Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Blast from the Past

It’s good to see students engaging in political action once again, but the protests of the last few weeks also bring back not-so-fond memories of the last time the Conservatives were in power.

The intervening New Labour years saw some notable improvements to life in the UK, some abject failures - and much that continued on its neo-liberal path uninterrupted. The ‘yuppies’ of the then newly deregulated City of London are now collectively known as ‘bankers’, but are still busy siphoning off our savings, pensions and taxes. We’re still tied to US apron strings when it comes to foreign affairs: last time round it was Cruise missiles at Greenham Common, Molesworth and other USAF bases, now it is Afghanistan and many parts of the Middle East. And, of course, public services are being savagely cut back again.

That regime lasted 18 years. It seems inconceivable that, once the rest of the public spending cuts hit home, this one will last anything like as long. At least, I sincerely hope it won’t.

Work took me elsewhere during each of the three recent demonstrations, so I have nothing to show of the current unrest (yet). But for a reminder of life during the previous Tory era, a selection from the archive is here.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Housing Market Renewal update

Only a few weeks after I wrote about the Housing Market Renewal programme, the government cancelled it. There is no connection between the two events, and I don’t claim any credit. But despite its misguided premise, and consequences that have been disastrous for thousands of residents in the nine ‘Pathfinder’ areas across the north of England, its abrupt termination is not a good thing.

Its sudden demise leaves the areas in limbo, with street after street of tinned-up houses, property prices at near zero, communities destroyed, and the remaining residents left to struggle on in what looks like a war zone.

It is too late to rectify most of the damage, but the government could at least buy out any of those left behind who wish to move, at prices that make moving a realistic possibility. That means substantially more than current ‘market’ values.

More Housing Market Renewal photographs are available here.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Over the Hill?

Over the Hill?, a video, print and web project by the Hereford-based Rural Media Company, documents eight exemplary schemes around the country that support older people living in rural areas.

Pictured above is 89 year-old Les Spicer, who lives alone in an isolated, book-lined cottage on the outskirts of Norwich. Under a ‘Money Matters’ programme, run by Age UK Norfolk, volunteer adviser Marion Billham visits each week to help deal with bills and other mail.

The Lincolnshire County Council CallConnect bus (below), is part of an extraordinary on-demand service that makes use of specialist software to draw up routes that vary day-to-day, in response to phoned-in requests. CallConnect allows people of all ages to book a bus from their village into town and back, at a time that suits them, and has proved to be of particular benefit to the elderly.

Both local government and the voluntary sector will be hard hit by the coalition’s public spending cuts. It would be a great shame if lifeline services such as these were to suffer as a result.

Over the Hill? is scheduled for release in early 2011. More pictures here.