Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Area bored

I must say that the bureacracy in which local government seems to be mired the whole time is a frustration. Last night was the first proper Prestwich "Local Area Partnership." The name of the body itself is a nod to the type of committee-based decision non-making that frustrates the hell out of anyone with a pulse. Partnership working is great, when it works. But at the moment there is some flawed thinking whereby it is assumed that simply by creating a body of partners the work actually gets done. In reality it just adds more voices to the confusion, and dilutes a sense of ownership. To make it work requires real powers and a common understaidning of what these are. And we don't have that at the moment with the LAPs.

Bringing together key partners in Prestwich around the table is a good idea in theory, but in practice we are still far too unsure of our remit and powers to make much of the proceedings anything more than hot air and bluster. Lot's oif fine words about the future of Prestwich, but virtually no money of our own to do anything, and no power to affect change even if there was. And frankly I sometimes think I'd be better off at home watching Holby City. If we all did that the whole time, think of the Councillors allowances that could be saved, and of the utter lack of difference it would make to the outcomes for people in Prestwich.

The best part of the meeting is the open forum, when residents get their chance to air grievances and discuss problems. It's a great place for this type of discussion - the one place where local councillors, police, health, youth and other representatives get together to listen to problems. Last night there was one particular problem which dominated the proceedings, an alley way with crime and noise problems. The tale is a familiar one - kids using the alley to drink in and ride illegal motorbikes down, litter and drug materials accumulating, residents getting angry and upset.

I can think of little more frustrating in the world than feeling angry and powerless about things going on outside your own front door, but these poor people have just that. They told us they'd been monitoring the situation for months and years, reporting crimes to the police, and putting up with cars being keyed and windows being smashed many many times. There was even an allegation that the alley is being used as a toilet by council refuse collectors on their rounds.

They asked for the alley to be closed or, at the very least, gated at night.

And what did we do? Plenty of sympathy and words, but absolutely nothing practical to help these people. All I wanted to be abe to do was say "yes, we've got the money for some gates. We'll be down at the weekend to take a look at the situation with some experts, and as your elected representatives, if we agree that it needs to be done we will sanction the funds on Monday morning. Two weeks time and you'll have your gate."

And surely it should be in the gift of the Local Area Partnership to do this? To solve the problems of these long-suffering residents.

Unfortunately, the response has to be incredibly bureaucratic. Concerns are noted and passed to relevant Council officers, who take weeks or months to assess the situation. The police, overstretched and under-resourced, take hours or days to turn up and respond to nuisance crimes. There is no local money so rather than knowledgeable local councillors releasing funds for the scheme, we have to go cap in hand to the Town Hall for money and abide by Bury-wide policies that might be completely inappropriate for Prestwich. And as for the bin-men using it as a toilet, this was glossed over rather than seized upon. If I had my time again I'd have demanded an investigation into this allegation. Unfortunately I didn't ask the question at the time, although I have raised it with the LAP chair since.

We are elected to serve these local people, not to make excuses for the Council or bury complaints in a black hole of bureacracy from which I have a very real fear they will never escape. We don't do it on purpose, it is just the only way we can do anything at all.

I came away last night feeling disappointed that I could do so little to help.


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