When the cuts don’t work

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - WESTMINSTERLIFE - Fiona Onasanya

Let’s say that you bought a house. When you moved in, that house was in a cer­tain con­di­tion, hope­fully pris­tine. Now let’s as­sume that as time goes on, you stop pay­ing to main­tain that house; let’s say that you ap­ply quick fixes to the prob­lems that you find. You place a bucket un­der­neath a leak­ing roof, use duct tape to hold things to­gether. Over time, this in­ad­e­quate main­te­nance will lead to your home look­ing like a wreck.

When cuts to pub­lic ser­vices were an­nounced, the to­tal im­pact wasn’t felt im­me­di­ately. Much like a house that isn’t main­tained, the de­cay be­comes no­tice­able later. We see this issue par­tic­u­larly in rub­bish col­lec­tion and street clean­ing. When the cuts to lo­cal gov­ern­ment be­gan, no doubt some peo­ple’s first re­sponse was, “Good, they should be forced to tighten their belts”. We all need to be more ef­fi­cient, but a belt tight­ened too far can cut off one’s cir­cu­la­tion. Our beau­ti­ful city now sim­ply isn’t as clean as it should be.

I have met with lo­cal of­fi­cials and dis­cussed the prob­lem; the mes­sage I re­ceived is sim­ple.

They un­der­stand our frus­tra­tion but sim­ply don’t have the fi­nan­cial re­sources. Like us­ing duct tape to bind up a bro­ken cab­i­net, they can and do ap­ply patches, but it’s just a stop on the way to fur­ther de­cline. The prob­lem is likely to get worse be­fore it gets bet­ter.

Frus­trated by this, I am work­ing on a plan for bulky and elec­tri­cal waste col­lec­tion; I want this to be a con­tin­u­ous pro­gramme. Amey’s con­tract has been dis­con­tin­ued and its re­place­ment isn’t yet in place; nev­er­the­less, I have spo­ken to Amey about my de­sire to get it started and will re­quest the as­sis­tance of all lo­cal coun­cil­lors. Once es­tab­lished, this pro­gramme should help remedy fly tip­ping. As a start­ing point, I will pay for this out of my own salary.

I urge Peter­bor­ough’s busi­nesses to get be­hind this ini­tia­tive. The cur­rent plan is to have streets leafleted the week prior to the col­lec­tion ad­vis­ing them that it is com­ing. There will be two ve­hi­cles: one of th­ese can crush up to 6 tons of waste; the other will col­lect elec­tri­cal items. I am pleased to say that a num­ber of my col­leagues, such as those in Park and Cen­tral Wards, are also op­er­at­ing com­mu­nity skips and col­lec­tions.

The end re­sult of this ac­tiv­ity will be a cleaner Peter­bor­ough; how­ever, this pro­gramme ad­dresses just one set of cuts. Not all is­sues are as straight­for­ward to re­solve. It’s dif­fi­cult to im­prove ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment if schools don’t get the re­sources they re­quire; with­out spend­ing on the NHS it’s tough to re­duce wait­ing times. In short, we can clean the house; fix­ing its struc­tural is­sues af­ter years of ne­glect is much more prob­lem­atic. As peo­ple think about gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties, I hope that this ex­am­ple sparks deeper thought about what’s been cut, what we’re will­ing to pay for, and what needs to be done.

‘Our beau­ti­ful city now sim­ply isn’t as clean as it should be’

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