Home Page ONE Haverhill looks like its working, whether on not we understand it 07/06/13

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Hart of the Matter

We’ve heard quite a lot about a mysterious organisation called ONE Haverhill over the last couple of years. I say mysterious not only because it mostly meets in private, which I have said quite enough about already, but also because its function is difficult for residents to comprehend.


To be fair, ONE Haverhill recognises that and, indeed, has struggled to comprehend its exact function itself, because it is a pioneering idea and has no predecessors to copy.


This week, we saw for the first time an example of what ONE Haverhill does and has been doing over the last year since it was selected to deliver one of 12 national pilots selected by the Government as part of its localism agenda.


The Haverhill Community Budget Plan was launched at the arts centre on Thursday morning, with introductory speeches and a presentation, and it’s pretty impressive stuff.


Nevertheless the enveloping opacity surrounding much of its content was again appreciated by those putting it forward, because they kept wanting to check if we had completely understood it.


I got off on the right foot that morning by listening to some professors explaining the Theory of Relativity to Melvyn Bragg, but Haverhill Community Budget Plan was still a challenging concept.


The two things have this much in common, that it is difficult to get your head around what you can’t actually see. Where Einstein grappled with space and time, the HCB plan talks of ‘virtual pots of money’ and ‘embedding and delivering the philosophy of localism’.


However, the rather swish booklet which accompanied the presentation contains some very interesting facts, which begin to throw some light on what all the complex verbiage is actually about.


The first fact is one of those which make you despair of government of any kind and the second is one which washes all that despair away.


ONE Haverhill, for those who don’t yet know, brings together everyone who puts resources into the town, in an effort to direct them the way we want, rather than the way others from outside might imagine we want. All very laudable – even Utopian, you might think.


So it began by setting a couple of priorities and looking more closely at those. The priorities chosen were youth opportunities and the physical environment.


Last year it identified 66 different services delivered in Haverhill in these two areas alone. That is Fact No 1 – 66 different services! At this point you despair of the vast bureaucracy that can create such a diverse and no doubt reduplicating situation.


But it also identified £48million a year is spent in Haverhill by the three local councils alone – county, borough and town. That is Fact No 2, and before we go any further, let’s just look at that for a moment in more detail.


There are, say, 12,000 households in Haverhill. I don’t know the exact figure, but the population is now 27,000, so it’s a sort of educated guess based on average household sizes.


Divide that into £48million and you get £4,000. Do you pay £4,000 a year in council tax? Of course not. I doubt if anyone here does, even if there was a Band Z. Most of us pay between £1,000 and £1,500 a year, and moan like hell about it. So we are all being subsidised massively from somewhere.


Of course, the answer is that the other money mostly comes from Government, so it’s our taxes again, but the point is worth remembering the next time you complain about value for money in your council tax.


As a sideline, Fact No 3 is that Suffolk County Council spent 80 per cent of its pavements 2012/13 budget for the western area on Haverhill, which has 25 per cent of the population, and it has committed to do much the same this year. That’s one in the eye for critics of SCC like me, but it is, of course, only one small budget heading.


It turns out that eight per cent of the £48million, that’s about £3.8million, is being spent on youth services or the physical environment (are you keeping up? Because I shall be asking questions later.)


ONE Haverhill proposes that by spending just 12 per cent of that (£465,000) in a different way, and adding three per cent (£117,000), financial benefits of £5.5million can be achieved.


The crucial point to understand is that ONE Haverhill has none of this money. It is all money that belongs to the councils or agencies and which they are agreeing to ‘re-focus’ or to ‘align’ – which means spend as part of this plan. So you see I did grasp what ‘virtual pots of money’ are, even though I still struggle with the curves of the fourth dimension.


This HCB plan goes to Whitehall and should show that the idea works and it’s worth the Government’s while to re-invest such savings in the future to achieve these and greater results, thus getting more funding into the town.


There was a representative of the Department of Communities and Local Government attending the launch on Thursday with messages of support from ministers. The fact that she got there so late she missed the event, despite setting out at 6am, due to the difficulties of travel, might indicate in what area the Government could most usefully invest for Haverhill.


But all in all, this plan proves that ONE Haverhill is basically A Good Thing, and we should get tidier and better streets and pavements, and young people will have a ‘one-stop shop’ for advice, activities and training, careers support and something else which we are not allowed to call a youth centre because that puts them off.


They haven’t come up with a name for it yet, but I suggest we should call it the NYC (‘Not a Youth Centre’), then, depending on their horizons, they can interpret it as New York City or the town jail. Both could be admitted to, as a destination, without loss of street cred.


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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