Home Page We are starting to decide priorities by who shouts loudest 17/06/11

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Two or three things have occurred this week that have made me wonder about the way we – the public – can get the things done in our community which we want doing. It’s not as straightforward as you might think.


First of all, here is a question. Would you rather your council spent money on getting our bins emptied every week in the way the Government was trying to impose until it ducked out last week, or would you rather it employed an economic development officer?


I suspect most people would choose the former, and some clever clogs would say the two should not be mutually exclusive.


But consider this point, raised by Tim Passmore, chief executive of a local development agency and leader of Mid-Suffolk District Council, speaking to Haverhill business people yesterday. The public sector in Suffolk spends £5billion a year. Unless we encourage entrepreneurs and business people to grow the local economy we will have no tax base, so we will no longer be able to fund that. It’s quite a stark choice.


However, Mr Passmore had other interesting points to make. For instance, as tourism leader on the new Local Enterprise Partnership board for Norfolk and Suffolk, he is keen to boost local tourism, and he stressed how important it is, in pursuit of that, to make sure places are tidy and litter-free. He urged that local authorities must focus on not cutting back on these functions.


I wonder if he saw anything in Haverhill which made him make that point here, or whether he makes it everywhere.


More generally, that view seems to be on the side of those who want the minor, parochial things in our communities done well as a top priority. So, how would we go about achieving that?


Leaving that question in the air for a moment, let us turn to the subject of the moment, illegal parking in Haverhill High Street. I see it figures on a town council committee meeting agenda next week, where there is a proposal that the council campaigns for greater enforcement.


The report on this item highlights how, since the withdrawal of traffic wardens there has been a steady increase in the parking. Previous attempts to enforce restrictions were stifled by uncertainty about whether they were legally enforceable.


It now appears that it is, but that the police do not have the manpower to carry out the work. Members are also reminded they refused to part-fund an extra police community support officer who might be able to do it and are asked if they would like to revisit that idea.


So we see that there has been pressure from the town council for some time for the police to do something about it. I happen to know that for a fact because I have been at town council meetings where the issue has been raised over and over again, only to be slapped down, most recently by the Bury-based commander of this division.


And yet, maybe since the report to next week’s meeting was written, the police are now taking action. In the first six days of it they (a little unwillingly) dished out over 220 warning tickets to motorists, many of whom weren’t very happy.


This has come as a result of the public meeting of the Safer Neighbourhood Team, held the week before last and attended by around 30 people.


My question is this: How come the police refused to take any notice of a council elected by (supposedly) the whole town, and yet jump to it instantly when faced with an ad hoc meeting of 30 people?


It seems bizarre, but it is the result of the systems we now have in place, and which will be gaining more and more ground under the Localism Bill, the so-called Big Society.


‘The people’ are being given more power because the Government feels local councils are not representing their views – in other words, employing economic development officers instead of emptying our bins weekly.


The police have now been made very aware they are going to be answerable direct to the public when their new commissioners are elected by us, so they are already setting up systems to prove they are doing what the public want – whether or not it is a good idea in their view.


This is going to happen more and more, I fear. It will come down to the NHS doing what patients want, whether or not it is what they think is best for them.


The whole sequence is self-defeating, because the more experts, councillors or other elected representatives are sidelined as being out of touch, incompetent or with their snouts in the trough, the fewer people of any ability will put themselves forward for election and the description will be self-fulfilling.


If the only way to get something done is to go to a public meeting and shout loudest, we are heading back, as Lady Bracknell put it, to ‘the worst excesses of the French Revolution’.


As I keep saying, why can’t we let people who know a bit more than us take responsibility, instead of always imagining we know better.

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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