Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The next challenge?

It is now obvious the government is preparing to abolish county councils where they still exist in favour of an exclusive system of unitary authorities.

Several unitary authorities were created under the Local Government Act 1992 and it has always been suspected, especially in Kent, that the unitaries created between 1992 and 1998 were simply forerunners. Berkshire which in 1974 lost part of its area to Oxfordshire has been now been completely broken up into unitary authorities. Berkshire would seem to have been the guinea pig for testing the feasibility of dismantling whole counties.

The way we really are

Adam Green the former county archivist of Somerset railed against the creation of unitary authorities in the Somerset press and in doing so seems to have echoed the opposition to fragmentation of all county councils.

While the Society of Archivists [sic] and Association of Chief Archivists in Local Government concern themselves with the perceived issues of the day, there is the risk as always of the big issues e.g. anti-terrorist legislation coming in under the radar. These issues include a massive impending local government reorganisation and the creation of more unitary authorities.

So why is this issue being ignored? In an article in The Guardian of 11 May 2005 Peter Hetherington inadvertently offers an explanation, inadvertent in that he fails to appreciate any deception employed by the government. He states

The bigger goal is undoubtedly a full-scale unitary system of local government in England, sweeping away some counties. But the route to that goal is unlikely to be a big bang, involving full reorganisation at one go, but a more incremental approach.

In other words we won't notice what's happening or protest.

So why should SQA be concerned, you might ask. For various reasons.

Firstly, our local government archives are mainly organised at county level in a still recognisable system of county record offices.

Secondly, the general public in finding and understanding records held by local government record offices, most of them family historians and genealogists, work within the ancient county system, using Phillimore's Atlas, the International Genealogical Index (IGI), parish records which are organised into dioceses corresponding to the ancient counties, county quarter sessions records and civil registration records which are all organised according to county. Thus a customer focused record office should be keener to conform to the county system rather than any other system.

Thirdly, SQA is aware of the real motive behind the 1974 local government reorganisation and more recent trend towards unitary authorities. This is of course the requirement under European Commission directives to dismember each member state into regions which can be ruled direct from Brussels. Under this system unitary authorities are termed sub-regions and authorities within these sub-sub-regions. All is explained by our patron Lindsay Jenkins in her book Disappearing Britain: The EU and the Death of Local Government (published by Orange State Press 2005)

Notwithstanding the protests of Somerset County Council (so-called) and Sandy Bruce Lockhart of Kent County Council against the fragmentation of their counties both county councils have cohabited with the EU and the regions to the extent travellers on the M5 Motorway in Somerset are presented with a sign welcoming them to Somerset long after they have already entered the county, even by definiton of the unitary authority system which created North West and North East Somerset Councils out of Avon County Council. How can you be welcomed to Somerset when you are already in it in the shape of North West Somerset? However, we are glad to report CountyWatch activists recently removed the offending sign and have also been active in Lincolnshire, Warwickshire, Hampshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire where county signs have also been misplaced and SQA commends their actions we hope to the satisfaction of the county archivists there whose jobs CountyWatch are effectively helping to protect.

As for Kent County Council, it supports Interreg, the Transmanche Region and the unelected South East England Regional Assembly (whose nominated council members recently voted to disband the assembly) without apparently comprehending the incompatibility of such activities and their opposition to unitary authorities, all of them issuing from the European Union. It is almost laughable.

Count Nikolai Tolstoy

CountyWatch has recently secured the services of Count Tolstoy-Miloslavsky as their patron. In 1987 Tolstoy was presented with the International Freedom Award by the United States Industrial Council Educational Foundation. In agreeing to serve as their patron, Count Tolstoy says:

I should be honoured to become Patron of your admirable organisation. I fully support your campaign to restore the county boundaries. I feel very strongly about this, and in the 25 years we have lived in our present house have consistently given our address as Berkshire, although Ted Heath imagined he had consigned it, along with the Vale of the White Horse, to Oxfordshire. I am interested in doing anything I can towards adopting more concrete measures to restore our County boundaries.

CountyWatch can be contacted at Meadowbank, 9 Station Road, Brampton Road, HUNTINGDON, Huntingdonshire, PE29 3BW Tel: 01480 435837 or 01279 635789

Further reading

Re-writing history: a critique of a Vision of Britain

The Balkanisation of Britain

More on archives and the UK Euro-regions

Association of British Counties

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