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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Among the reasons Haverhill town councillors were very keen to freeze their council tax levy this year was the amount of poverty now to be found in Haverhill.


They have had evidence of it quite recently with the latest plea for cash from REACH, the Christian organisation which tries to combat poverty in the town through such activities as the food bank and the furniture bank.


I don’t think the town council has ever frozen its council tax precept before. It used to be such a small percentage of the whole figure that we would hardly have noticed anyway.


But so many functions have been offloaded by both St Edmundsbury Borough and Suffolk County councils that the town council is left to pick up the pieces and has needed more and more cash to do so.


Now, slowly, it is becoming less and less possible for the town council to do what it would like to do, as the only local authority which really has the interests of the town at heart, which is just a sad fact of the economic situation.


When you think what services it now provides, for, admittedly, quite a chunk more of our money, it is interesting that town councillors still claim no expenses at all. Compare that with the thousands which borough and county councillors are given as allowances.


If you attend their meetings regularly, you will hear rehearsed again and again the fact that there are a lot of people in Haverhill who are struggling financially, and that policies must always take account of that.


More recently, of course, unemployment is the spectre which lies behind much of this poverty, with worse to come, and the additional fear of the axing of benefits which may be coming down the line from central government.


It all seems a very different world from the one we read about each day in our national newspapers and hear on radio and television, of banks and energy companies paying out huge bonuses.


These two themes came together for me this week with the national news about some claims of fraud being raised against the company which is supposed to providing helping to get more long-term unemployed people back into work, A4e.


I had some dealings with them a few years ago and, although I hasten to make it clear I never saw anything which would come anywhere near the heading of fraud, what I did experience was inefficiency on a startling scale.


I expect quite a few Haverhill people have been through A4e’s hands in recent years, because if you have claimed Jobseekers’ Allowance for the full six months without regaining employment, you tend to get passed on to them, at an office in Cambridge.


It was quite a posh one when I first went there, but that quickly closed down and it moved to a dowdy little place near the river opposite Midsummer Common.


My first five visits gave some idea of what was going on because I had to see a new advisor each time due to the previous one having left (not, I hope, because they became so depressed at being unable to place me!).


This meant that each visit began with going through the same set of questions and suggestions because no one seemed to keep any record of what had been discussed before.


The end result was them directing me to their so-called ‘specialist’ list of available jobs which might interest me. This claimed to be a deep trawl of the area, arranged by a sophisticated search engine to relate specifically to me.


Thus I was presented with such opportunities as a logistics manager for a food transportation company and a tutor in usage of medical instruments.


Basically it was just a list a bit wider than the one you can see any week at the Jobcentre, with virtually no refinement to my particular skills. A4e’s sole ambition seemed to be to get me to agree that they had placed me somewhere, whether they had or not.


As it happened I picked up one or two bits of work myself, all of which I had to declare to them and they then reckoned they had successfully processed me back into employment – and, no doubt, got paid for it, because I am sure their remuneration is based on some sort of target figure.


I see from this week’s headlines they earned £180million of taxpayers’ money last year by doing this sort of thing.


I am sure they have done good work with many people, and for those in my position their job is not easy as networking is usually the best answer, but the basic system did seem to me to suffer from poor organisation and in the end both they and I wasted quite a bit of our time going through the unnecessary bureaucratic motions.


Surely there must be better ways of addressing this growing problem – and if anyone talks to you about the number of jobs which have been created in Haverhill recently, ask them how many are full time, and how many are being filled by Haverhill people. But that’s another story.

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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