County must get back to basics

ONCE again we've been warned by politicians and officials at Endeavour House to brace ourselves for a further round of spending cuts next year as the government tightens its grant to Suffolk County Council.

ONCE again we've been warned by politicians and officials at Endeavour House to brace ourselves for a further round of spending cuts next year as the government tightens its grant to Suffolk County Council.

And there are dark warnings that in future years the settlements could be even tighter - which will inevitably lead to more pain across the county.

What is significant, and worrying, is that once again it is the most vulnerable members of society who seem set to face the biggest effects of the cuts while there are several aspects of the council's work which seem to go on even though they have nowhere near the same impact on ordinary people's lives.

There still seems to be much council work that is being done for show and while it makes the council look good, how important is it for the life of ordinary people in the county?

There do seem to be a large number of people at Endeavour House employed on tasks which can fairly be described as naval-gazing. Is it really necessary to have so many people looking at every aspect of council life to ensure that it is providing “best value?”

Wouldn't it actually be better value for council taxpayers just to employ people to do their jobs?

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This week we've had the council deciding whether to go ahead with major investment in the fire service - but to reach that decision there have been months and years of reports, discussions, and inquiries.

We have no idea how much officer time and money has been spent on drawing up these proposals.

I'm sure the new stations will be good for firefighters, but will they really save lives?

Are they more important that providing the best possible care for frail elderly people?

The council forever seems to be tinkering with road junctions which are not accident blackspots and putting up new flashing road signs. Is that really more important than funding voluntary groups who provide services to vulnerable people?

I'm a great supporter of public transport, and think it is vital to subsidise some bus and train routes so they can provide a realistic alternative to cars - but is it really necessary to produce so many leaflets telling us how wonderful they are?

With the government apparently determined that local authorities should cut back, it has to be time for organisations like Suffolk County Council to retrench and only do what is vitally necessary.

Schemes which seemed like a good idea when money was plentiful - like public transport roadshows, sponsorship of events to tell us how lucky we are to live in Suffolk, and flashy new road signs - must be put firmly under the microscope.

And how about this for an idea to save money and the planet? Stop paying council employees mileage allowances for any return journeys of less than four miles - expect them to walk or cycle instead.

They might even end up with a fitter and healthier workforce!

I'M not sure whether I've turned into a green crusader or a grey polluter, judging from e-mail inbox after last week's column.

I've had notes agreeing with my call for a curb to cheap flights - while others have suggested that my comment that incineration could be the best solution to our waste problem lump me in with George W Bush as a potential planet-killer!

The publication of the Stern Report into climate change this week certainly puts the issue of the environment firmly on to the political agenda in an individual, local, national, and international context.

Individually we can all do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint - switching off lights whenever possible, installing low-energy lightbulbs, walking to the shop instead of jumping into the car for that half-mile journey.

We can also think harder about our holiday destinations - otherwise in a few years there will be no need to fry in Spain, Felixstowe will be as hot as Farmagusta is now!

And we can think whether we really need to buy fresh runner beans flown in from Kenya, when we can buy cauliflowers grown in Copdock.

Locally we have to expect councils to do what they can to encourage and compel us to think green.

Let's hope more authorities follow the example of Richmond in Surrey and charge gas-guzzlers more for parking permits than people who drive smaller energy-efficient cars.

Nationally the government has to be prepared to take action, which may prove unpopular. It's going to have to risk the wrath of the motoring lobby and put up excise duty on fossil fuels.

If he wants to ease the burden of this why doesn't the Chancellor reduce the duty he expects us to pay on bio-diesel and bio-ethanol.

And internationally, our government has to join others to put pressure on the current and future worst polluters to accept the findings of the report.

The US government has to accept that global warming is looming global catastrophe - while China and India have to be persuaded to avoid the mistakes the west has made in its treatment of the environment over the last 200 years.

It's not going to be easy - but no one can afford to ignore the threats to our environment.

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