Cool mapping things for real people

I was at Housing Camp Cymru last weekend. It was great.

I pitched a bring and share session on mapping apps. Because housing is so much about physical place putting stuff on maps feels like an obvious thing to do. I often find that, unless they really love maps, many people don’t realise how easy it has become to do cool mapping things without spending money or getting a degree in geography.

(This is not to denigrate GIS specialists because there is even more really cool stuff if you actually know what you are doing).

So here’s a quick run down of some of the stuff we covered.

Open, shared and closed data

Perhaps inevitably  (given that I’m part of the ODI-Cardiff team) we talked about the question of being able to use data.

Closed data is data you can’t use, shared data is data that you may be able to use but there will be restrictions on what you can do with it, open data is data anyone can access, use and share.

This video explains this rather better.

Google Maps

Chances are you have used Google Maps to do something like work out how to get to a new location. It’s got very powerful mapping and routing tools. It’s also really (really) easy to create simple custom maps.

(Not the most dramatic map I’ll confess).

To get started with this you just need to create a map on Google Maps.

Fusion Tables

To put more complex and rich data on Google Maps there is a nice tool in the Google Drive suite called Fusion Tables.

It does two jobs really well:

  • it “fuses” tables (links two spreadsheets together based on a column of data that they share)
  • it takes columns of geographical information and puts them on a Google map

It’s smart enough to process some sorts of data so if you have postcodes in a column Fusion Tables will turn those into points on a map for you. It’s also capable of handling polygons (shapes: that you might use to show borders or boundaries).

I used Google Fusion Tables to create this clickable map of changes in crime rate in different parts of Herefordshire.

More information in the excitingly titled Investigating crime rates at small geographies.

OpenStreetMap

While the Google tools are very useful there are limits to what you can do with Google Maps. Not least because the Google Mapping data belongs to them and you can access the underlying data nor can you use Google Maps for any purpose.

There is a source of mapping data that you can do all this with: OpenStreetMap.

OpenStreetMap started as an open data alternative to Ordnance Survey and is one of the most incredible datasets in existence. It is “Wikipedia for maps” anyone can edit it and add data to it.

There is so much to say about OpenStreetMap that it would require 100 more blogposts. To get some sense of the possibilities have a look at Mappa Mercia and the Missing Maps project.

There are so many projects built around the OpenStreetMap community. Check out Mapillary and Walking Papers to get a sense.

With OpenStreetMap data you can do anything with your map, create web tools, or print out a massive noticeboard without paying anyone or asking permission.

Ordnance Survey Open Data

The UK’s mapping agency is releasing more and more of its data under and open licence. You can download all sorts of different files from OS Open Data.

 

Carto

A nice alternative to Google Fusion Tables which allows you to use a range of different mapping data sources is Carto (previously CartoDB). Carto is actually more powerful than Fusion Tables and it’s on my list of things to learn more about.

It’s a freemium product but the free stuff is very good.

Ushahidi

Developed in Nairobi to map post-election conflict Ushahidi has found uses in disaster response, monitoring buildings at risk and hundreds of other situations where citizens want to report and monitor things happening in their locality. Ushahidi 3 is just out

You can experiment freely at crowdmap.com.

QGIS

Want to try full-fat Geographical processing? You can do that for free too with the open source QGIS. This is a professional scale Geographical Information System. Don’t expect to become a satellite processing expert in a few minutes. But QGIS is powerful, free and has a healthy community of advice and plugins. So if you like maps you’ll love QGIS.

Other random things we mentioned

Crime data can be downloaded from police.uk.

LIDAR (a laser version of RADAR) data is avaiable for much of England and Wales. This is geeky but clever people have started doing fun things with it like writing a script to turn your estate into a minecraft world.

 

“Has the milk tanker been yet..? I’m waiting for the Internet”

Photo of the tank of a Milk Tanker which prominently shows United Dairies
United Dairies glass-lined milk tank – freight train tanker carriage by David Precious. https://flic.kr/p/f1MQTB used under CC-BY-2.0

 

So this afternoon I went to a conference about highways.

Despite what you might imagine, this was geeky even for me. But I had been persuaded to run a workshop on “Smart Rural” a half-formed idea I (and other rural types) have that smart city initiatives may not have that much to offer the countryside.

I thought we would be talking about autonomous vehicles and intelligent tractors. But in fact we ended up talking about internet connectivity.

This was slightly galling because I try not to talk about internet connectivity. It’s a big problem in rural areas but it’s not going to be resolved at the sort of scale and speeds that would make a lot of smart city type projects viable.

But it does seem to sit at the heart of many issues in this space.

So what, I asked the group, are solutions that don’t involve the answer “Gigabit fibre”.

And one of our participants told us the story of a hack used in Cuba to get round the fact that Internet access is not available. People move files (video, magazines, books) physically. By regular courier or truck. It’s an obvious solution. And actually in the west we move very large files (or collections of files) physically because of the time taken to stream across the Internet.

So, this got me thinking, could we do something similar in rural areas? Could we arrange local (in village) caching of, for example, the BBC iPlayer. The BBC already uses Content Delivery Networks to cache files locally to your ISP.  This would be an iteration of that approach. The data could be distributed across a local network: say a WAN or a mesh. The files could be updated over the internet pipe into the village or physically brought to the location, or a combination of the two.

And maybe the same system could serve other content. Unlike the Cuba model there is likely to be a connection to the network, just one of limited bandwidth. So the server could be intelligent about what data it pulled (and sent) down the pipe and what data stored for physical transport.

There are a range of vehicles that visit rural communities on a regular basis: most obviously (and, in this context, pleasingly) the Royal Mail, but milk tankers, feed transport, the cars of commuters, buses, refuse lorries and so on.

Maybe as the connection enabled Royal Mail van enters the village it connects to the WAN, handshakes and starts pulling the data off the network as it travels around. Then it stores it on-board and handshakes with a server connected to a (bigger, faster) pipe back at the depot. What the Royal Mail didn’t have time to capture can be loaded to the Milk Tanker a bit later.

I can’t decide if this is a good idea (in which case it’s probably already being used somewhere) or over-engineered silliness (in which case someone in my network will probably met me know.

For completeness here are photos of the flipcharts that we created in our discussion.

 

 

A quick thought experiment about Article 50

Dog apparently lost in thought
Deep Thought by Jan Tik used under CC-BY-2.0

Over the weekend I went on a nature ramble in an attempt to get all this Brexit stuff out of my head.

The attempt failed. Instead I started to think about the limits to the mandate provided by the referendum.

Take this thought experiment:

It is 10 September 2016 and, freshly elected by Conservative party members, the new Prime Minister is being briefed on the negotiating options.

“It’s bad news I’m afraid Prime Minister”

says a civil servant

“All 27 EU countries are going to fail to agree to any terms in the negotiation. Our covert intelligence confirms that they are all very serious on this point.”

“That’s a surprising and perhaps somewhat unbelievable show of unity between the fractious EU”

says the Prime Minister

“Well yes”

explains the civil servant

“but this is a thought experiment.”

“What are the consequences then?”

“Well, as you know Prime Minister, once Article 50 is triggered if we fail to agree a deal we exit the EU on WTO terms, which means no access to the single market tariffs on any trade with the EU, no agreement on the status of British citizens in the EU and a host of other things none of them, from a trade position, ideal”.

“This seems very bad”

“Well yes Prime Minister, this is literally the worst thing that could happen if Article 50 is triggered. That’s why it’s useful for a thought experiment”.

So, knowing that we will exit with no deal, should she trigger Article 50?

Mandate:

Does the referendum give the Prime Minister (or conceivably Parliament) the mandate to trigger Article 50 under these circumstances?

There’s a legitimate argument that it does. This was a foreseeable outcome when people voted so they could and should have taken it to account when casting their vote.

There is a legitimate argument that it doesn’t. The referendum was advisory, we have a parliament to deal with the detail. One of the protections of a representative democracy is we expect our representatives not to undertake actions even if they have public support if they are profoundly against the national interest.

Of course the EU is going to negotiate with us. We’re not going to crash out on WTO terms.

Probably.

But when we press the Article 50 button we don’t know, for sure, what will happen.

So does the referendum mandate the pressing of the button regardless of the consequences? And how can those consequences be reasonably assessed?

For the 48 there is plenty of work still to do

I, like 1 in every 2 of you, (strictly 1 in every 2.09 of you) voted remain on Thursday. I was gutted that we lost. Bereft. Angry. Depressed. This was not the future that I wanted for my country.

I understand why so many people have signed a petition asking for another referendum. I won’t sign though. It seems to me to be wrong in principle.

The people of the United Kingdom were asked a simple question. They voted in large numbers. They answered the question.

The United Kingdom must leave the European Union.

But, whatever the politicians say, nothing else was decided by that referendum.

48% of us voted for a United Kingdom that was international, outward looking and rejected the hateful rhetoric that blamed our problems on faceless, nameless immigrants.

We lost the argument about remaining in. We will have a transactional relationship with the EU. This has yet to be negotiated. That’s a fairly urgent task for the government.

Politicians who do not share our values, who do not want for our country the future that we want for our county will use the result to legitimise a closed, insular, scared country shut off from our own continent.

We must not let them.

Negotiations are going to begin with the EU. They’ll be tough. We do not have a strong hand and the EU has every reason to ensure our exit package is unpalatable. Compromises will have to be made.

The Tories want to focus on immigration. They will do everything they can to prevent the UK being bound by the EU freedom of movement rules. Who knows what a future prime minister will be prepared to give away to get agreement on that.

But we know that 1 in 2 of us voted for a future in which UK citizens are free to live, work and study across Europe and in which European citizens are free to live and work here. That is actively what we want.

If the UK accepts freedom of movement: we’ll get a lot more of what we want out of the negotiations. If we end up like Norway we’ll be out but still have freedom of movement and access to the single market. That feels like a suitably British compromise. Maybe even good enough to satisfy the Scots (maybe not).

We, the 48%, need to make sure that the UK-EU deal we end up with is one that we want, not one that a few government ministers want.

And we have one, crucial, unusual strength. We know we are not alone.

If you are in the 48% (or in the 52% but don’t want to cut the country off fundamentally). Let’s encourage the Tories to elect a leader who can represent the mainstream of the country not the extremists. Let’s encourage the Labour party to look to its internationalist and progressive traditions. Let’s encourage every political party to advocate for the UK we want to see.

Join a political party now and start advocating for free movement and a close relationship. Write to your MP and point out how many votes there are on the remain side. Talk to your friends and your co-workers. Post amusing gifs on Facebook whatever. But don’t leave the field to the Brexiters.

Let’s respect the views of the 1 in 2 (strictly 1.09 in 2) who voted to leave the EU.

And let’s make sure they respect our views too.

 

It’s time to get to work.

Data maturity in local government

Black and white photo of someone running up steep stairs

I’d like to talk about Data Maturity

Data maturity has recently become a big thing in my life, not least because of my involvement in Data Evolution: a project looking into data maturity in charities and social enterprises. As part of that project some of my colleagues have undertaken a desk review of data maturity models.

I’ve found these models helpful in thinking how I work with specific organisations in a couple of ways:

  • I turn up and start talking about Google Analytics it is really helpful to get a sense of what the culture of the organisation is around the use of data to inform decisions first
  • Some of the tacit assumptions I have about the use of data and targets to manage organisations come from my experience in a reasonably data-mature organisation. In less mature organisations I find that we have little shared frame of reference.

Data vs open data

I’m also interested in the relationship (if there is one) between the data maturity of an organisation (the culture in the organisation around the use of data to inform and improve decision making) and the open data maturity (the publication and use of open data to support and enable a wider ecosystem).

So obviously I pitched a session on this at LocalGovCamp. We were a select band but I was delighted that anyone else at all wanted to talk about this topic.

What, actually, is data maturity?

We kicked around the idea that organisations can be at different stages on a data maturity gradient. Within Data Evolution my colleague Sian Basker often describes a broad sweep:

  1. ad-hoc gathering of data in some areas
  2. pulling data together centrally
  3. starting to use data looking backwards (how did we do last year? what should we do differently?)
  4. using data in real time to manage the organisation and move resources rapidly
  5. modelling the future before making decisions to enable better decisions to be taken
  6. modelling the future the organisation wants and working backwards to understand what needs to happen now to deliver that future

And all the evidence is that it’s hard work (and takes a long time) to progress along this gradient.

This seemed to resonate with our experience of local government.

Would a model help local government?

We concluded that a local government data maturity model might be really helpful:

  • to begin to structure conversations in organisations
  • to help people understand where their organisation is
  • to help people understand where their organisation might get to
  • to help inform decision making, investment and planning

Lucy Knight shared her experience of using the ODI Open Data Maturity model in just this way (to have useful conversations around open data).

There are some specific things to consider around local government. In England certainly, parliament has made a set of assumptions around the data maturity not just of councils but also of the local public service system. The requirement to undertake Joint Strategic Needs Assessments for example, assumes a minimum level of maturity. It will be interesting to reflect on how realistic these assumptions are.

Minimum viable models

Then we did what any self-respecting group of govcampers would do in such a situation: we got out a flipchart and started thinking about the sort of things that would be helpful to include in a local government data maturity model. Lucy Knight has already spun up a Google Doc with our first thoughts on a data maturity model for local government.

More, as they say, as we get it.

PS. Though no-one from NESTA was there it’s worth noting the Local DataVores research project which is investigating these sorts of areas (NESTA is also part funding Data Evolution: thanks NESTA!)

 

Using web stats to engage colleagues and improve performance

2519646167_ca5ff3f9d7_b

(Not my choice of title)

I gave a presentation at Better Connected Live yesterday (25 May).The slidedeck is available online including a cheesy stock image that amused me (but, it would seem) no-one else. And a slide only included so I could make a “Why did the chicken cross the road” gag. Which I totally failed to do.

A talk of two halves

The first half of the talk was a rambling discourse of my, possibly ill-advised, research into the use of local government websites. I have written extensively around this research so I will spare the reader what I failed to spare the audience.

Engaging colleagues

First of all let me confess that I was never brilliant at engaging colleagues. My tactic of repeating “I don’t care what you think” was often not seen as an offer to collaborate.

However it did happen occasionally and since I’ve fled the shores of local government I have seen good examples of other people working closely with their colleagues.

Let’s not talk about data. Let’s talk about services.

The more I work with data the more I think it’s the wrong thing to talk about. No-one (apart from data-geeks) really cares about the data. They care about what the data tells them about their life or work. So let’s talk about that.

This also shifts the power dynamic. The web team “owns” the webstats. The service manager “owns” the service. So let’s talk about the service.

Who used your service? How did they get there?

My old friend Google Analytics (don’t forget Google Analytics is used by 89% of local authorities) is good at capturing and reporting referral headers. Referral headers, broadly, tell the stats engine which website the user was on before they arrived here.

Except referral headers are not passed by many email clients or by social media apps (though typically they are passed by social media platforms opened in web browsers). Which has the effect, for many organisations, of under-reporting referrals from social networks and emails.

There is a solution but I don’t see it widely implemented across local government: campaign tagging. Essentially manually appending extra information to the URL when you share it.

The Google URL Builder tool makes this easy and the process can be automated or semi-automated for enterprise use.

Referrals tell you not just what channel they used, but potentially infer some information about the user (if they clicked a link on the St Mary’s School website maybe they are a parent or pupil there). Device use, browser choice all help build a profile of who is visiting your content or accessing your service.

What did they do next?

One of the most powerful signals that your content or service is working well (or not working).

If people visit the missed bin page and then vanish from your site it suggests that they got what they were looking for. If people visit the missed bin page and then visit other pages in the waste area it suggests that page (or potentially the navigation leading to it) is failing the user.

What did you expect?

The killer question.

For the service manager .

This is your service. Who are you expecting to use it? Where are you expecting them to come from. What are you expecting them to do next?

It’s OK if this is a back of an envelope calculation but my golden rule of not getting hopelessly lost in analytics data is never to look at it without a question. The best question (at least to begin with) is “did this work the way we expected”.

The answer is almost certainly “No it did not work the way we expected”.

Why did it happen this way?

Your chosen webstats package can tell you what happened and when but it cannot tell you why.

The why is the interesting question of course. It’s probably because the service isn’t working for the user. The best way to fix it, of course, is to go and talk to some users.

But now you know what to talk to them about.

Use simple infographics

In the same way as the longer I spend working with data the less I talk about data the longer I spend with graphs (or infographics) the less I want them to do.

My favourite infographic is a single word.

Yes

(this worked as expected) or

No

(this did not work as expected)

Time series bar charts and scatter plots are terrifically useful for investigating “Why did it happen this way” but they are, in my humble opinion, largely rubbish for engaging colleagues.

Keep it nice and simple. Add complexity only when the user needs it.

The goal is your friend

Goal tracking is a very powerful tool in Google Analytics. It’s not expressed in language that resonates with local government (lot’s of stuff about ecommerce). But goals can be expressed flexibly and give you really powerful insights into how people are interacting with your site over multiple visits.

It can be a challenge to define goals for your website. But if you don’t know what the most important tasks are right now then what do you know?

The unit of delivery is the team

(As someone once said)

This stuff works well when everyone gets focused on the same task. I achieved most as a web manager when I worked alongside service managers looking at all of our data: web, calls, service levels together. I achieved least when I used data to try to win arguments (or service managers did the same with me).

In conclusion

There is mixed practice in local government around the use of webstats but I don’t think that can be broken out of the organisation’s practice around the use of data generally.

In fact data was a recurring theme at Better Connected Live. Which is good.

I find it helpful to remember that organisations don’t switch between binary states of “using data well” and “not using data well”. Instead data-sophistication is a journey.

In fact I’m involved in a data sophistication project in the voluntary sector called Data Evolution for just that reason.

(Photo credit: why by Art Siegel used under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Telling stories with data.

This is a place holder.

More will be along soon

At OD Camp I (Ben) suggested a little project exploring creative writing with data.

A small but perfectly formed group kicked aroun a few ideas.

We looked at a range of datasets but they didn’t seem to inspire.

I had this idea of the story of an osprey.

I used Twine to give the reader some choices. The consequences of the choices are informed by some (public and/or open) datasets.

It’s quick and dirty.

I’ll add new versions here:

Version 0. Very rough and ready.

Public bodies that use Google Analytics do hold the data collected

The dangers of email mail-merge

A long time ago I rather rashly made an FOIA request for website usage data from every principal local authority in the UK. Things got a bit fuzzy in Northern Ireland owing to their local government reorganisation but in general most people handed over the information. Sometimes incredibly swiftly (take a bow Cardiff), sometimes with a bit of nagging (I’ll spare your blushes).

Two councils refused my request on the grounds that they don’t hold the data. Being the suspicious type I investigated their home pages. One of them did not appear to be running any tracking script which (though eccentric) seemed to be in line with their response. The other was running the Google Analytics tracking script. I pointed this out and following a brief email exchange my request was rejected[changed from reviewed which was a typo] and this had been upheld by an internal review.

So I referred the matter to the ico.

The ico investigates

I have to say the investigating officer was a remarkably nice and helpful man, despite my erratic phone answering and the comparative nerdiness of my request. After some discussions and contemplation the ICO issued a decision notice in which, you will not be surprised to learn, my appeal was upheld.

The decision notice has been published. They’ve taken my name out, which is nice, and you can read the decision notice in a PDF.

So apart from crowing at my (let’s face it: pretty minor) victory why else am I here?

Well though I always thought the council was wrong I could kind of see where they were coming from and so I think aspects of the ICO decision notice are helpful to note.

Things to note

The ico decided:

17. Having considered the above, it is evident that Google Analytics holds the usage data because the council has previously instructed it to do so (i.e. by actively placing a tracking script within the code of its webpages). Whilst the council has explained that it no longer needs this usage data for any business reason, it is clear that Google Analytics continues to collate and store the usage data because it has not received instruction from the council not to (i.e. through the removal of the tracking script). On this basis, the Commissioner has concluded that the raw usage data is held on behalf of the council by Google Analytics.

The Council also pointed out that they would need to run a report to answer the question which would be the creation of new data: something they are not obliged to do. The ico has given them quite a lot to consider on this point but concludes:

22. Having considered the above, it would appear to the Commissioner that running a report on the electronically held raw usage data would result in a statistical summary. It would also appear that it may be reasonably practicable for the council to provide such a summary, due to it having both the Google Analytics tool and council officers with the necessary skill to use it. On this basis the Commissioner would be likely to conclude that the provision of a summary based on the raw usage data would not represent the creation of new information.

So. If you collect the data, you hold the data. If someone asks you for a statistical summary of the data you hold that is (within limits) covered.

(I haven’t actually received the data yet mind).

What should define a Multi Agency Information Cell?

Why the gripping headline?

I’m not sure I’m getting the hang of writing click-bait headlines. But this is a significant question for some people. And some of those people read this blog.

What’s it all about?

Version 2 of the JESIP doctrine has been published for consultation. JESIP is the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme and the JESIP Doctrine lays out how the emergency services should work together around major incidents.

Though JESIP is about the emergency services the doctrine actually affects hundreds more organisations because they (local authorities, heath bodies, utility companies and so on) have a duty to work with the emergency services (and each other) to sort out emergencies.

The original JESIP doctrine was pretty clear and sensible. Version 2 builds on these pragmatic and sensible foundations but adds in a couple of years of learning since the original. You can see the draft JESIP Doctrine here.

Get to the point Ben

Section 5 of the draft doctrine covers Information Assessment and Management. It touches on a range of things that will be of interest to people in my network (like essentially recommending ResilienceDirect as the way you should exchange data).

Section 5.4 issues a “Framework for Information Assessment” which is really saying “let’s be consistent in when talking about how reliable information is”. The question of how you assess the reliability of publicly available information (like reports on social media) is something VOST and Digital Humanitarian groups have some considerable expertise in.

Most exciting is section 5.5 which mandates a Multi-Agency Information Cell. This is a dashed good idea. In fact many people might think it sounds rather like a Virtual Operational Support Team (or VOST). In the current draft though the MAIC does seem a bit inward looking, pooling the geographic data that agencies have.

This sparked a bit of a discussion on Twitter and I said I would fire something up to see if we can get some sort of consensus from the VOST/BlueLight and possible CrisisMapping community.

Responding

The consultation is open to anyone to respond. responses have to be sent in a fairly structured way (using an Excel spreadsheet – I’ll park the discussion on the use of open formats for a more appropriate time). So anyone can (and probably should) respond in their own right.

 

I’d really appreciate the insight of the wider digital and emergencies community specifically on the sections about the Framework for Information Assessment and the Multi-Agency Information Cell. I’ve pulled those sections (and only those sections) into a Google Doc.

 

Living on the edge of devolution

Picture of a walker on a hill side with a farm in a valley far below and behind

Trains are devolving

Responsibility for the West Midlands rail franchise could be handed to the putative mayor of the West Midlands it has been reported. 

That’s probably a good thing. This devolution idea seems to be likely to hang around for a bit. Politicians based in Birmingham are likely to be more interested in rail services based in Birmingham than the bunch based in London. They may not run it any better but it’ll be a shorter drive to go and shout at them.

I’m not based in London or Birmingham so the whole thing is of largely academic interest to me.

Except actually I use that franchise quite a lot. The West Midlands franchise (currently badged London Midland) provides the (rather slow) rail link between Hereford and Birmingham (and Malvern, Worcester etc). We are, quite literally, the end of the line (or I suppose, the start).

London Midland isn’t the only operator serving Hereford. We travel north to Manchester and south to Cardiff and beyond on Arriva Trains Wales. Responsibility for this Wales and Borders Franchise is being handed over to the Welsh Assembly.

We’re also the end of the line for the occasional Great Western service (not complaining I love my early morning chug through the Cotswolds).

From next year the vast majority of our rail services will be under the control of devolved institutions. That’s exciting. Closer to the people, more accountable, more joined up.

Except, here in Herefordshire we don’t get a vote in either of those institutions. We’re not in Wales nor are we part of the West Midlands Combined Authority.

This might not matter. It’s not like transport planners have been focused on making an effective and efficient service at Hereford station up until now.

But it probably will matter.

The whole point of devolving decision making is that it will make it more responsive to local people. So the West Midlands franchise should be, under devolution, run to be in the best interests of Birmingham and the Black Country. The Wales and Borders franchise should be (despite the name) run to be in the best interests of the Welsh.

If it serves Herefordshire well it will be by accident or because our interests coincide with the interests of the people of Wales or the West Midlands.

I suspect you probably still don’t care. We’re only talking about trains after all.

But let’s think about some of the other issues that are going to be devolved to the West Midlands and are already devolved to Wales: health, social care, road transport, economic infrastructure investment.

In all these cases we’re on the edge. Potentially squeezed between two institutions created with the explicit purpose of not having to worry about the impact of their decisions on us.

What can we do?

As I see it we have three broad options

  1. We can ask to join one of these devolved bodies.

    Joining Wales might be a hard sell in the county (though maybe not, they are our neighbours after all (yes, OK, it would be a hard sell)). It would probably be an even harder sell to the people of Wales. And even then I can see negotiations over the use of the language and the location of “Welcome to England” signs spiralling out of control.


    The West Midlands might be even tougher. We don’t share a land border with the West Midlands county and, let’s face it, no more than 1 in 100 of their citizens could point to Hereford on a map, let alone Leominster.
  2. We can get a devolution settlement of our own.

    We’ve already missed out on some of the juicy deals but I think most Herefordians would have some strong opinions about local priorities for road spending or health. But the independent state of Herefordshire? It’s difficult to see it. Cornwall managed to get an early devolution deal so it’s not unheard of for a single county. But Cornwall has over half a million inhabitants (that’s not far off 3 times our population).


    So a combined authority then? Joining up with Shropshire and Telford? Or maybe with Worcestershire? That worked really well before didn’t it?


    No. No it didn’t.

    Personally I’m quite attracted to the idea of devolution to the Marches (currently configured as Shropshire, Telford and Herefordshire). If Worcestershire joined we’d match the police force boundary. If they can do it maybe politicians can to.But then I grew up in Hereford, lived in Shrewsbury and worked in Ironbridge. My perspective may not be typical.

    At least we could expect more of a focus on improving the A49.

  3. We can say a plague on all your houses and just ignore it.
    This also has its attractions. English devolution may not take. And compared to what we see in Wales it’s really quite limited.

    There are real reasons to be cautious. In 2008 Herefordshire Council merged with the Primary Care Trust (then the thing that made most of the decisions for the NHS in Herefordshire). This was an uncharacteristically innovative thing to happen in what is , to say the least, a small-c conservative county.

    That was unwound in 2013 not because the people of Herefordshire thought it was a bad idea but because the government struck Primary Care Trusts out of existence (as part of fulfilling their election pledge that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS).

    That should create within our leaders locally a healthy scepticism of how much power the folks in London are really going to hand over.

To devolve or not to devolve

I’m not trying to sell one option (except I think joining Wales is probably out) but I do think it’s something we should probably talk about.

Wouldn’t it be great if the people of the county had a say in where the decisions that affect the county were taken.

Is that a foolish hope?

If you want to know more about English devolution this blog post from the LGIU is a good place to start.

Photo credit: Fran heads for the edge by Alastair Campbell used under CC BY-SA 2.0