Article in The Wigan Observer, 27 March 2018.

Gerard Dugdill – British Counties Campaign.

Let’s end this county chaos and restore traditional boundaries!

A Wiganer is launching an official political campaign to end county chaos and restore the traditional areas of the country.

Gerard Dugdill, who is originally from Springfield, has co-founded the British Counties Campaign to protect the 92 historic counties and finally sweep away the effects of local government reorganisations.

Proud Lancastrian Gerard admits his dissatisfaction with Wigan now being classed as Greater Manchester has partly fuelled his campaign, saying the borough is a stronghold of support for the time honoured boundaries.

Now he is preparing to take his efforts to the corridors of power with an event next month in Parliament unveiling a bill which will be put to the House of Commons.

Gerard, who now lives in London, said: “This is needed to provide clarity on exactly where people live.

“People have a strong loyalty to their county and what we have at the moment is a complete mess really.

“We need to clear up the situation so people live in the county they always thought they lived in. It’s also about protecting our history.

“Lancashire is about 1,000 years old so we need to make sure it doesn’t get chucked in the bin or blurred beyond the point of recognition.

“Wigan is a hotbed of proud county identity which comes from the messing about with them. There’s massive support for this in the borough.

“It’s the same across the region, you’ve got places like Slaidburn in the Trough of Bowland which is proudly Yorkshire but run by Lancashire County Council and Saddleworth which was always in Yorkshire too.

“I’ve got more than a dozen MPs backing it already and I’ve emailed Lisa Nandy about it. I asked her which county Wigan was in and she said Lancashire, so she gets full marks for that.”

Pam Moorhouse – British Counties Campaign

Gerard set up the British Counties Campaign with a Grimsby activist called Pam Moorhouse, with his involvement stemming from seeing a petition she had put for traditional counties on popular website 38 Degrees.

 

The bill being prepared would, if passed by MPs, bring about sweeping changes to an area like Wigan where the elected mayor, emergency services and political organisations are all based around Greater Manchester even though it has had nothing more than ceremonial status since 1986.

 

Gerard wants to see most traces of all the counties created by the 1972 Local Government Act which were then stripped of many of their political functions in 1986 abolished, with the likes of the fire and ambulance services all returned to being run within traditional county lines.

The bill also wants ceremonial posts such as the Lord Lieutenant altered to reflect historic counties, regional names to be scrapped where they might clash with county identity and local authorities which serve the places designated counties in the 1970s and ‘80s renamed “council areas”.

MPs will also be asked to put the county names and boundaries on maps and signs, ensure all UK postal addresses have the traditional counties on them and ensure young people are taught about the importance and history of the 92 counties.

Gerard admits the cost of this is being looked into but hopes the changes can be managed without a drain on the public purse.

He said; “There are two ways of doing this: changing everything in one go, straight away, or fixing the mess that was created over a period of, say, five to 15 years. If we naturally replace things such as signposts when they break with correct ones in compliance with the counties there will be no additional cost. We’ve got a target of about two million public supporters backing the campaign, because that will make it easier to get parliamentary support.”

The British Counties Campaign has its official launch event in Parliament on April 17.


Editorial Comment: COUNTY CAMPAIGN TO PRESERVE HISTORY.

The campaign to protect Britain’s traditional counties is long-running and somewhat curious one.
On the one hand, there are devoted campaigners determined to sweep away all traces of recent reorganisations which created areas such as Greater Manchester. One the other, there will be many people who fail to see what the fuss is all about.

Now, though, the issue looks set to get a higher profile, with Wiganer Gerard Dugdill leading the way.
A proud Lancastrian, Gerard is playing a key role in the British Counties Campaign which is taking the fight for the 92 long-established counties to Parliament.

If they are successful, this could potentially lead to a lot of upheaval in our area. Many important services are still run along Greater Manchester lines even though the area has had no overall elected political body since 1986.

Returning all these to the traditional Lancashire and Cheshire set-ups would take a huge amount of time.

There is also the question of whether the House of Commons should be engaging with this when Brexit and countless other vital issues clamour for attention.

However, the arguments should not be simply dismissed.

There is no doubt many people in Wigan retain an attachment to Lancashire, just as others around the country wish they were in a county which is not the one currently governing their everyday lives.

And anyone with an appreciation of history recognises the importance of understanding our past.
Sometimes it would seem useful or desirable for Wigan to emphasise its Lancashire status. However, there are also clear advantages to Greater Manchester organisations.

In short, this is a debate with few clear-cut answers.


Letter to the Editor. Submitted for consideration for publication, 08 April 2018:

We write in response to your article (page 12) and editorial, (27 March-2 April 2018), on our campaign to restore county identity, which you describe as “somewhat curious”.

Andrew Donaldson – British Counties Campaign.

The counties have existed often 1,000 years or more and have developed loyalty since that time, in Wigan as much as anywhere else. We want the town to be recognised as being in Lancashire. What’s wrong with that?

What is odd is why legislators from the 1970s onwards mangled county identity, firstly by setting up so-called “administrative counties” like Greater Manchester and Merseyside, then abolishing them in the 1980s, then trying to keep them via the back door in the 1990s, using new “ceremonial counties”.

This mangling was entirely unnecessary, and showed a total disregard for the sensitivities of people who wanted to live where they always had. If the government had called its new creations “council areas”, rather than counties, the confusion could have been avoided.

More bizarrely, the government has tried to have it both ways, claiming the traditional counties still exist – so Wigan has never left Lancashire – while doing everything, backed by the media, to give the opposite impression. Perhaps it hopes to keep the mess going ‘til we all die off, or perhaps it has lost control.

You suggest our campaign might result in “sweeping changes”. This need not be the case. Police, fire, councils etc. could remain as they are but the town would be recognisably in Lancashire – with the appropriate Lord Lieutenant – not that of Greater Manchester.

What we care about are names. A wiser choice of names, such as South or South East Lancashire for example, covering the appropriate area, might – and could still – work. In some areas, such as ex-Humberside and ex-Cleveland, the new names have gone and the old ones restored. Wigan and neighbouring towns are stuck in limbo.

We want to restore identity throughout the land, with a law to abolish all types of county other than the traditional one, and to align the lieutenancies to the real counties. Boundaries should be marked on maps and road signs and used, as a minimum, for cultural, sporting, media and address purposes.

You refer to other “issues” to address, but identity is as important as any other. The government should engage with this now. Fence-sitting and delay – no matter how much it may serve some people’s purposes – denies people the resolution they want, and allows the creators of confusion the chance to think job done. Brexit may – stress may – give the chance to have a county identity renaissance at the same time as a national one.

You conclude that this is a debate to which there are “few clear-cut answers”. We believe, however, that by putting county identity at the forefront of local consciousness, where it has been for the best part of a millennium, clear answers can emerge and the county mess can be finally be sorted. We can and should preserve our county heritage for good.

Andrew Donaldson & Gerard Dugdill
British Counties Campaign

4 thoughts on “Article in The Wigan Observer, 27 March 2018.

  1. Please understand there will be no “upheaval” in recognising Lancashire. No change in service providers, no council changes. Just recognition that Wigan..and my part of Lancashire-Furness..remain within the geographical County of Lancashire. Counties weren’t changed in 1974, just councils. Wigan is Lancashire, like Salford, Bolton, Southport, Warrington, Barrow and Coniston.

  2. This is a long standing subject. I think we were conned into accepting this to be short term, personally I live in Horwich Lancashire, end of! I really hope this is sorted in my lifetime. I’m now nearly 70 and I’m a proud Lancastrian, again – end of! I think 44 years is long enough.

  3. I feel it’s probably not the best idea to take the route of extending recognition of the county boundaries to changing administrative, police and other governmental areas. That, I feel, is setting oneself up for a fall. A change to the “ceremonial counties” to fit the historic counties and introduction of true county boundary signs is likely a big enough task as it is (and, I imagine the extent to which you could get Parliament to agree). Plus, yet more fiddling with local government boundaries is bound to attract public opposition and MP opposition, and likely only attract lukewarm support otherwise.

    The reason we ended up in this mess was the consequence of linking the counties to modern administration, a fluid, every changing set of priorities that county boundaries have never fully suited (see the county corporates and boroughs). The creation in 1890 of the County of London, all the way up to the creation of the modern set of administrative counties in the 1970s (and the frequent fiddling since), were the result of these pressures. We don’t want to repeat the issues of the past, and let the “perfect” be the enemy of the good.

    1. George, I love your expression don’t let “perfect be the enemy of the good”.

      We do need perfection in making sure that all places are correctly located in the right county. You can check out these facts by the way using the Association of British Counties (ABC) Gazetteer:
      http://www.gazetteer.org.uk
      This, for example, puts Warrington, Wigan, Barrow-in-Furness, Horwich, you name it, correctly in Lancashire. As a random prompt, Wrexham is placed correctly in Denbighshire and so forth…

      The above is what we want as a minimum, ie perfection in terms of lieutenancies. There are sections of the movement that think (additionally) that the counties could be used as an overall template into which we fit areas like service areas as neatly as possible. This might take a generation to achieve. It was certainly what ABC MP patron Andrew Rosindell wanted.

      That’s the minimum ask, If we don’t go beyond that, we don’t go beyond it, but the basic point is the clarity of county identified must not be obscured by other area creations. We can’t have Didcot, for example, run by Oxfordshire county council – that’s where the confusion starts.

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