Home Page Wait until you see the benefits of Haverhill's mystery Christmas present 23/12/11

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

I suppose everyone has, from time to time, received a Christmas present which they don’t quite understand. You know, the one where you smile amiably at the giver, if they are in the room when you open it, and put it on one side to look at later, murmuring: "Lovely. That’s really interesting. Thanks”.


Sometimes the mystification is more about why they should have given it to you than about what it is or what you are going to do with it.


But I find as I get older that I receive presents which are brilliant once they have been explained to me, but which, if left to myself, I would never have been able to use at all.


These are the technological ones, particularly anything to do with computers or home entertainment. It took me months to understand the first simple compact digital camera I was given, but at least I was able to read the instructions and make some sense of them.


Since then, there have been more challenging items – something for turning your LPs into CDs, something called a blue-ray, and, last year, something utterly mysterious which goes by the bizarre name of a USB Wireless LAN Adapter.


It came in a little box with a thick book of instructions, 98 per cent of which were in a foreign language and the other two per cent supposedly in English but which were nevertheless incomprehensible. Like Tony Hancock reading Bertrand Russell, I felt it was in my native language so I ought to be able to understand it, yet it defeated me.


Luckily, like most dinosaurs, I have a younger member of the family from whom these presents mostly emanate, and he knows all about them – what they are for and, most importantly, how to set them up.


It turns out the contents of this little box enable me to watch any TV programmes whenever I want, so I never have to bother about missing them, or recording them (unless I want to keep them) or storing them and not having time to watch them, any more. It does the same for radio.


Now, I am not so ignorant as to have been unaware of iPlayer, and had occasionally watched things via it on my computer. But this is quicker, easier and on my TV screen without having to move from my chair – just fantastic, especially for dealing with the feast of Christmas entertainment about to descend upon us.


All this is not just a general seasonal ramble, but by way of a parallel with the Christmas present which Haverhill has received from the Government this year.


The town has been picked as one of ten pilots for a new Government scheme for community budgeting. Most residents, reading or hearing about this, will no doubt be as bewildered as I am on receiving a technological present.


Fortunately we have people on hand who know how to interpret this mystery and deliver its benefits to us – and these could be pretty exciting. Let me try to explain.


Haverhill is a relatively small town in the corner of a large county, on the edge of a large region and poorly served by infrastructure. The result is that our services are mostly delivered to us from some distance away and by people who are unfamiliar with our requirements.


Consequently, although there may be a reasonable amount of cash being put into the town to provide us with a good quality of life, it is not targeted very well. For instance, Suffolk County Council may be spending money on something we are not much bothered about and cutting something we really want.


Anglian Water or NHS Suffolk or the Environment Agency or the Benefits Agency or Eon, or any number of other organisations may be spending a reasonable amount of cash across the region, including here, but in a one-size-fits-all programme which is not suited to what Haverhill particularly needs.


Local leaders have been aware of this for a while, and it was one of the reasons Haverhill Partnership was set up, which has now been replaced by One Haverhill, a single forum to address all the town’s issues.


But the problem is that little Haverhill’s single forum has very little clout when it comes to these big conglomerations, some of which are foreign-owned. They are not accountable to us, except in the most circuitous and indirect ways.


However, they are more accountable to central Government. The new pilot scheme will see the Government putting the weight of its resources behind efforts to target the cash being spent on Haverhill more effectively.


It’s a new way of doing things, and most places are not set up for it. We, however, have One Haverhill already in place, an ideal delivery model.


So Haverhill Town Council’s bid, for which they had to send representatives to Whitehall to argue our case, has been the only successful one by a town council in the whole country.


I reckon that’s an impressive Christmas present. We may not know what it’s for, or how to use it yet. We may not even be able to understand the instructions. But sooner or later it could begin producing real improvements in our quality of life. Merry Christmas.

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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