Monday, 16 May 2011

"Vote early, vote often"

Once again my local authority is inviting us to vote on how to spend some of the money. In last year's participative budgeting exercise investment in the cycling infrastructure came top of the vote, and this year we have the opportunity to put it top of the list again.

This is basically a repeat of last year's exercise, wth some tweaking.

There's more detail on this year's survey here.

I imagine that among the readers of this are some who would be keen to support investment in cycling infrastructure, but find themselves living outside this area. It would, of course, be wrong for anyone who lives elsewhere to try to influence priorities in this area by completing the online voting form (which can be found here).

It would also be deeply irresponsible of me to encourage such cynical behaviour. So I wont, but I can't prevent it happening. More importantly, it doesn't look as though the local authority has put anything in place to prevent outsiders from hijacking this survey. That seems remarkably trusting for a body that is in danger of looking highly cynical. For example, this year's total allocation for cycling has been cut by 20%, and split so that a large part of it is only relevant to a small proportion of the population. The core element is about half what it was last year. Cycling infrastructure is now almost entirely dependent on an annual participative budgeting exercise, rather than any sort of strategic commitment. And as far as I can make out, the participative budget was originally partly funded by slashing the cycling infrastructure budget.

Ultimately it's all a matter of priorities, of course. The way this is set up, cycling infrastructure is competing for resources against highways maintenance, pavement repairs and maintenance, street cleaning and litter removal, improved street lighting, improved parking facilities, winter maintenance, upgrading street furniture, tree planting, and facilities for young people (such as healthy eating/gardening projects and a vehicle safety/maintenance scheme).

Some might think that most of those sound like a pretty basic list of local authority responsibilities, rather than optional extras. But these are tough times, and difficult decisions have to be made. Available funds have to be spread thinly. Not least because they cut council tax by 4% last year, and a further 0.5% this year. Which makes a lot of sense if you think that the most needy people own the biggest houses.

I find all this difficult to understand, but their approach to priorities seems to be popular. The recent local government elections pretty much wiped out the opposition parties on the local council.

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard" H. L. Mencken. Or as they say these days "You're all in this together".


townmouse said...

So what ever happened to Cycling England's budget being devolved to local authorities? This is government by three-card trick. Or worse

gom1 said...

That money, I think, has gone into the "Local Sustainable Transport Fund". There's a list of applications here. We are not on it. The selected projects and the next tranche of funding will be announced next month. As far I can make out this authority has a cunning plan to tap into this fund in future. So cunning that we can't be told what it will be yet.