Twisted logic

BY THE River Swincombe, on Dartmoor, are the ruins of John Bishop’s house.

The tumbled-down building has been empty since, well, to look at it hundreds of years. Actually, it was occupied until 1911, and renovated in 1969 as a film set.

So what?

Well, to put it another way: there are many fine and much older buildings that still do good service. It all comes down to TLC. Neglect quickly turns to decay, fast becomes dereliction, and before you know what you have a ruin on your hands, or underfoot probably.

Have you noticed how neglected our public space has become since 2008? Going about my business recently I slalomed around potholes, and tripped over weeds on pavements, marvelled at jungles growing in some very public corners of cities and towns in the South West of England. I have seen slip-road chevrons overgrown with weeds – surely that’s dangerous – and plants growing out of public buildings.

In July (2012) the Centre for Cities published its report “Outlook 1901”, which is a snapshot of British life 110 years ago. The main conclusion is that levels of skills and investment in infrastructure way back then were a good predictor of a city’s economic wellbeing now. Decisions taken in 1901 echo down the decades to affect how you and I live. Missed opportunities, says the report, cost far more to put right later on.

Decisions made now by local authorities will come back to haunt your grandchildren. Your children will pick up the tab for major restoration work at a time when interest rates will have risen to the long-term norm.

Local authorities should be investing now, while interest rates are at ridiculously low levels, in the sort of work most of us see as vital. The result will be more jobs, more taxes, more spending in the shops.

Actually, some anonymous sage put it more succinctly and effectively: “For want of a ha’penny worth o’ tar the ship was lost.”

THE GOVERNMENT is committing a similar logical error in its plans to slash 20,000 soldiers from the Army and plug the gap by doubling the size of the Territorial Army to 30,000.

Oliver Colvile, MP for Sutton and Devonport, demonstrated that he had spotted the fallacy last week. He asked in Parliament what had been done to ensure that Government departments would be able to release reservists when they are needed to defend the country.

Civil Service cuts mean that departments are working virtually on skeleton staffs. There have been near-riots at Heathrow because there are too few immigration staff to man the desks. (Interestingly, the official response was to mobilise more police to keep order, rather than laying on extra immigration officials.)

The private sector will also feel the squeeze if Reservists are called up, and it’s not difficult to imagine some small businesses being driven to the wall by the absence of a key member of staff.

Meanwhile, many of the 20,000 redundant soldiers will not be able to find work and so will go on the dole. There are already thought to be around 80,000 homeless ex-Services personnel, and levels of mental health, drug and alcohol problems are abnormally high. In 2009 an estimated 20,000 veterans were caught up in the criminal justice system, with 8,500 behind bars, almost one in 10 of the prison population.

But that’s all right, because we’re about to get brand new Police and Crime Commissioners to put the order in law and order.


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