Tag: austerity

Keeping up appearances

We noted with interest this piece on Your Thurrock on how Thurrock Council are preparing themselves for the future as funding from central government continues to be slashed year on year: Thurrock Council finance boss looks to a future of “not a penny from the government”http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/14/thurrock-council-finance-boss-looks-future-not-penny-government/ Obviously a Tory run council isn’t going to be challenging the narrative from a Tory government about continuing austerity and will be more than happy to implement an agenda of cuts…

In a period where Thurrock Council make no secret of the measures they’re having to take to bring expenditure down while building up their cash reserves, it’s not surprising that people are starting to ask some searching questions about spending priorities. Where we live in Stanford-le-Hope, we can’t help noticing that the council appear to have gone into overdrive (resources permitting) on their cleaning and greening agenda with verges getting regularly cut and Ruskin Road Park looking better than it has done for a long time. The people we know in the area have picked up on this and half jokingly have been asking ‘when is the royal visit happening?’

When the talk a couple of years back was about handing over pretty much every public space for resident led groups to run (as has happened at Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope) in a bid to save as much money as possible, it now seems that the money is there for them to be maintained to a reasonable standard. The answer to that is that it’s about surface appearances. What residents and visitors to the area see are the pavements, verges and parks and that goes a fair way to forming their impression of what Thurrock is like as a place to live and work. Hence the effort and money that’s being spent on what to all intents and purposes, is keeping up appearances.

Unless you have an ill or elderly resident in need of a care package from social services, what is provided in this sector is hidden from a large section of the public. These are services that most people don’t pay much attention to until they’re in the unfortunate situation where they have to turn to them. When they do turn to what are increasingly outsourced social services, all too often they’re found to be inadequate. As most of this suffering takes place in private away from the public eye, it’s one area where cuts can be made and corners cut because by and large, the council can get away with it.

In a political, economic and social climate where people are judged by the contribution they make to the bottom line through work, anyone who for whatever reason isn’t working, is seen as a burden on society. When those out of work are forced to turn to social services for support, they are demonised as ‘scroungers’. With these attitudes, it’s not hard to see that the axe will fall on services being provided to people that elite elements in our dysfunctional, dystopian society see as ‘undeserving’. So when you see the trimmed verges and cleaner parks across Thurrock, don’t be deceived by appearances because there is a lot of hidden suffering under the surface…

What’s the future for our parks?

ruskin

As we’re involved as volunteer gardeners at Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope, probably the least surprising piece of news we’ve read today is this: UK’s cash-starved parks at tipping point of decline, MPs warnhttps://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/11/uks-cash-starved-parks-at-tipping-point-of-decline-mps-warn Hardie Park, run and maintained by volunteers (with Thurrock Council just collecting the rubbish) stands in stark contrast to many parks across southern Essex that are visibly showing the signs of slashed budgets and severely reduced maintenance schedules.

Despite research showing that well maintained and well used public parks make a contribution to social welfare and public health, when local authorities are implementing the government’s ongoing austerity agenda, cutting expenditure in this area seems like an easy option. After all, when presented with a choice of making further cuts to already abysmally funded adult social care services or letting the weeds grow in the local parks, the vast majority of people will say no to any more cuts in the former, so councils slash expenditure on the latter. Obviously, if the narrative underpinning the government’s continuing austerity drive was being effectively challenged, we wouldn’t be forced into making these choices would we?

We remember what Hardie Park was like back in 2007 and 2008 when we contested the Stanford East & Corringham Town ward for the Independent Class Association. It was a litter strewn, unloved no go area that most local people tried to avoid. Now, it’s a much loved, well used community asset although as the volunteers will admit, there’s still a lot more that needs to be done to bring the park up to the standard we’d like. The point is that now the park is being well maintained, more people are using it and with the volunteer run cafe, it’s becoming a hub for the local community. The benefits of this in health and wellbeing are plain for all to see.

hardie

If there aren’t volunteers stepping up from the local community to pitch in with park maintenance, they will decline and start to turn into unwelcoming, litter strewn no go areas. When that happens, local authorities looking to boost their coffers will use the neglected state of the parks as justification for selling them off to developers for housing. We’ve already seen this happen in Basildon with the council taking a significant chunk out of Gloucester Park and casting their beady eyes over other parks and open spaces in the area.

What does the future hold? Well, with the political situation as it stands, there’s little chance of an effective challenge to the government’s doctrine of permanent austerity succeeding. This leaves the people power solution that has worked wonders for Hardie Park. A word of warning…it’s bloody hard work! Although, it has to be said that it’s running the cafe and associated meeting rooms that comprises a significant chink of the work. The one thing all the volunteers will agree on is how empowering it is to be actively involved in running and maintaining a local community asset.

It could be said that the volunteers at Hardie Park are letting both Thurrock Council and the government off the hook for austerity. However, we prefer to see it as an empowering form of people power where we start to have a say in what happens in our community. Some of us are starting to think beyond what happens at the park at other ways power can be brought down to the grassroots…watch this space for developments…