Home Page The price of change is only worth paying if it makes things better 05/12/14

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Matthew Hancock
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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 2007-2008.

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 just me.

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 generation.

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 eventually emerged.

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 fault, guvínor.

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.

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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