Budget consultation 2011 – London Borough of Hounslow

Following the actions of the coalition government on the budget and the sacrifices which were to be made by all of us fronted as a necessity to get the economy in the UK back on track, my local council leader sent out a consultative questionnaire to residents gauge our thoughts. I do applaud my council on this exercise I have to say – thank you Mr Jagdish Sharma.

Basically, the Government announced it was substantially reducing the amount of money the council receives to provide services to local people. The local council receives around three quarters of the money from government; the rest comes from council tax and other fees and charges. Those who have had to pay penalty charges for parking/ traffic offenses, residents permits – you name it; will have some idea of these other fees.

One thing I’d not been aware of however that is encompassed in council tax is – bus fares. There I was ranting on about London Transport service and exorbitant fares, and now recent fare rise – unbeknown to me that my council tax also takes a fee for public transport costs for the area I reside in, only the local bus and tube for that matter not reflective of the services rendered. We spot the highest commuter belt in West London with high fees in fares, yet constantly get crammed into over-filled tube carriages which have to make way for luggage and persons travelling to and fro the busiest international airports. The buses – are something else altogether, but bless them for trying. If and when they do operate, the road works have a habit of regulating traffic in addition to the emotions of road users. Since various private firms bought in to the bus transport network, it’s anybody’s guess how employment regulations fare to their workers who mostly now appear to be held in a strangle-hold by the CEO’s or executives whose main objective is acquisition of many routes as possible. Low priority is given to their drivers as to how much pressure delivery of service is placed on them as long as they hit targets of rounds appointed to their duty of call. So if you wonder (putting it mildly here…) as to why that bus driver didn’t stop to pick you up even in broad day light leaving you waving your arms like a lunatic, or if he pulls off without waiting for grand-ma or grand-dad to sit securely in her/his seat amongst all other “lost” driver etiquettes of the past; remember, targets are the aim of this driver’s job and you the customer are surplus to requirement. This is not to excuse some drivers’ actions though who plainly are just rude – but then again – we are all humans and prone to odd behaviour now and then and vice versa, same applies to some of us passengers who are just out to rile anyone for any given opportunity.

Returning to this consultative questionnaire which I’m about to attempt to address at this owl hour, I’m left wondering. The area I reside has a flavour of nationals or individuals. About 7yrs back when I first moved to it, my first parents evening at my daughter’s primary school gave me some insight of the impacts of this. In the year group that had 60 children to a set, albeit streamed, only 4 parents turned up to this parents evening. To say I was concerned is putting it very mildly. I checked my letter to ensure I had the date and time correct – but was put to rest by the Head that all was in order. I hadn’t mixed up my diary. This was quite a normal occurrence I was reassured. Reason in short: most parents couldn’t read and their kids grasped on this fact to keep them in the dark about their progress or lack of it with their school work; those parents who could read were working and in any case saw school as a much needed respite for child-care. Basically this school was written off by most as a “bad” school and Ofsted had certified this not long gone. Yet a fair number of the residents’ offspring attended it and these are some of the persons this questionnaire is targeting to give feedback. Persons that mostly cannot read or even understand the language the questionnaire is written in let alone those who still are struggling to make ends meet by doing more than two jobs. However, I am glad and relieved to say that the situation at this school has since greatly improved.

How can one comment on proposed savings in a sector of service delivery they have not even been educated about in the first instance? Most people struggled to even understand the principles of recycling let alone adhering to planning regulations on over-crowding in a given house that is intended to house 5 persons. Instead, they will insist on tripling this and where possible will convert the back garden shed to take in more with little thought as to how this will impact on other communal services like drainage etc…

The way I see it, those of us who can read and analyse what’s being proposed will mostly favour what we personally benefit from – leaving those who can’t to later find out services they’d been getting are no longer there and getting angry as to why. No reasoning sometimes can get through to some persons when they’ve been fired up I’m afraid and it’s at this point where social unrest might kick in. I do the best I can at community mobilisation awareness, but even I have limits and the voluntary hype which this government is keen to ride on at times grates on my nerves when the reality is far from practical. Hounslow is a borough that appears to be a melting point of a mini global village.

So go figure what the feedback is going to be…
Those that can offer feedback on the consultative exercise, you are most welcome (short of begging!), so visit: http://www.hounslow.gov.uk/consultations