Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Unbearably Hideous and Detestable

UP AT the top we say: "something is very wrong with this town - psychogeography might or might not help…". And indeed today we are at a loss, for nothing we can say or show could possibly help mitigate the growing horror which creeps across the consciousness as the most recent implications of the budget apocalypse at Aberdeen City Council become ever clearer. No amount of urban exploration or ludic walking could eliminate the hollow feeling of distaste felt when the implications of of the cuts crystallise into words in a policy document which will, in a short time, become facts on the ground.

A summary of the forthcoming budget cuts, how they have been prioritised and what that means for public services can be read here (PDF). It's tough going - the opaque language of the document is as dry as the bones which may be all that remains of our town's civic sphere once the budget reductions have been implemented.

If you can stomach it, the reading of this most recent document will demonstrate to you what our local political representatives, their publicly-paid bureaucrats and their unaccountable businessmen puppet-masters have decided is the prioritised hierarchy of cuts for the coming 5-year period. It's a sort of civic triage, aimed at the delivery of £35.7m of budget savings. The document summarises how these savings are to be achieved, and breaks the savings down by how they are spread across council directorates: Social Care & Wellbeing; Education, Culture & Sport; Housing & Environment and so forth. It is an object lesson in doublethink that these directorates are flagged up along with their corresponding  contributions. Contributions which consist of things taken away, that is.

Local readers will probably be aware that the cuts detailed in this document are in addition to the existing tranche of cuts made over the last two years which achieved a contribution of around £15m. Those cuts fell largely upon provision of services for physically and mentally disabled people, and the terminally ill, including children.

So, additional to that, among the new measures explored and prioritised are:

  • Increasing primary schools class sizes by up to 78% (recommended maximum number of pupils in p3 to be increased from 18 to 33)
  • Sacking pupil support assistants
  • Shutting five primary and two secondary schools
  • Reducing services for the homeless
  • Stopping day care for mentally ill people
  • Closing recycling centres
  • Closure of parks and gardens throughout the city, selling the land.
  • Reduction then cessation of school crossing patrols

We note that there is, in this document, no de-prioritising of our council's continuing push forward with the old-fashioned multi-million pound urban dual-carriageway and radial expressway projects which were dreamt up in the centre of the car-crazy 20th century. Rather than consider a suspension of these motorcentric policies and instead explore the cheaper and more modern transport options common in continental Europe and even the USA, by contrast our local government has, in this budget document, demonstrated its commitment to continuing the enablement and authorisation of car-dependent lifestyles by ruling out the introduction of a congestion charge for Aberdeen. Moreover, the document shows our local authority's  foot-dragging resistance to the implementation of the higher penalty charges for illegal parking which the Scottish Government has requested that local authorities introduce.

No to congestion charge, no to higher parking charges. Yes to more urban dual-carriageways. Yes to bigger class sizes, yes to the sacking of lollipop ladies. The council signals that the right to drive unimpeded at ever greater speed around Aberdeen and park where you will is more important than children's education and safety, more important than services for the disabled and disadvantaged, more important than public parks.

Measures also considered but listed further down the list of axe-ready priorities are the closure of all 16 of our community libraries and the shut-down of all museums and art galleries for one year. It's no surprise that this philistine town should consider the suspension of cultural services, but its a source of spine-chilling horror that, for want of a total shortfall of £70m over ten years, such grave damage is being done to the civic sphere of our town. That these cuts should largely fall on the blameless, the vulnerable, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the poor, the ill and the disabled - while parallel council activity is intent on borrowing a similar sum in order to realise the vanity project of a highly affluent and locally influential billionaire oil tycoon in his grandiloquent plans for the privatisation of public space in the town centre is beyond distasteful. 

That our local government should seriously consider the closure and sale of many public parks, while doing all they can to toady to the got-lucky businessman - effectively mortgaging the commonly-held land in the centre of our town to discharge the plutocratic aspirations of one citizen and his cadres - while thousands upon thousands other citizens face serious detriment to or cessation of the local authority services which maintain their quality of life - is beyond offensive. Though it is instructive, for it demonstrates the contempt in which ordinary people are held by the politicians, bureaucrats and capitalists who run Aberdeen.

There are other policies both explicit and implicit in the budget-cut document, which we might decide are worth exploring later on. For instance, the document implicitly shows that there's a bit of jiggery-pokery being considered with regard to our Common Good fund. And there is an explicit demonstration that our local authority is reluctant to implement government policy which would see the reduction of council tax reliefs on second homes, but is quite content to implement policies which will remove vital help from homeless people. Something is, indeed, very wrong with this town. In the words of Private Eye's 'Piloti',  
What exactly does one have to do to stop a fine city like Aberdeen self-harming, not to say committing suicide?


Dewi Morgan, Old Aberdeen said...

Well, that seems to sum it all up neatly and without a single swear word!

hilda meers said...

We, the citizens of Aberdeen, are not lapdogs who'll rollover on command. Object to, resist, the proposals to reduce our quality of life. Join in and support the protest marech and rally on November 30th From senior citizen, Hilda Meers.

Anonymous said...

There's a complete imbalance in Aberdeen where oil execs are driving around pot hole filled roads in their 4 by 4's.

Blaming the council seems to be the easy answer to all problems, but they are working their hardest to try and achieve the best savings possible without compromising the core needs of the city. I am completely pro the UTG redevelopment. The city centre is a s*iteh*le and needs a boost. However, I agree that congestion charges, pedestrianisation and such measures should be trialled in order to recoup some of the deficit.

There are too many lazy people in Aberdeen who lack responsibility and live on handouts as well. I believe my council tax should only be spent on services that benefit myself. Leave it to the charities with voluntary donations to distribute money to worthy causes.

OtherAberdeen said...

@ Anonymous. Was that supposed to be satire?