#44. “Errr, I’m not sure, let’s scrutinise the review and then do what we wanted to do anyway.”


Council business is now so subject to “review” that just as you think something’s been decided someone decides to review it. A case in point is the Environment Maintenance Grant (EMG).

Subject to an intense full day’s scrutiny by an incredibly well-prepared and executed Task & Finish Group at the back end of 2017, the subsequent report went to Cabinet with everyone expecting the outcome I reported back in January, that it would become another victim of the cuts and disappear altogether.

Fast-forward to the 21st March report (‘Environmental Maintenance Grant Programme – proposals for changes to the design and delivery of the programme’) I circulated on the 9th April and the announcement that a “consultation” was to be held between 9th April – 21st May 2018.

At the Communities Overview Committee meeting on the Monday just gone (21st May) it was declared that the EMG would continue, but in a restricted form involving match-funding by recipient communities with a population of less than 10,000, so Highley will get it. (Although don’t ask me how much because although a figure has been suggested, given Shirehall’s penchant for “reviews” I wouldn’t, forgive the pun, put money on it.)

Despite weeks of “scrutiny”, much of Shirehall business now seems to happen at the last minute, the outcome usually following the agenda set by a Cabinet that seems either blithely ignorant of or deliberately indifferent to the realities facing communities like Highley – I suspect it is a mixture of the two, the one (indifference) compounding the other when any attempt is made to inform the ignorance.

Whilst it was ever thus, the murderous succession of budget cuts has at last revealed what used always to be referred to as “efficiency savings” for what they always were: cuts. The recent slashing of £10 million from the Highways budget, despite the desperate need to repair, let alone maintain, our roads, exposes the inadequacy of Shirehall’s capacity to plan further ahead than the end of the week.

Disgracefully, the politicians who hack away at the county’s bones to produce policies that are so destructive to rural communities then send officers to face the public’s wrath, officers who have no choice but to try and put into effect policies they often disagree with because they are policies that prevent them from doing the job they desperately want to do, the job they trained for. But they’re paid to do it and so they do it. I once asked a middle management officer if they ever got embarrassed having to do some of the things they were asked to do. I got a pained look in reply. And yes, I did feel guilty for asking that question, but that pained look was for the benefit of some of the politicians sitting around the table because they wouldn’t normally get to see what effect their policies have on the people they use to promote those policies to the public.