It's a really weird thing being a Labour County Councillor in Hitchin. In a sea of Tories at County Hall it's sometimes like living in a parallel universe.
We know that Tory led governments since 2010 have cut funding to local councils but actually prior to that Herts. County Council must have been pretty well off. I know this because although I've only been in this role for two years I see papers at county hall which tell me that we still have so much spare cash that we can underspend by £20 million per year, decide to bank all this spare money and apparently keep it for something in the future unforeseeable and unimaginable.
But at the same time - and this is where I find a parallel universe- the Tories are happy, yes happy, to make the meanest and most damaging possible cuts to the services which young, old, isolated and vulnerable people really need.
Let me give you some examples:
Buses - one of the meanest cuts of all will ensure that many elderly and isolated people, people who choose not to drive, will be severely limited about when they can travel, where they can travel for work, for leisure and just to get on with their daily lives. How foolish is that at a time when we have no room in our towns and villages for the cars we already have and when we should be providing top class integrated transport to actually encourage people to use buses. But if they aren't there we can't. How stupid is that?
Libraries - the County Council has decided to cut £2.5 million a year from our library services. Another mean and stupid cut. Efficiencies are great, the development of on-line and electronic services are great. But many, many, people still value the social and educational life that has traditionally been provided by libraries and more recently the livelier activity based events for children, such as baby rhyme times and story clubs. The county council is downgrading many of its smaller libraries to be run by volunteers rather than trained library staff and has decided to cut the mobile library service altogether. Another attack on elderly, isolated and disabled people which is almost too mean to comprehend.
Home Start - a marvellous charity which was providing home visits and family social and support groups for the most vulnerable families in our communities. Those who simply won't engage with children's centres, clinics and health visitors. Firstly the county council decided maybe it could save a little tiny bit of money by putting the service out to tender this Autumn. Then without a word to the Home Start centres they decided unilaterally to abandon the service, cut all the funding and not even put it out to tender. The money that was saved by offering this support was infinitely greater than the cost of providing it so we have another incomprehensible, mean and stupid cut for no apparent reason other than to clobber those most in need.
So basically that's it. That's why being a Labour county councillor in a sea of Hertfordshire Blue is sometimes a very strange thing to be.
Judi Billing MBE
County Councillor, Hitchin North
North Herts. District Councillor, Hitchin Bearton