Home Page On a day to beware of scary monsters, make sure you get the right bogeyman 31/10/14

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

Having had a bit of a break from the usual run of things this week, caused by the arrival of our sonís firstborn, I return to Haverhill matters on Halloween, which seems curiously appropriate at the moment.


Halloween is the time of year when we have to beware of the bogeyman, and we donít need to look far to find one, if some people are to be believed.


There is a monster stalking our streets, we are told Ė a vile, despoiling, greedy and incompetent leviathan Ė which is draining us of everything we have in order to feather its own not inconsiderable nest and to further its evil and disastrous aims.


Now, I may not have always been an enthusiastic supporter of everything that St Edmundsbury Borough Council does, but even I can recognise that this would represent an extremely distorted and erroneous view of that august body.


Nevertheless, it has done some things to Haverhill down the years which have been pretty detrimental, not to say disastrous, so you might understand how a very biased and misled individual might come to that conclusion.


But strangely enough, it is not dear old St Eds which is thus portrayed with relentless regularity across the ether, but your friendly neighbourhood town council.


How the cuddly, well-intentioned and almost obsessively pro-Haverhill members of the town council could have come to be represented, or misrepresented, in this way, is one of those mysteries which defy explanation.


It has happened before and will, no doubt happen again. It happens up and down the country and is part of the thankless task of being a town councillor. The problem lies at the door of the relatively silent majority of people who very much appreciate what the town council does for the town but who just get on with enjoying the benefits without becoming involved in argument over the inner workings of the process.


The most blatant example of the mystery in action occurred in the early 2000s when an in-depth independent community survey of Haverhill had been carried out as part of a bid for Government regeneration money.


This was one of the only really competent surveys of the town ever to be carried out, and it was called a Social Impact Study. Large numbers of people were spoken to right across the board Ė directly, because this was before the time when enough people were using the Internet.


One of the stand-out findings of the Social Impact Study was that, although people had very little support for, belief in, or satisfaction with, either St Edmundsbury Borough or Suffolk County Councils, there was a 78 per cent satisfaction rate for Haverhill Town Council.


The experts who carried out the study, and had carried out many similar ones across the country, said this was just about the highest approval rate they had ever found for a local authority anywhere.


Six months after the study came out, the Haverhill electorate kicked out those town councillors and replaced them with the amorphous group of independents who called themselves the Haverhill Representative Alliance - and we all know where that led.


Why? Why would people be so inconsistent and so gullible. It wasnít as if it there was a low turnout. The election was on the same day as a general election. It didnít help that the party in power had been Labour and Mr Blair had decided to charge into Iraq within very recent memory.


But in the end, it was probably just that people are always looking for something different from the old party alignments. The HRA were able to insinuate that the incumbent councillors were self-interested and incompetent, and that some sort of manipulation was going on, which simple souls are always keen to believe.


Of course, the one person they couldnít get rid of was the town clerk, because heís not elected, but they made his life as difficult as possible, employing the rising Internet usage to disseminate all sorts of unfounded accusations.


Well, clerks get paid quite a reasonable amount of money to put up with this sort of carping, but why would anybody do so for free? Therein lies the difficulty of attracting people to stand for office.


Even at the last election there were not enough candidates standing to fill the seats on the town council, and people had to be co-opted. That was a pity because it leads to some people claiming there is a democratic deficit.


But one of those co-opted was the current town mayor, and I wouldnít like to guess how many hours he has put in to attend countless functions, of no doubt varied levels of interest to him, across the community, so the town did quite well out of it.


So one can only hope there will be plenty of keen and enthusiastic people now considering standing for the town council at next Mayís elections Ė enthusiastic for the improvement of the town and not for the furtherance of their party or for the downfall of anyone elseís.


Now is the time to be considering candidacy and re-arranging your life to be able to commit to the job. Itís no good come next March saying: ĎIíd love to stand but Iím just too busy to give the time to ití.


Iíve never believed that excuse anyway. As they say, if you want something done, ask a busy person. People who say they are too busy invariably arenít that busy at all. Itís all a matter of priorities.


If there really are people out there who think the town council has fouled up over the last five years, they should be first in the queue and then, when they get elected, we can all do our best to find fault with what everything they do.


Incidentally, Iím not convinced of the perfection of everything the town council has done either, but itís made as good a job as any other and better than many, and at least Iíll admit as much.


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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