Tuesday 5 August 2008

Change in Northumberland

For the last week my thoughts have been dominated by change – never something I favour in principle, except when handing banknotes over a bar.

On the small change front, I received a couple of the Royal Mint’s shiny new-style pennies in the village shop. My first reaction was to reject these foreign interlopers, but on closer inspection the Queen’s head at least looked mercifully familiar. The other side depicts a fragment of the royal arms forming part of the designer’s jigsaw concept, and looks like a piece of abstract art. I suppose it could have been a lot worse.

Perhaps the strangest thing is the fact that the only indication of the coin’s value is the words “one penny” inscribed around the edge in impenetrably small print. Naturally I am wholly in favour of reverting to the fine old English tradition of doing our utmost to confuse foreigners at all times. This latest attempt falls far short of the masterly standards set by our pre-decimal coinage, but the absence of numerals does seem mightily strange in the era of globalisation and mass immigration, where every piece of public signage has been changed to infantile pictograms which can be understood by anyone, however thick they are and whatever language they happen to speak.

Although I have never been a great believer in conspiracy theories, I find myself beginning to sympathise with the idea that the new coins are primarily designed to make us feel that the introduction of the euro would be a welcome simplification of our lives.

Similarly, it is hard to read anything about the new unitary council for Northumberland that does not bring the word “shambles” to the forefront of one’s mind, and make one think that it is all about ensuring a warmer reception for the European model of regional government when that is next put to the vote.

I have been looking at the website designed to explain the changes to us hapless voters. Even after decades spent dealing with politically correct human resources departments in major public companies, I have never encountered anything written in such impenetrable management speak. From the “baselining team” to “service cluster groups” and “belonging communities”, everything appears to have been described in gibberish by visiting aliens who think that Stanley Unwin was a genuine professor.

Even the job titles of the newly appointed and no doubt highly paid officials of the new authority seem to have been encrypted by an Enigma machine. What, for the love of God, is one supposed to make of an “Executive Director of Place”?

In fairness, I would probably be equally rude about this change if its proponents were capable of describing it in plain English, since I along with most residents of the county did not want it to happen. The irony is that, thanks to the punishment handed out to Labour at the ballot box in May, neither did most of the people elected to run the thing.

So why are we pressing on with this wretched project which can be guaranteed to waste millions in the “transition process”, inflate the salaries of everyone apart from those in the front line actually delivering services, produce none of the billed economies and make local government less responsive and more remote?

Politicians are always banging on about “listening to the people”, so why do they not try thinking inside the box for a change and stop it now? Just say no. I think I might. The way things are going, I will not understand a word of my council tax demand next April and will have no alternative but to sling it in the bin. With the nation’s prisons already bursting at the seams, what could possibly happen next?


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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