Hardly a day goes by when we are not reminded that local authorities are cash-strapped. So why do they waste so much money on what is termed routine?
A couple of weeks ago a man in a high-vis boiler suit and hard hat turned up to look at a 6ft long hedge on private land abutting a few feet of public path on a no-through road.
A local resident enquired what he was doing; someone had complained that the hedge (which had been recently trimmed by another resident) was inhibiting access on the path, which was unusually wide at this point. The resident explained that for years, the hedge had become an important local nature reserve, full of blackbirds and other smaller birds from early spring and again all the winter, and everyone was keen to preserve it. In any event, that part of the path wasn’t used because nearby residents took a short cut across the car park. The official appeared to understand and made a note on his clipboard.
A week later, on the instructions of the private management company, their grounds maintenance contractor carefully cut the hedge back, taking about 18 inches off, leaving the path easily accessible for two people. The following day, 3 council staff in high-vis boiler suits and hard hats turned up and attacked the hedge again; they were told that it had already been done the day before and to leave it alone – by this time, there was little left of the hedge and the resident robin was going frantic.
The leader of the group spent half an hour trying to reach someone at the council (it was a Friday, after all) to ask what to do. Eventually a junior officer answered the phone, and the resident asked to speak to him herself, again explaining the situation. It appeared all was well, and the three council staff retired to their lorry for an hour, awaiting any further instructions, before going home.
Yet another duo turned up on site a few days later and completed the vandalism, destroying the hedge in order to ensure that ‘a dual buggy’ could be pushed down this short section of pavement.
So much for the endless hypocritical verbosity about protecting our wildlife. How much did this cost? Undoubtedly thousands of pounds, and quite a few votes.
Now we learn that Sheffield council is conducting its own vandalism against our environment, cutting down 4,000 established trees; why? The Sheffield Star reports that the council refuses to answer questions or respond to FOI requests; the paper’s website has photos of bare trunks, stripped of their branches. Local residents are rightly outraged at this destruction of their various streetscenes when the trees are evidently healthy. OK, the leaves drop off in the autumn, but it is usually local residents who clear them away safely – and probably get charged for the privilege of putting them in their own brown bins.
One can only conclude that some people in positions of power simply don’t like nature but they shouldn’t be allowed to spend public money to promote their own prejudices.
However, waste doesn’t stop with nature.
£70,000 was recently added to the cost of a new build school extension for the last minute addition of roof lights which should have been incorporated in the original design. Governors and the builder had repeatedly pointed out that the dark and oppressive interiors would be detrimental to education. Result? A five week delay in completion.
And now £100,000 has just been spent on overhead signage at some entrances into Ipswich (but excluding one of the most heavily used routes). Like most small towns, there are bottlenecks at morning and evening rush hour, otherwise traffic moves fairly smoothly (well, it did, see below). To date, the signs have told us to watch out for bikes, and that there are no holdups. A survey by the local paper concluded that 80% of local residents think it is a total waste of money. And I’m one of them.
If the £20-odd million road ‘improvements’ which have been going on around the town to ‘make it fit for the 21st century’ – which no-one wanted – had been finished on time and within budget a couple of years ago, there wouldn’t be any bottlenecks anywhere to warn anyone about! Ever.
Making matters even worse, the system to synchronize the traffic lights doesn’t work, and no-one appears to know what to do about it. Certainly not whoever designed the scheme but doesn’t actually live in the town and have to suffer the consequences of their incompetence – unlike the rest of us.
Talking of overhead signage, just before the 2010 election, £70 million was reportedly spent (apparently agreed by Ipswich’s former Labour MP, a transport minister at the time) on illuminated overhead signage on the A12 and A14 to tell us that ‘operation stack’ will be implemented on windy days when ships can’t leave Felixstowe, or the A14 can’t cope with the daily volumes and you’re going to be stuck in another traffic jam. Some of these signs have yet to be wired up; at this rate, they’ll be obsolete by the time that happens.
Half that sum could have paid for a desperately needed four village by-pass on the A12 which would not only improve the lives of those who live in the villages, but improve access to Lowestoft and Yarmouth and, in turn, investment in those two towns which desperately need revitalising. The idea has just been revived, but the costs have inevitably escalated.
Politicians of all stripes, local and national, regularly tell us that they are listening to their communities; these few examples are evidence that they’re not, and it’s time they got a grip on the money wasted in the taxpayer’s name. George Osborne knows this, which is why he is adopting the devolution strategy – to make the decision-makers more accountable. Good luck to him.