Hart of the Matter
Am I alone in becoming rather confused about my status with regard to local and national government and our many service providers?
I used to be a ratepayer and a taxpayer. That was simple enough and I could understand it. I paid my rates and I paid my taxes and I elected people to decide how the money should be allocated to provide the services for me which I needed.
Then I became a council taxpayer and a general taxpayer, and I was told I had become a customer, or a client, of the service providers. This was a little more difficult because I had to get my head around the fact that, although I still elected people to dish out the money, many of the services were provided by businesses.
But I came to terms with that. I paid money and they provided the services. As a customer, I should then be always right, although it never quite seemed to work like that.
However, I have now become a stakeholder, a partner, a consultee and whatever other fancy title they confer upon me. Not only do I now pay tax and council tax, put I also have to decide how I would like it to be spent. This has put a whole new set of responsibilities upon me for which I am not entirely qualified.
Thus in the autumn I was asked how I wanted Haverhill town centre to be improved, in terms of retail offer and general environment. The results of what I said are still being processed.
Then I am being asked on a quarterly basis how I would like Haverhill to be policed and what I think our officers should be doing. Last time I couldn’t think of very much, so I am not sure how they are filling their time. But very soon they’ll be wanting to ask me what I think of electing a police and crime commissioner.
Now I am being asked what I think about Haverhill Fire Station’s manning being changed so that it is staffed only by retained firefighters at the weekend, as it is overnight all the time. I don’t really know enough about the risk factors involved, so I am still chewing my pencil over that one.
Before I have had time to answer that one, they come in with another poser for me – what future would I like to see for our care homes, particularly Place Court? Would I be happy to see them sold off into the private sector?
While I am thinking about that one I must get ready to be consulted this month about whether a research park at Hanchet End is a good idea, and whether the developers should be allowed to build houses or a hotel there as well.
And that is just an hors d’oeuvre to the main dish of being consulted about the new Haverhill Masterplan. This, I am informed grandly, is about every aspect of life in Haverhill and how I would like to see it develop and improve over the next 20 years.
As I sink to the floor under this weight of responsibility someone gently inquires if I would like to participate in running Haverhill library.
Somewhere along the line somebody in authority – to quote WS Gilbert ‘I don’t know who, very likely the Astronomer Royal’ – has lost sight of the central fact about paying taxes of all kinds. I don’t pay them just to fund people to provide services for me. I pay them so that I don’t have to spend time worrying about their provision. I elect people to do that for me.
I accept there are plenty of people who will shop around for hours on foot or on the Internet to get the cheapest example of the item they want. But there are a lot of us who think life is too short for that, and we’d rather be doing something more interesting.
So we pay a little extra not to have to bother with all that and, hopefully to have someone on hand so we don’t have to worry too much if the item goes wrong.
The same is true of taxes. I would rather pay a little bit more and not have to think too hard – or to pay for all the consulting.
Of all these consultations which have been thrust upon me recently, although most are interesting to some degree, I am not really qualified to have an opinion on the majority. A fully admit this, however unfashionable it may be among those who spend their time filling the ether with their uninformed opinions, and whose distrust of politicians has indirectly brought this new weight of responsibility down on me.
The only one for which I think consultation is justified, is the Masterplan. It covers every angle of our lives and even if we think we are a bit old to worry about 2031, our children and grandchildren are not.
So I shall put all those other questions out of my mind and concentrate on that one, and then maybe – just maybe – I might be clear-headed enough to have an intelligent thought about it.