Thursday, 16 April 2009

Part 2: Are we Reckless or are we just Irresponsible?

In Part 1 (see below) we followed the antics of Wellingborough’s Tory Council as they, firstly, gave away peanuts because they think we are all monkeys, to secondly, their confusion over what “value for money” means: low council tax but poor services - the difference between a good, honest, professional, builder who charges more but does a good job, compared to a rogue trader who is cheap, but creates the kind of problems that we have all seen on our TV screens

But, so much for the past. I now wish to look to ahead, to gauge how responsible Wellingborough Council will be to future ratepayers and citizens of Wellingborough and to the most valuable asset of any organisation – its employees.

At a seminar for all Wellingborough Councillors recently, it was announced that the Council is facing a “tightening financial situation” and that in four years time we could face financial “meltdown” (their words, not mine), as the ability to use the Council’s reserves - to prop up services (in the face of low council taxes and reduce income in other areas) - disappears.

So what “solutions” are on offer in the face of this impending crisis: cut-backs in council services and potentially staff redundancies. They are not, of course (in Orwellian 1984-speak) called this. Instead the rather comforting and far more positive words “efficiency savings”, “re-examining priorities” or even “target key cost areas” are used. These “solutions” are presented as if there are no other choices available; that the council is the victim of circumstances not of its making – as if it is all some natural biological or physical process outside of human control - which just has to be responded to.

But getting into this situation, and continuing along the wrong road, is very much in the hands of Wellingborough’s Tory council to change. The only problem is their failure to face up to the problems that they have caused and to look afresh at alternatives for the future. What might these be you ask?

Firstly, they could increase the council tax by modest amounts each year instead of aiming to hold or even reduce it. Wellingborough has one of the lowest council taxes in the country, and each year we loose more and more potential income and stoke the fires of a future financial crisis (as well as failing to deliver value for money).

Not putting the council tax up at all (as happened this year) is just plain stupid - even Tories elsewhere in the county and the rest of the country think this as well. The responsible thing to do is to steadily increase council tax over a number of years so that it approaches at least Northamptonshire’s average. But, of course, being responsible (as opposed to being reckless and playing crude populist politics) is not Wellingborough Tories’ way. But don’t then shed crocodile tears when services are slashed, services suffer and loyal and committed council staff are sacrificed so that the books balance.

Secondly, the Council could look to generate income in other ways. Whilst a general introduction of car parking charges is something that I would not advocate, some targeted and modest charging (that also has the effect of regulating and managing car parking better around the town) could also benefit the council’s coffers and help secure a more rosy financial outlook. The complete political failure to even consider the possibility of some sort of charging for car parking – however modest, however targeted – is also irresponsible and reckless.

Thirdly, there are other potential income generation projects that could also be pursued by the council if only the current political leadership on the council had even a modicum of imagination and common sense. But no – inflexibility, lack of imagination and a failure to apply intelligence are the hall-marks of Wellingborough Councils’ political leadership.

Fourthly (and deliberately last), it may be possible for the council to do some things better and more efficiently. But for employees of the council to take such challenges seriously - or to sign-up for such changes - the the political leaders need to do somethings as well … like lead: to re-consider the path that they have chosen to take with the council’s finances to date and to change course. This will, of course, take political courage – but politicians should not ask others to be courageous and to make sacrifices in the face of adversity, whilst showing cowardice and pig-headedness themselves.

If this fails to happen, don’t be surprised if there is a less than enthusiastic response from employees to look for “efficiency savings” or to “re-examine priorities” or to “target key cost areas”. We know only too well what these words really mean.

But who in the end will suffer for this: the people of Wellingborough – as services are cut - and staff made redundant and/or subject to so-called “natural” wastage; with the weakest, the lowest paid, suffering the most for the political failings, irresponsibility and recklessness of others.


1 comment:

  1. I'm not from Wellingborough, but this seems to reflect a national situation. Public services are getting so much flak, as though they were simply a black hole swallowing 'taxpayers' and council tax payers' money for no reason.

    I am angry that so much that used to be public has been privatised - carers for old people, cleaning services in hospitals etc.

    And strangely when these are put out to the lowest bidder and fail, it's still the public services that get the blame.

    Do we all want to believe that we'll never need any of these services? Are we all rich enough to be selfish and save for our own?

    Mini-rant at a slight tangent.

    One small point - I'd prefer to read shorter articles more frequently - especially on screen.

    But keep up the good work.