Hart of the Matter
All we seem to hear about at the moment is cutbacks of one kind or another. This week it was the slashing of spending on schools, with the end of the Buildings Schools for the Future programme.
I think we all realise there is a lot of belt-tightening ahead, but one can’t help wondering how the priorities are being selected, and whether approaching the process via Government department budgets is the most effective way.
Haverhill, just like other parts of Suffolk and, I suppose, Britain, nowadays, has a group of people called a Safer Neighbourhood Team. It’s led by the police but includes representatives of other agencies such as councils, housing providers, emergency services, etc.
Once a month it has a public meeting for people to put forward suggestions and, as I have explained not too many weeks ago, almost its entire attention is taken up with anti-social behaviour of one kind or another, mostly either alcohol-fuelled young people or inconsiderate motorists.
Listening to the litany of areas of the town – and I am sure other towns are the same or, more likely, worse – where the perception of nuisance, crime and disturbance is almost entirely focused on these two sections of society, I began to wonder the other day just how much these problems are costing us.
When you add up all the police and agency time and resources, and the cost of all the systems and bureaucracy which process the results of their efforts, you begin to realise what a drain these problems are on the national purse.
One might point the finger at intolerant residents who complain at the slightest bit of boisterousness, or at every harmless defiance of double yellow lines. But these are the majority of people, and they have a right to expect not to have their lives spoilt by lack of consideration from the minority – which is what most of this stuff amounts to.
So they turn to the police or to some part of local or national government for help and, as everyone nowadays has to be accountable, a response is expected. Thus time and money are continually being expended on an endless clear-up of the effects of careless and inconsiderate people.
Somebody said at this week’s meeting that it would be better to stop vandalism rather than just clearing up afterwards.
Perhaps the coalition Government should be looking at expanding on that thought. Instead of cutting back on the one-off capital programmes which try to deliver a better society and a better environment, they should be boosting them in order to reduce the ongoing haemorrhaging of taxpayers’ money on this clear-up operation.
It is difficult to understand how we have got to the stage of allowing the minority of young people to cost the country so much, while cutting back spending on the majority of young people who will be earning for us in the future.
Young people, whether in school or in the community, deserve top class facilities to help them to be constructive, and zero tolerance to prevent them from being destructive. That doesn’t mean intolerance of high spirits, of letting off steam, even of the odd beer or two when under-age.
It means intolerance of careless and inconsiderate behaviour in whatever circumstances, and of actions which harm others or the wider community.
And if young people are to be expected to conform to these values, then their role models will have to also, and every time their parents park in a disabled space or verbally abuse a public servant or employee they should be faced up with same level of intolerance from society.
Again, it is the minority of road-users whose lack of consideration results in the costly measures which have to be taken to keep people safe or the environment pleasant.
These are areas where the state can have an important role to play in creating a fair and just society and, in the process, saving itself a huge amount of money in ‘clear-up’ costs.
And before anyone moans that this is just the way modern society is and you can’t change it, you only have to look at the successes there have been, in both New York and London, in reducing crime and increasing the public’s feeling of safety.
I can’t believe that continuing to educate children in badly-maintained school buildings is going to result in any reduction in anti-social behaviour and the knock-on costs in taxes and insurance premiums. Rather the reverse.