Andrew Stephenson, Preston North’s Ben Wallace and Lancaster’s Eric Ollerenshaw. He’s an older politician with good local government experience. Instead Eric Pickles is rewarded for his abolition of the North West Development Agency and more seriously the Audit Commission with an extension of his term. I suppose his value is as a bit of northern rough among the southern posh boys.