About Me

"Setting the world to rights"...one blog at a time! Plus anything else that comes to mind

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

13 Budgets

I have never quite understoood how budgets work. It seems someone, somewhere makes an (informed?) decision as to how much money will be needed over a given period for a particular purpose. If all the money is used, or exceeded, it is assumed it was needed and will be needed again so more money is allocated for the next period. If the money isn't used it's assumed too much was allocated and less is allowed for the next period. Seems a little daft to me. How often can exactly the same expenses arise each month/quarter/year. Instead of just not spending the money it ends up being used for non-essentials or it will be 'lost' and less money forthcoming in future. Something happened in the nearby town of Tetbury recently that has made me think about budgets again.

Tetbury is a very old, very lovely small town on the edge of the Cotswolds. In the middle of Tetbury beside a crossroads of the two 'main' streets is a wonderful old town hall built on stone pillars and a market is held beneath it between the pillars twice a week. A small road runs down one side of it that traffic from one direction can use to side-step the roundabout at the crossroads - a mini 'rat-run' if you like. There was parking for about four cars (parking space is at a premium in Tetbury) and the narrowness of the road between the parked cars and the market hall meant cars had to drive slowly - apart from the occasional maniac of course, but maniacs appear everywhere. I'm not aware of anyone actually being hurt there, nor is anyone else I've spoken to. Nevertheless, various proposals were put forward and discussed and eventually plans proceeded to pedestrianise the small road alongside the market hall.

At the same time proposals were put forward to put in a pedestrian crossing on one of the roads leading off the crossroads. A sensible idea as it could be rather hairy trying to cross that road, especially for the elderly, despite Tetbury being a small country town.

All the work has now been done. Hah!

The work itself it shoddy; poorly finished with new tarmac not blended in to existing tarmac resulting in an uneven surface; tarmac pushed up onto existing cobbles in lumps; curbing hacked off at the ends leaving holes for people to catch their feet in and trip and other problems.

Slightly raised cobbling has been sited in a strip at either end of the little road and some of the paving has been extended into space at the end of the town hall where the road opened out.

The appearance is messy and not compatible for a Cotswold stone town. Cobbles or the smooth paving seen elsewhere in the town would have been more appropriate than tarmac; more in keeping with the Cotswold stone buildings. Tourists come to Tetbury because it's pretty, to visit Prince Charles' shop in the centre after seeing his country house down the road near Westonbirt. Visitors to nearby Westonbirt Arboretum use the cafes and patronise the other shops. If more work is carried out along the shoddy lines of the last then Tetury will cease to be a draw and money will not be brought into the area.

Meanwhile, 20 yards down the road, the crossing is in place after narrowing the road. It's a short road so I imagine it looks like an hourglass from above with the middle pinched in where the crossing it.

I agree with the crossing but surely it would have been sufficient to install two beacons and employ some paint for the 'zebra' crossing and the zigzag lines either side of it to prevent people parking? Why go to all the cost of digging the road up and widening the pavement - it's not as though that extra paving will be useful for anything and with that ghastly tarmac too! The money saved there could have gone towards decent stonework near the town hall. If indeed any of the work there was necessary, which I dispute!

There's a lot of grumbling going on around town, in the cafes, on street corners, in the queues in shops.

Both during the consultation period and now it's done I've heard justification on the basis that 'we'd have lost the money if we hadn't used it'. I've heard this many times in the past for projects that in my and many others opinions were a waste of time.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's a good saying. If something doesn't need doing, save the money, put it back in the pot, refund it to the taxpayers - don't just do something for the sake of it!

This little project cost £40,000 at a time of economic crisis, when there are numerous dangerous potholes around the county following the hard winter that need filling. Traffic lights or a roundabout is badly needed at the other end of Long Street (the main street). Just think, how many projects in how many towns are being carried out because 'they would lose the money if they didn't spend it'? And that's just roadworks. Budgets extend into every part of the community. Just how much money are we wasting that could be usefully diverted elsewhere or refunded to the taxpayer, or used to reduce the national debt?

Like the tax system change I considered earlier, isn't there anyone out there who can 'crunch the numbers' and work out the wastage of a budget system (and the current tax system versus the one I outlined please). If the numbers support it - fine, if they don't, well....

Ok, now I've considered the problem, time to go away and think about a better system. I'll see what I can come up with. Any suggestions folks?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

12 Electoral systems

I had been thinking about immigration but the recent election has put that on the back burner for a while. We've been to the polls, given our verdict and still we are waiting for the result. Oh, we know the numbers but we've no idea who will be 'leading' us because none of the parties achieved an overall majority. Consider...the Conservatives got 306 seats with a total 10.7 million votes. Labour got 258 seats with a total of 8.6 million votes and yet although the Liberal Democrats got 6.8 million votes that only entitled them to 57 seats. It's absurd! Whether you voted Lib Dem or not it's easy to see why they want the system changed. Certainly the people who voted for them could be forgiven for thinking they are second class citizens, all votes are equal but some are more equal than others - pardon the mis-quote.

I've been trying to think of a better solution but it seems that everything I can come up with has already been thought of and is being used in another country and whatever system is used they all fail in some way. So we'll have to accept that we're not going to have a completely fair system - until some genius comes up with one. The main thing is to keep the country running with as little disruption as possible. Until we change it, please can we abide by the current 'first past the post' system and let the Conservatives get on with it? If they fail, we vote another party in when we next go to the polls but stop all these cloak and dagger manoeuverings. They are unsettling and unhelpful.

On the subject of alternatives...I've been surfing the net and I must say the system outlined in a comment on one of my previous posts appeals most, with a little amendment perhaps. How about...everyone votes, if there's an overall majority go with it, if there isn't then everyone votes again, this time with only the two parties with the largest number of voters in the running. Whoever gets the most on the second run gets to form a government BUT the seats remain allocated in accordance with the first vote - the second vote simply confirms who the country would prefer in overall charge.

Actually, I quite like the idea of parties not having an overall majority, perhaps it will make them think more about what they're doing. It's just the uncertainty of what's going to happen that I dislike.

There are already plenty of blogs around discussing the issue but...any thoughts?