August 28, 2009 1 Comment
Okay, there are some clear points of fact in Barnet council’s new initiative to save money, for example public spending cuts look set in stone for the next government, the council itself is bracing for a 15% funding reduction, its tightest spending squeeze since 1977, and to boot the idea is to save £16 million in preparation. How will it do it? By organising the terrain for inequality.
Do you think I’m jumping the gun a little? Carry on reading.
The analogy of the day is the EasyJet business model, which provides a basic service, and offers features such as sandwiches or drinks – non-necessities compared to, say, a seat – for an extortionate price. £4.99 for example will buy you 25ml of vodka for those of you interested. As such, the council will provide a basic no-frills service, a reduced-sized bin or for those who require adult social care in Barnet “budget on whether to have a cleaner or a respite carer”. EasyCouncil it shall be called.
Seems modest enough, but to me there remains a major alternative to the revolutionary approach by Barnet. Namely, the idea of sensible public service spending can be achieved by a reallocation of funding rather than the EasyCouncil way. Reallocation for the local government allows for a renegotiation of necessities; say if it is vital to employ 24 hour wardens in care homes this should be prioritised over building a new welcome centre in the local natural park.
If I could exemplify where I live for a moment, in Pitsea, Essex, the first phase of a regeneration has been approved by the local council which means creation of a new visitor centre at Wat Tyler Country Park, the development of a local School into the East Basildon Academy, 500 new homes, 20,000 square metres of retail, improved community facilities, including 5,000 square metres of leisure space, improved links to the railway station and a reinvigorated market. Lets say hypothetically that funding for the local council was to be cut and the homes situation needed priority over the visitor centre and allocating of space for retail purposes (which seems to me to be the case), the money set for the least necessary item would be reallocated to department in charge of the most necessary item, this would also mean that those in charge of allocating money to different departments have a clearer idea of what is necessary (though admittedly my example is rather obvious, by which I mean it is clear that homes are more important than visitor centres and retail space) and it would also mean that departments were not forced to spend all of their allocated money unnecessarily thereby putting into jeopardy being allocated that much money for a time when they do need it.
Another example, a local school may not need as much funding one year due to the proportionally fewer students requiring special education needs, but the school is obliged to spend their funding in order to secure that amount for next year when they predict they will need as much funding with the proportionally higher amount of children who have special education needs. Year-by-year reallocation based upon necessity can bypass this problematic.
A spending plan that is based upon necessity over non-necessity does not have to preclude the state in any way, and in fact by including the state we sidestep a system that is based entirely upon the ability to pay for it. Services should be subsidised for the reason that a system based on ability to pay marginalises those who deserve certain services – like 24 hour wardens in care homes – but are unable to pay for it. Just imagine the outrage if an idealistic young MEP had called for this type of service in the department of health. All hell would break loose.
The problem here is that the no-frills system doesn’t solve the problem of necessary spending (which seems to be the original problem). To focus on EasyJet, the option to pay a charge in order to be first on the plane seems quite frivolous, and though it puts the option to the passenger – of whether you feel the need to put up some money to jump the queue – it doesn’t solve the problem of whether its necessary to put up that money in order to be first on the plane. The analogy is clear, if its necessary for someone to get on first, perhaps they can’t stand up for long periods of time, but they cannot afford the cost, whereas someone who is just jumping the queue for they see it as their affordable right to, then the system has legitimised inequality.
It may not seem quite as important for the simple matter of a plane journey, but applied to the services that one might receive, for an affordable service that caters for everyone, following the guidelines of necessity and reallocation appropriately, that doesn’t have to appeal to this business model that cuts back on services to legitimise an able to pay model, it is rather important. When the system of public services is structured upon the ability to pay and not a system of privileging necessities in order to balance budgets, then we are in trouble.