Hart of the Matter
Change, we are always being told, is a good thing, a sign of
life and forward-thinking, and Haverhill has had to adapt to higher levels of
change than most places over the past 60 years.
It may be because of this that the continual change and
evolution going on within our public services at the moment is taken within our
stride, as it were, with little desire being shown to hold on to outmoded ways
of doing things.
Of course, things can become outmoded nowadays within a few
months of them being instituted and that is when one begins to wonder whether the
continual change going on all around us, and the cost of it all might explain
where all the money has gone.
After all, there can be few of us who have not wondered
vaguely, in the middle of the night, what actually happened to all those
trillions of pounds, dollars, euros or whatever which vanished sometime around
It canít all have gone into the pockets of the bankers, although
a not insignificant amount does appear to have magicked itself into their trouser
pockets while they werenít looking. There was a time when I thought the Chinese
had got it all, but that now appears not to be the case either.
There is always the possibility that it was never there in
the first place, but was just made up by politicians and bankers to give them something
to play with. Another possibility is that we spent it Ė all of us, that is, not
I donít remember spending very much at all, especially when
my mortgage was at 15 per cent, but none of the younger generation ever
remember that now when they start up hammering the so-called lucky or golden
But even if all of us had managed to spend it, someone ought
to have been on the receiving end, so they would have it now, no doubt
transformed into good solid property, like our esteemed Euromillions lottery
winner buying up all the new houses next to the research park.
Nevertheless even he doesnít account for all of it. No, I
rather fear that a lot of it has just been spent within public services around
the world in trying unsuccessfully to re-invent the wheel.
I am reminded of that particularly this week when I read the
agendas (is that a word? Iím not sure you can pluralise an already plural word,
but you know what I mean) of two important meetings in Haverhill next week.
On Monday, we have the quarterly public forum of Haverhill
Safer Neighbourhood Team, and I see that it is no longer going to be possible
to raise issues from the floor on the night. My immediate reaction to that is
to ask what the point of the meeting now is. Itís only function seems to be to
have a show of hands Ė or gold stars in this case.
This is where live-streaming the meeting and attempting to
widen its appeal via social media have led us. Last time, apparently, there was
some Ďtrollingí. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, this is not the act
of lying in wait under a bridge for the Three Billygoats Gruff to amble past.
It is a rather low form of personal abuse directed at people from the cowardly
safety of anonymity via their computers.
So the Ďliveí messageboards for comment on the evening have
been taken down. For some reason also, the opportunity for people to turn up
and raise an issue on the night has also gone, and a selection of acceptable
ones out of those raised beforehand, made by an ad hoc little group around a table
in private, will be presented to the public to vote on Ė a bit like what the
Chinese plan for Hong Kong.
Itís a neat way of shunting unwanted issues off the track
altogether. It also represents the latest change in a continuing process which
has seen the format of this meeting go through almost every evolution
imaginable in a well-meaning attempt to improve its effectiveness. How much has
all that cost, I wonder, not just in money, but in time and resources?
Then on Thursday, we have the quarterly meeting of the
Haverhill Area Working Party of St Edmunsbury Borough Council (HAWP). It has a
full-ish agenda, but when you look at it more closely, you find that most items
are updates either from the council, or from ONE Haverhill.
At HAWPís last meeting it was suggested the format of these
meetings could be changed into a more general discussion group. This sounded a
bit reminiscent of the old Haverhill Partnership, out of which ONE Haverhill
All the time, public bodies are trying to find new ways of
engaging the public in what they do, in the hope of gaining some sort of
mandate in case things go wrong. If thereís a major mess-up in a council
project, they can always point to one of these meetings and say it was all
agreed by everyone.
If the police are suddenly shown to have missed a crucial trend,
they can always say they were given their priorities by the public. Not our
It may be popular, but all this involvement of the public
must cost a heap of money one way or another, and I see no evidence that the
end result benefits in any way from the publicís input, more than it would have
done under the old, outmoded systems.
And when it comes to the body which, we are told, is actually
going to be making the important decisions about Haverhill and its future, ONE
Haverhill, the public are excluded. That is not only wrong, but it is also illogical
and inconsistent within the new world order.