Comment: ruling party is putting vanity projects before vital services

Comment: ruling party is putting vanity projects before vital services

Comment: ruling party is putting vanity projects before vital services

Comment: ruling party is putting vanity projects before vital services

First published in Columnists Watford Observer: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

If a week is a long time in politics it may go some way to explaining why politicians have such short memories. It was only a few years ago that Hertfordshire County Council ruling councillors was piously telling resident’s they needed to switch off streetlights at night (coincidentally when they are most effective) to save cash and lower carbon emissions.

Now they are considering axing bus services across the county - a move that would surely push more people into their cars and thus drive up emissions. 

That’s even before considering the proposals to cleave £700,000 out of its bus subsidies, which could see funding withdrawn from 52 routes, and will hit vulnerable and elderly people the hardest.

It has already left pensioners such as 88-year-old Doris McMeckan, from South Oxhey, wondering how she will get to her hospital appointments if her route is axed. Hertfordshire’s already threadbare bus network is vitally important for pensioners who want to retain their independence.

You’d expect the finances at County Hall to be in a dire state for the cabinet to consider cutting such an crucial service. Yet the council evidently has cash to spare for lavish pet projects that benefit its politicians, such as the £800,000 a year locality grant scheme. This gives each county councillor £10,000 to dole out to causes in their division. These taxpayer-funded grants allow politicians to enhance their electoral prospects by portraying themselves as philanthropic benefactors. I have yet to hear of any proposals to reduce this scheme’s funding.

The streetlight switch-off shows the council has form when it comes to cutting crucial services while still splashing cash on politically suspect schemes. 

But the fact it is now considering slashing funding to public transport makes a mockery of the green arguments for turning off the streetlights.

It’s almost as if these modish political causes are invoked on a purely cynical ad hoc basis. 
Meanwhile the council’s defence of the bus cut proposals is also not the most accomplished example of political rhetoric.

When questioned on the cuts, Terry Douris, the cabinet member for highways, said: "We recognise that not everybody is a bus user but everybody in Hertfordshire does pay tax which funds services which Hertfordshire County Council provides." An interesting defence that seems to argue people should only pay tax for things they directly use. By extension, that logic would also demand we cease public funding to services such as the armed forces or, say, the monarchy, which taxpayers pay for but very few use directly.

It’s also hard to fathom how locality grants fit into this logic. The taxpayers of Hertfordshire fund them, yet very few benefit from them directly. Far fewer than use the county’s buses, I would venture to guess.

Local authorities of every stripe have had their funding squeezed considerably over the last five years. This has inevitably led to tough choices being made in town and county halls. But Hertfordshire’s ruling Conservatives are displaying a perverse set of priorities that see them hacking at vital services that thousands rely on while protecting political vanity projects. It points to a concerning disconnect between County Hall and the people of Hertfordshire - especially its most vulnerable residents.

 

Comments (9)

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3:20pm Fri 1 Aug 14

davidhornet says...

Good article. You would like to think that politicians would put their egos and personal ambition to one side but these vanity projects only serve the needs of those in power. Shame. Get on your bike councillors because there won't be any buses to catch soon.
Good article. You would like to think that politicians would put their egos and personal ambition to one side but these vanity projects only serve the needs of those in power. Shame. Get on your bike councillors because there won't be any buses to catch soon. davidhornet
  • Score: 4

3:29pm Fri 1 Aug 14

itsafamilyclub!!! says...

Why subsidise a private company?

If we sell off essential services then they are responsible for the highly profitable aspects as well as the ones that are not so..

This reporter with his countless UKIP articles and ones like this which are right wing tosh should try and get a job at the Daily Mail.
Why subsidise a private company? If we sell off essential services then they are responsible for the highly profitable aspects as well as the ones that are not so.. This reporter with his countless UKIP articles and ones like this which are right wing tosh should try and get a job at the Daily Mail. itsafamilyclub!!!
  • Score: -11

3:57pm Fri 1 Aug 14

D_Penn says...

Most countries accept that buses are a vital part of the transport infrastructure. As they are slow, indirect, infrequent and in bad weather or on crowded routes, awful to use, they have to be cheap.

Unfortunately, the ruling classes in Britain have never seen it that way in recent times.

By and large, they wanted buses to pay for themselves, which means they could never be cheap. This created the problem that everyone who could afford it used cars, so the political answer to that was to make car driving extortionate through punitive taxation and gross parking charges and restrictions to try to force people onto buses, with only limited effect and hitting the lower paid particularly hard.

That's the model we now live under, and whenever council or government have to spend out on grants for buses they always try to cut the service. This cheap approach inevitably leaves gaps in the transport infrastructure and penalises those for whom bus travel is the only option leaving them in a total mess, particularly if it is there only way of getting to their job.

Of course, the simple answer would be to ensure that money collected from cars is redirected to supporting buses to redress the balance between convenience and cost, but that doesn't happen to anything like the extent it should. Motoring raises an absolute fortune for the UK government but only a tiny percentage is ever fed back into the transport infrastructure and that is the source of the problem.

It is ironic that we have one of the most expensive transport systems in the world yet buses are still treated like outcasts. It's overdue that we had a long term transport policy fit for 21st century Britain where low cost public transport is available for all that need it.
Most countries accept that buses are a vital part of the transport infrastructure. As they are slow, indirect, infrequent and in bad weather or on crowded routes, awful to use, they have to be cheap. Unfortunately, the ruling classes in Britain have never seen it that way in recent times. By and large, they wanted buses to pay for themselves, which means they could never be cheap. This created the problem that everyone who could afford it used cars, so the political answer to that was to make car driving extortionate through punitive taxation and gross parking charges and restrictions to try to force people onto buses, with only limited effect and hitting the lower paid particularly hard. That's the model we now live under, and whenever council or government have to spend out on grants for buses they always try to cut the service. This cheap approach inevitably leaves gaps in the transport infrastructure and penalises those for whom bus travel is the only option leaving them in a total mess, particularly if it is there only way of getting to their job. Of course, the simple answer would be to ensure that money collected from cars is redirected to supporting buses to redress the balance between convenience and cost, but that doesn't happen to anything like the extent it should. Motoring raises an absolute fortune for the UK government but only a tiny percentage is ever fed back into the transport infrastructure and that is the source of the problem. It is ironic that we have one of the most expensive transport systems in the world yet buses are still treated like outcasts. It's overdue that we had a long term transport policy fit for 21st century Britain where low cost public transport is available for all that need it. D_Penn
  • Score: 5

4:03pm Fri 1 Aug 14

itsafamilyclub!!! says...

D_Penn wrote:
Most countries accept that buses are a vital part of the transport infrastructure. As they are slow, indirect, infrequent and in bad weather or on crowded routes, awful to use, they have to be cheap.

Unfortunately, the ruling classes in Britain have never seen it that way in recent times.

By and large, they wanted buses to pay for themselves, which means they could never be cheap. This created the problem that everyone who could afford it used cars, so the political answer to that was to make car driving extortionate through punitive taxation and gross parking charges and restrictions to try to force people onto buses, with only limited effect and hitting the lower paid particularly hard.

That's the model we now live under, and whenever council or government have to spend out on grants for buses they always try to cut the service. This cheap approach inevitably leaves gaps in the transport infrastructure and penalises those for whom bus travel is the only option leaving them in a total mess, particularly if it is there only way of getting to their job.

Of course, the simple answer would be to ensure that money collected from cars is redirected to supporting buses to redress the balance between convenience and cost, but that doesn't happen to anything like the extent it should. Motoring raises an absolute fortune for the UK government but only a tiny percentage is ever fed back into the transport infrastructure and that is the source of the problem.

It is ironic that we have one of the most expensive transport systems in the world yet buses are still treated like outcasts. It's overdue that we had a long term transport policy fit for 21st century Britain where low cost public transport is available for all that need it.
Yep you are right for a change my UKIP friend..

One of the most expensive transport systems in the world despite the private companies having massive subsidies from the public purse..

Maybe you could discuss that at the next UKIP committee for sensible ideas.
[quote][p][bold]D_Penn[/bold] wrote: Most countries accept that buses are a vital part of the transport infrastructure. As they are slow, indirect, infrequent and in bad weather or on crowded routes, awful to use, they have to be cheap. Unfortunately, the ruling classes in Britain have never seen it that way in recent times. By and large, they wanted buses to pay for themselves, which means they could never be cheap. This created the problem that everyone who could afford it used cars, so the political answer to that was to make car driving extortionate through punitive taxation and gross parking charges and restrictions to try to force people onto buses, with only limited effect and hitting the lower paid particularly hard. That's the model we now live under, and whenever council or government have to spend out on grants for buses they always try to cut the service. This cheap approach inevitably leaves gaps in the transport infrastructure and penalises those for whom bus travel is the only option leaving them in a total mess, particularly if it is there only way of getting to their job. Of course, the simple answer would be to ensure that money collected from cars is redirected to supporting buses to redress the balance between convenience and cost, but that doesn't happen to anything like the extent it should. Motoring raises an absolute fortune for the UK government but only a tiny percentage is ever fed back into the transport infrastructure and that is the source of the problem. It is ironic that we have one of the most expensive transport systems in the world yet buses are still treated like outcasts. It's overdue that we had a long term transport policy fit for 21st century Britain where low cost public transport is available for all that need it.[/p][/quote]Yep you are right for a change my UKIP friend.. One of the most expensive transport systems in the world despite the private companies having massive subsidies from the public purse.. Maybe you could discuss that at the next UKIP committee for sensible ideas. itsafamilyclub!!!
  • Score: -3

4:18pm Fri 1 Aug 14

Wacko Jacko says...

A good article by the esteemed Mr Wright. I particularly like the suggestion that Herts councillors should give up their locality budgets and put that back into bus services, that makes perfect sense. They then need to look at shaking up the whole council structure, reducing staff numbers, delegating more powers to the districts and downsizing. That site would make a lovely location for a social housing development
A good article by the esteemed Mr Wright. I particularly like the suggestion that Herts councillors should give up their locality budgets and put that back into bus services, that makes perfect sense. They then need to look at shaking up the whole council structure, reducing staff numbers, delegating more powers to the districts and downsizing. That site would make a lovely location for a social housing development Wacko Jacko
  • Score: 0

4:31pm Fri 1 Aug 14

itsafamilyclub!!! says...

It makes the case for the re nationalisation of services I believe..

If the public are paying these failing compaines massive subsidies and as Mr Penn correctly said in the post above we still have one of the most expensive public transport systems in the world then its a no brainer considering as the article states the private companies are failing to meet the publics needs..
It makes the case for the re nationalisation of services I believe.. If the public are paying these failing compaines massive subsidies and as Mr Penn correctly said in the post above we still have one of the most expensive public transport systems in the world then its a no brainer considering as the article states the private companies are failing to meet the publics needs.. itsafamilyclub!!!
  • Score: 2

4:50pm Fri 1 Aug 14

cgpc Rob says...

There is a petition to sign on the HCC website/petitions
There is a petition to sign on the HCC website/petitions cgpc Rob
  • Score: 2

12:21pm Sat 2 Aug 14

John Dowdle says...

If the new principle of HCC is that we should only pay for services we actually use, this should mean that all expenditure on education will also be cut from the budget.
I am retired and have no children of my own.
I do not therefore ever use the county's education services.
Does this mean I will be seeing a substantial cut in my council tax bill from the county?
Of course, as a humanist and a socially responsible person, I realise that we need the rising generation to be properly educated so I support public expenditure for the benefit of all in society.
Where bus services are concerned, I do not ever use them but I did at one time long ago. Most people who use these services are presumably among the lowest incomes in our society so I support the cost of public transport services being kept as low as possible.
As a subscriber to the concept of democratic socialism, I also believe that all socially necessary services - such as public transport - should be free to use, just like the NHS and state education is supposed to be.
This system can only work if a form of rationing is applied, such as having different travel passes for different times of the day for workers who need to use public transport to get to work as opposed to retired people who can always travel at later or different off-peak times.
If the new principle of HCC is that we should only pay for services we actually use, this should mean that all expenditure on education will also be cut from the budget. I am retired and have no children of my own. I do not therefore ever use the county's education services. Does this mean I will be seeing a substantial cut in my council tax bill from the county? Of course, as a humanist and a socially responsible person, I realise that we need the rising generation to be properly educated so I support public expenditure for the benefit of all in society. Where bus services are concerned, I do not ever use them but I did at one time long ago. Most people who use these services are presumably among the lowest incomes in our society so I support the cost of public transport services being kept as low as possible. As a subscriber to the concept of democratic socialism, I also believe that all socially necessary services - such as public transport - should be free to use, just like the NHS and state education is supposed to be. This system can only work if a form of rationing is applied, such as having different travel passes for different times of the day for workers who need to use public transport to get to work as opposed to retired people who can always travel at later or different off-peak times. John Dowdle
  • Score: 0

10:35pm Sat 2 Aug 14

Cuetip says...

davidhornet wrote:
Good article. You would like to think that politicians would put their egos and personal ambition to one side but these vanity projects only serve the needs of those in power. Shame. Get on your bike councillors because there won't be any buses to catch soon.
They have lost the plot when it comes to cost benefit analysis and any form of joined up thinking epitomised by proposal to cut recycling hours. Policies are blinkered, penny pinching, short sighted and having agreed with their Liberal partners that ordinary low paid people can live without cars in blocks of flats.

Talking of vanity projects more than £7 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent securing and maintaining empty buildings in Hertfordshire whilst austerity cuts means funding is withdrawn from 52 routes which will hit the non car owners, vulnerable and elderly people the hardest.

The £800,000 to curry the vote like many coalition policies really does rub salt into the eyes of the hard pressed who have borne the brunt of what now looks extremely hollow and discredited ‘we’re all in it together’.
[quote][p][bold]davidhornet[/bold] wrote: Good article. You would like to think that politicians would put their egos and personal ambition to one side but these vanity projects only serve the needs of those in power. Shame. Get on your bike councillors because there won't be any buses to catch soon.[/p][/quote]They have lost the plot when it comes to cost benefit analysis and any form of joined up thinking epitomised by proposal to cut recycling hours. Policies are blinkered, penny pinching, short sighted and having agreed with their Liberal partners that ordinary low paid people can live without cars in blocks of flats. Talking of vanity projects more than £7 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent securing and maintaining empty buildings in Hertfordshire whilst austerity cuts means funding is withdrawn from 52 routes which will hit the non car owners, vulnerable and elderly people the hardest. The £800,000 to curry the vote like many coalition policies really does rub salt into the eyes of the hard pressed who have borne the brunt of what now looks extremely hollow and discredited ‘we’re all in it together’. Cuetip
  • Score: 3

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