Home Page Forum's first outing only served to show its powerlessness 28/04/12

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

There was a curious irony manifested at the first public forum of One Haverhill alone on Thursday. If you remember, the new organisation has held one previous public meeting six months ago, but that was combined with, and mainly subordinate to, a Safer Neighbourhood Team public forum.

One Haverhill is the organisation which has been set up to bring together all the agencies which provide services to Haverhill, and to deliver the exciting pilot project of community budgeting, in which Haverhill is one of only ten pilots set up by the Government nationally.

The idea of that is that we should get an idea of what money is being spent in Haverhill by all these agencies and be able to either restructure or influence the way it is done to target it at what we want doing, rather than what they want to do.

In theory it is a brilliant idea, and we heard a very encouraging presentation about it from Gordon Mussett, the outgoing town clerk, who is going to be working with the Suffolk Association of Local Councils in helping to deliver it. He showed the example that six organisations currently cut open space grass in Haverhill, and how it could be done better or cheaper by combining it into one contract.

The reason all this good stuff was so ironic was that we had just heard from the primary care trust, NHS Suffolk, and from the out-of-hours doctors service Harmoni how they were not going to take any notice of anything that anyone in Haverhill told them they wanted.

The poor little man from NHS Suffolk looked as if he had only just got out of bed again after recovering from the last time he came to Haverhill to try to defend the closure of the Crown Health Centre.

He was in for it again, of course, and the truth is that it is probably water off a duck’s back to him, and he just cultivates a rather helpless and inept image in the hope that people will feel sorry for him before he goes home and drives the axe in even further.

Last time he came, it was under the auspices of Haverhill Town Council which, as everyone knows, has very limited powers, so it was unsurprising that whatever councillors said to him had little effect.

One might have hoped that One Haverhill would be an organisation with a bit more clout. Indeed, it is going to have to be if it is going to have any success in dealing with these agencies, because NHS Suffolk is not alone in its Scrooge-like tendencies and its parochial unawareness of anything about Haverhill at all.

It has taken 30 years to get St Edmundsbury Borough Council to acknowledge there are any people in Haverhill whose views they need to take any note of. The campaign to achieve the same with Suffolk County Council is in its infancy and as for the rest of the agencies, it isn’t even a gleam in their bureaucratic or profit-obsessed eyes.

The pilot project is supposed to give One Haverhill the backing of the Government when it comes to dealing with these agencies and companies – dealing with water, power, waste, health, telecommunications, transport, housing and so on – and the theory is that that will give us a lot more clout. We’ll see.

Many of these services are delivered by private companies and the only people they listen to are shareholders. The so-called not-for-profit agencies are mostly either countywide or regional, so the little pimple of Haverhill bothers them not a jot.

It was apparent on Thursday that NHS Suffolk has no intention of paying any more heed to One Haverhill than it did to the town council, and the same could be said of Harmoni.

The sacrificial lambs who come along to defend these agencies are professional apologists. Almost all the services they provide everywhere fall short of what people would like, so they spend their days holding up their hands to mistakes or saying ‘hard luck’ to objectors over cuts.

Not only that, but they have convinced themselves, in their professional roles, that they are in the right and that this ridiculous little community of complaining people can be treated to any old codswallop, like some relative with dementia.

Of course, it would be very different if it was them or their family waiting with their toddler for two hours at 1am to be seen at a ‘dynamic base’. They’d be in A&E before you could say ‘disproportionate over-provision’.

But it’s like ransoming kidnapped hostages – politicians are all against it, until you ask them what they would do if it was their family and they change their tune.

It remains to be seen whether, in the future, One Haverhill can do any more than provide a platform for a bit of ritual public anger.

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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