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Billy and Johnny come to Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 16:53 28 February 2002 | UPDATED: 11:27 03 March 2010

I HOPE you're ready for a shock when your council tax bill thuds through your door at the start of April.

It's going up by about 12 per cent wherever you live in Suffolk - and almost no one really seems to know why!

A fortunate few stuck in the twilight world of County Hall and borough and district council offices around Suffolk do know the reason for the rise.

I HOPE you're ready for a shock when your council tax bill thuds through your door at the start of April.

It's going up by about 12 per cent wherever you live in Suffolk – and almost no one really seems to know why!

A fortunate few stuck in the twilight world of County Hall and borough and district council offices around Suffolk do know the reason for the rise.

But unfortunately they are unable to explain the reasons for the rise in terms which normal people can understand.

They're so wrapped up with abstract concepts like Best Value, Performance indicators, and Policy and Performance Plans(we're getting into real Klingon stuff here) that they don't really seem concerned about the services they're providing for us.

The full meeting of the county council this week considered the budget. To help councillors – led by Jane Hore and Bryony Rudkin – make the decision, they were sent a package of papers.

There were 10 separate documents, ranging in size from two sides of a single sheet to a 101-page report.

Backbench councillors (those not on the executive committee) had three days to read these hundreds of pages.

The documents are a mixture of the obscure and, as Basil Fawlty would say, the Bleedin' Obvious.

Take this gem from the delightfully titled "Listening to You, Learning from You" document.

Discussion groups are something we would like to encourage more of. They can take different forms and be tailor-made to specific groups. There is a range of discussion activities that we would like to encourage and promote as a way to get your views, and get you involved in council activities.

Thank you children! Tomorrow Johnny and Billy (I mean Jane and Bryony) will explain best value and how you can make hundreds of council officers write meaningless reports that no one is interested in – and be paid millions of pounds for the privilege!

Seriously, though, how can anyone construct a reasonable argument when confronted with such utter garbage!

District and borough councils also suffer from Best Valuitis, a chronic disease developed in a test-tube in Whitehall that has now affected local authorities across the country.

But it's the county council which has the worst case of this vicious disease which provokes paralysis and paranoia.

Combined with local government reorganisation, concepts of best value and comparing everything have played right into the hands of officers and senior councillors.

They now don't have to worry about democracy. They just get on and do what they want knowing they'll be no meaningful debate, no real accountability.

Their discussions may be in public – but they're held in a foreign language that no one from outside can understand.

They inform the public by the use of press releases, sent out by spin doctors who are horrified if you say anything critical about their political masters.

I suppose it's similar really to what has happened in Westminster and Whitehall – but it's very depressing.

All we want is an explanation why our bills are going up six times more than inflation for services that are no better than they were five years ago – and frankly we're not getting it!

I'D love to be a fly on the wall when council officials and senior councillors at Civic Centre discuss the Ipswich Village project and its wonderful new car parks.

For years councillors have been telling us how we're causing serious problems by driving our cars into the town centre.

They want us to use the buses. They want us to use park and ride. They don't want our cars on the town centre roads.

But what's this? They're suddenly heaping praise on three new multi-storey car parks near the town centre – and are planning to build one of them themselves.

The new park at the railway station has already been completed and over the next couple of years it will be followed by two more in the Ipswich Village area.

This is the development championed by chief executive James Hehir – along with the IP-City concept.

He's keen to tell me that they'll be 550 extra spaces from the first two car parks.

But the message from economic development spokesman Phil Smart, who's seen as something of a bogeyman by motorists, was rather different.

"We'll be losing a lot of spaces as well – from the cattle market and the site of the new Crown Court which will be opposite the fire station," he said.

I can't help feeling that when Messrs Hehir and Smart discuss Ipswich Village behind closed doors they have, shall we say, a full and frank exchange of views!

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