Home Page At last! ONE Haverhill's public forum - what will happen next? 17/10/14

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Hart of the Matter

I have to admit I can hardly wait for next Wednesday. Why? Because, for the first time in, I think, nearly three years, ONE Haverhill is to hold a public forum.


This is an organisation which pledged itself to holding six-monthly public forums when it first decided that its board meeting would be held in private. Since then there have been several attempts to open them up to the public, without success.


Since then, also, there have been no public forums. The only one which was ever held, as far as I can remember, was in Castle Manor’s dining hall, combined with a Safer Neighbourhood Team public forum, with the SNT taking up almost the whole evening.


It might have been possible to see this as an attempt to hide ONE Haverhill’s six-monthly encounter with the public, and the format was abandoned by the SNT. Left to hold its forums stand-alone, ONE Haverhill has seemed unwilling to convene another.


So, we wonder, what does Wednesday’s historic event hold for us? Will we, for instance, be given a definition of what ONE Haverhill is that we can all understand?


It is some time since I first likened it to the efforts of scientists to explain quantum physics or black holes. This week there was, coincidentally, a Horizon programme about black holes, which began with a variety of the world’s top cosmologists and astro-physicists being asked what black holes were.


Their replies were remarkably similar to those which I have received whenever I have asked what ONE Haverhill is. They began in ‘Um’ and then got as far as ‘Er’ before petering out.


However, I imagine ONE Haverhill has been emboldened to ‘go public’ in so far as it ever seems to be prepared to, by its stunning success in creating new apprenticeships in Haverhill. This has been a triumph of local partnerships and, in particular, of the youth skills manager appointed to tackle the issue.


Indeed, it is so remarkable it has received tributes from inside Government, and is now about to be copied by other local authorities up and down the country, desperate to achieve the same success.


As they say, you can’t argue with results. However, that is only one of ONE Haverhill’s priorities and, challenging though it was, not as tough as the current one which it has set itself of creating a masterplan for the town centre.


This, of course, is the biggest hope for Wednesday – that we will discover more about this process and what it has come up with so far.


However, there will no doubt be some people who still want to question work that ONE Haverhill was doing last year and before that, with regard to youth provision in Haverhill.


It has been leading the way on the ‘youth hub’ project, originally planned for the Burton Centre, but now to be located in the former magistrates court.


As recently as May, during the town’s annual meeting, there were several questions levelled at the unfortunate town mayor about the business plan for this, which he could only refer to ONE Haverhill which, of course, is not publicly accountable – or not until now.


So expect some close grilling on that issue, as well as the town centre plan. The problem is that ONE Haverhill now appears to have a lot of power – maybe more than any other single organisation in Haverhill, despite having no money of its own. After all, it has, we are led to believe, the ear of Government.


Almost any major or significant issue in Haverhill which you ask anyone else about – town, borough, county councils, etc – results in you being referred back to ONE Haverhill. People get suspicious of this sort of situation, particularly if it meets entirely in private and only publishes its own version of events, called minutes, on line.


So there will no doubt be some discussion on Wednesday about the very fact of its continuing to meet in private – particularly if any issues arise which ONE Haverhill is reluctant to clarify with complete transparency within a public forum. And one imagines there might be a few of those within the town centre masterplan process.


We are told that the main opponents to meeting in public are the unelected members of the ONE Haverhill board. The councillors, elected members, are happy about it, as are the public officials.


But there are people on that board who represent agencies and not-for-profit organisations, as well as the private sector, and who are not used to operating in the full glare of publicity and don’t like the idea of it at all.


I have never heard a more compelling argument in favour of being suspicious about privatisation schemes and private finance initiatives. The culture is so very different.


Now, you may point to the council officers who are also, apparently, opposed to meetings being held in public. They like to hide away sometimes, it is true, and it has occasionally been like pulling teeth to get information out of them at Haverhill Area Working Party since that met in public.


Why is all this? What is it that council officers and private company employees both fear? There can only be one answer – their jobs. They must presumably, spend much of their time back-watching and are very reluctant to do anything so much a hostage to fortune as to have an opinion that anyone knows about.


Hopefully, as was beginning to appear at the annual town meeting and will continue to manifest itself on Wednesday, their days for being able to think like that are numbered.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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