Monday, 29 November 2010

A letter to councillors at Central Bedfordshire:

I am a Town councillor for Parkside, Houghton Regis.

I am very concerned for the future of young people in Houghton Regis, and more widely throughout Central Bedfordshire. I am very disappointed to learn of the decision by Council to fully cease its Connexions Service by mid March 2011. And I am now bitterly concerned that the council may decide to fully close down the Youth Service. The authority really is not allowing for any transition periods to build up the voluntary sector. Further, I think it is just a pretence to create a commissioning team, since it will have no funds to commission.

I do fully recognise the current economic climate. But if you close down all key preventative support services to young people, this is going to lead to a failure of meeting young people’s needs, as well as an increase to more expensive specialist services. Additionally, there is a total failure to recognise the greater risk young people will have to involvement in crime, becoming NEET, or homeless.

The proposals are false economy. Initially this proposal will make a saving, but in the long term it actually will cost the authority more through the cost of expensive crisis services, such as social services or youth offending services, who will only get involved once problems have occurred. The estimated cost of a young person in the criminal justice system is £200,000 by the age of 16 and the estimated cost annually of each young person not in employment, education or training is £56,300.

You really should be setting up a working group to explore other options. These decisions by Central Bedfordshire Council could easily lead to young people actually needing more expensive specialist support services.

Stop protecting ‘back room’ corporate services, maintain the critical front line, challenge this naive and rash decision urgently.

I do hope to hear from you as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Take Away the Street Clutter, and Make a Shared Space?

I went in a sceptic, and came out converted. That was how I would describe the presentation I attended at the Grove Theatre in Dunstable on Monday night. Central Bedfordshire put on the evening to allow parish and town councillors the opportunity to learn about shared space.

So what is shared space? Well, take the most unfriendly road junction you can think of in your locality, take away the sign posts, the traffic lights, the roundabouts, the yellow lines, the railings, and let the users of that space decide how they would like to use it. The result, we were enthused to agree with, is what happens when experienced skaters converge on a skating rink. Everyone takes it easy, avoids each other, and the whole thing moves along like magic. Only the speaker didn't call it magic, more he called it taking advantage of the human skills we all posess.

Well, I have to say, my mind was constantly turning towards the lights at Bedford Road/High Street junction in Houghton Regis. If a roundabout was tried in the past, and failed, and the lights are failing us now, maybe this "free-for-all" approach is worth a look?

Just as one town was persuaded to cover up its traffic lights for a couple of days, "to see what happens"; I was thinking "Yes, let's do the same here, and see what happens." And that town's people's, so we were told, would not let the officials take the bags off, because everything was working much more smoothly than ever it had before. Yes, please, I thought. Where do I sign?


Footnote: still wondering how the blind and partially sighted cope with these arrangements, but am sure blind skating is a possibility... let me know.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Town's Leisure Centre - Is it Really Going to be Closed?

While editing the Houghton Regis News Desk on facebook, I drew attention to the proposals by Central Bedfordshire Council for various cost cutting exercises. School crossing patrols, street lights, the manning of CCTV cameras, the closure of a resource facility for after school homework club, the closure of employment facilities for some of the most mentally and physically challenged people in society, not to mention the curtailment of fly-tipping response were all among the cuts proposed that will directly affect Houghton Regis. But the one thing that seems to have polarised public annoyance is the proposal to close the Houghton Regis Leisure Centre.

Action groups have sprung up; as of yesterday there were five "Save Houghon Regis Leisure Centre" pages or groups on facebook alone. An e-petition quickly raised over 200 signatures and was presented to the Central Bedfordshire Council at a committee stage last week. One of our Houghton Regis CBC councillors appeared on BBC Three Counties Radio. Spontaneous paper petitions sprung up and continue to run through the town in various shops. Someone has written to me as "Acting Chairman of Houghton Regis Leisure Centre Action Group" inviting me to a meeting.

This is a people's campaign. Not a Liberal Democrat campaign. Not a Conservative campaign. Not a Labour campaign. A unifying campaign of the people for the people. This is the sort of campaign that demands more media attention. It demands a public show of solidarity. And as one of our town councillor's dared to opine last week, it might even demand a public march.

I am sure that the intentions behind the cuts were that those most in need should not suffer; it's now up to those at Central Bedfordshire Council to see that they don't.
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