Below is my latest column for the Exeter Express and Echo:
The state of our roads is probably the most common grievance raised by Exeter residents with me and my volunteers as we’re out and about. With the NHS and care for the elderly in crisis, one might have thought these would be top of people’s agenda. But the thing about roads and potholes is they affect everyone and they are a visible sign in everyone’s street of the more general decline people feel in our public realm. Meeting residents in Dorset Avenue on Saturday I got a real sense of their frustration. Their road is in a terrible state. We’ve written letters and raised petitions to Devon County Council, who are responsible for the roads, to no avail. Dorset Avenue hasn’t been resurfaced for more than 30 years. Although it’s fairly busy, it’s not a priority route because it doesn’t link directly to a main road. It’s on “the list”. But its prospects of being done any time soon look slim. The county council says it needs to spend £65 million just to keep the roads in their current state, but is spending only £35 million. So things are likely to get worse.
Which leads me to my main point of this week’s column. Our local councils face another £6.7 billion of cuts in this Parliament, on top of the huge reductions over the last five years. This was sneaked out by the Government just before Christmas and we don’t yet have details because councils have not set their budgets. Exeter City Council, responsible for parks, leisure, housing, street cleaning and planning, among other things, has managed to protect most of its services so far, while levying the fourth lowest council tax in England. But that job’s going to be even harder in future. The cuts that most people have notice have been in services run by Devon County Council – social and elderly care, the youth service, children’s services and pavement and road maintenance, including weeding. The police have also suffered big cuts and there’s a danger we could lose all our Police and Community Support Officers. As well as more cuts, we’re also facing the biggest council tax rise for many years as the Government shifts the burden for funding social care to local Government. Councils will be allowed to add an extra 2% to the council tax for social care and, with the police and fire expecting to seek similar rises, we’re likely to see a council tax increase well above cost of living and wage inflation.
On a brighter note, congratulations to Exeter City Council for helping secure Radio 1’s annual Big Weekend in May. This is Europe’s biggest free music festival and the majority of those people going will be local. It’s fitting that Coldplay, whose lead singer Chris Martin was born and raised in Exeter, is one of the main acts. Following the huge success of the Rugby World Cup this is the latest feather in the city’s cap and something for our young people and some not so young people to look forward to.