Home Page Fund-it-yourself is only fair if it applies to everyone 19/10/12

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Hart of the Matter

Whoopee! This week, news of some big spending, part of which will actually be in Haverhill. Suffolk County Council has agreed to a plan which will invest £60million in building new state-of-the-art care homes to replace the current ones.


One will be in Haverhill to replace Place Court, on the site of the former Chalkstone Middle School. Itís not a new idea, because the county council came forward with it a couple of years ago. The difference this time is that itís private money, because the new-build will be funded by Care UK, which is taking over the councilís care homes.


Many will celebrate this as a triumph for the councilís policy of divesting itself of various responsibilities and farming them out to the private sector. Weíll see.


It may be so, and should be welcomed, but we have to remember that the human care provided is more important than the buildings, and tip-top facilities would not make up for slap-dash care Ė not that there is any reason to think this latter would be the case to begin with as Place Courtís excellent staff will be transferring to the new facility.


The fear is that the current levels of care will become diluted by the sort of cost savings which the private sector might bring in at a later date, if times become difficult. We have no way of knowing if there are any grounds for this fear, although it is born of experience in other places.


But the care home story puts into the spotlight the issue of Ďdivestmentí, as they now like to term what we used to call privatisation. More than anything, it poses the question of why? What, in the end, are we trying to achieve Ė cost savings? Better care? Greater efficiency? All three?


It may seem odd to make a leap from this essential service to the arts and heritage, which most would consider a lot less important.


However, we also heard this week that Suffolk County Council intends to create a Suffolk Heritage Centre. No indication is given as to cost, but two sites are put forward, one in Ipswich and one in Bury St Edmunds (surprise, surprise).


It does seem an odd time to jump into such a project. Times are tough. The council has been cutting back on all sorts of services. In Haverhill, we are particularly aware of cutbacks in youth provision and of the fact that the street lights go out at midnight in many residential areas, causing a certain level of fear.


How, one might ask, can we still afford what amounts to a vanity project for the county? The controversial slogan which the new tourism partnership for the county recently came up with Ė Suffolk, The Curious County Ė would seem unfortunately apt.


But such vanity projects never seem to be out of fashion. Look at the Arc and the Apex (I know thatís wrong but I refuse to use lower case for the name of a building Ė itís just plain wrong).


As many pointed out at the time, the grant to Haverhill Arts Centre which was axed by St Edmundsbury last year, could have been continued for 100 years for the amount it cost to build the Apex venue in Bury.


This year, the borough axed the money it has given annually for Christmas Lights in Haverhill and in Clare. The argument was that these grants were unfair because no such grant was given to Bury.


But when it was pointed out that any discussion about fairness should include a comparison of funding for Haverhill Arts Centre and Apex Ė which is going to be costing us council tax payers something like three-quarters of a million pounds this year Ė the parallel fell on stony ground.


Anyone who balks at the fact that council tax in Haverhill had to go up to cover the loss of grant from St Edmundsbury to the arts centre, because they donít use the building and donít see why they should pay towards it, should look at how much they pay towards the Apex and ask themselves how often they use that.


Of course, when it comes down to it, we in Haverhill just keep battling on and finding ways of making silk purses out of the sowís ears dealt by the borough and the county.


If youíre one of the lucky ones who got a ticket to The Sound Of Music this week, I like to think, as Iím involved with Centre Stage Company, that you saw a good show. Centre Stage is a partnership with the arts centre, but basically receives no ongoing direct public money at all, from either a local authority or an arts body.


That show costs an enormous amount of money to stage. The performers on stage and backstage crew are volunteers, but everything else has the same costs as any professional show.


So who pays for it? The answer is, you do Ė the people who flocked to see it and ensured it was sold out all week. The fact that virtually every seat was sold just about covers the cost. So itís an example of Haverhill funding its own facilities, as ever.


Thereís nothing wrong with that. But thatís The Sound Of Music, probably the most enduringly popular single piece of entertainment you can think of. And itís once or twice a year. A venue like the arts centre has to run all year with a programme to suit all tastes Ė and, amazingly, it does, thanks to us in Haverhill paying for it. Letís see other venues created and operated in the same way.

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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