Did you watch the BBC programme The Street That Cut Everything, where residents in Preston were asked to give up their council services for six weeks? The question is; is your council tax good value for money?
Like many of us (me included) the residents wondered what they were actually getting for their council tax and whether it was good value for money. Sometimes it can feel like you’re paying plenty of cash, but getting very little back.
And with wall-to-wall cutbacks hitting us all, it’s timely to consider which services are absolute must-haves and which we can just about manage without.
Spending your own council tax
Each household taking part in the BBC’s social experiment were given their council tax money back, where they then decided to pool it and base spending decisions on majority rule. As you can imagine, things got a little chaotic as different camps evolved with opposing views on how to spend the cash.
Their world changed quickly and their quality of life went down the (uncleaned) drain. Street lights were turned off, the bins were no longer emptied and all council-run libraries, sports centres and parks were off bounds.
Problems like fly tipping and vandalism were heaped upon the residents to see how they coped – not easily, it turned out. Who knew you couldn’t just go out and scrub graffiti off a lamp-post without a health and safety report and special chemical solutions?
Chaos without your council?
It all got slightly Lord of the Flies after that, with one household hoarding their rubbish on the sofa, people getting up in the middle of the night to clean public toilets and another household of shift-working nurses left to stumble about in the dark because they weren’t allowed to buy a torch to negotiate the pitch-black streets.
Feelings ran high too when one single mum was told by a neighbour she was taking too much out of the kitty after asking for money to replace school transport, dinners and housing benefits. I guess our spending decisions aren’t just about money, they’re about our social values as well.
Thankfully, most showed a real ‘can-do’ attitude, helping out an elderly resident and generally getting stuck in to taking care of business in the neighbourhood.
Cuts could push some over the edge
Over the top this programme may well have been, but there was a serious point made about how much we rely on all sorts of ‘invisible’ council services and whether we’re prepared to pay for them.
I accept council cuts are coming and that some of our services will have to be reduced or go altogether, so it’s great if neighbours can pull together more. But this programme made me worry about the people who are already close to the edge who may then be pushed over it, with the rest of us completely oblivious.
Perhaps what we really need is a wider public debate about how we spend our diminishing resources. What do you think? Which council services could or should we do without if push comes, unfortunately, to shove?