21 September 2008

Evidently the band is booked and you're paying.

After a long hiatus it feels like its time to return to commenting on events in Somerton but maybe I should give at least passing mention to recent events in the economy. Last year, when the first ripples started to appear, I wonder who knew just how far they would reach. I certainly didn't have a clue but I am beginning to suspect that our friends in Downing St and the Square Mile had a bloody good idea.

What we all know, but very quickly forget, is that the economy is all about confidence. You can cut that statement many ways to say that your own economy is about your confidence in yourself whereas 'our' economy is all about our confidence in 'us'. The economy, contradicting the concept that many economists and politicians propose, doesn't exist as a separate entity but is, in fact, joined at our hip. It is us and us are it. And this idea really undermines the idea of an economic model which subjugates the populace because, if only they'd wake up long enough to realise it, the populace are the economy.

But the system that we suffer under is one where we, the populace, have been convinced by our 'elders and betters' that they must run the economy and that we are subject to its vagaries. Now, if you look closely you will realise that this is actually a coded way of saying, "we, your elders and betters, can get our snouts deeply into the trough and you can have what's left over, if there is any".

In recent times we have good examples of this behaviour, the best of which was Enron, where the crooks at the top were skimming the cream right up until the last minute when the whole pack of cards folded. Didn't one chap say something about not being able to remember if he cashed in $50M in shares just before the failure? But the message, peddled by Saint Margaret of Thatcher, was that everyone should own a house, have investments and be an entrepreneur. That way, the load was spread as widely as possible and it left the suckers on the ground floor holding the baby. And so it is today. Investment banks go belly up and the taxpayer foots the bill. Saint Margaret's banner should have read, 'Privatise the profit and nationalise the debt'.

And I wonder if just a little of that Thatcherism is trickling down to the good burgers of Somerton with this wicked new deal to locate the community hall in a ............................ wait for it .................................... industrial shed. Now forgive me for observing that industrial sheds are, well, industrial. In case any of our Town Councillors haven't noticed, industrial sheds aren't nice, touchy-feely type buildings. In fact, when you think about it, an industrial shed looks a lot like a tin dunny, not at all what the much missed 'steering committee' had in mind.

But anyway, the deal, we understand, is all but done and the good burgers of Somerton are now responsible for the upkeep of a rather tacky looking tin box stuck out in the further reaches of the Bancombe Trading Estate. Gosh, doesn't it fill you with excitement. Not only can we be bored rigid by Council meetings but we can be bored rigid in the most god-forsaken place in Christendom. But, contrary to the general perception that the Town Council couldn't find a light-switch if they were given instructions, they do have a plan. This surprised me when I first heard it but, on careful consideration, their cunning plan does make sense. Here's the scoop:

The idea is that the Town Council have absolutely no confidence that anyone will want their tin shed on the edge of civilisation so, worried that it might turn into a white (or a dark blue) elephant, the idea is that they can always sell it again if its not needed. Now doesn't that fill you with confidence? But here's the thing. This is all just too convenient and I think that there is more to this than meets the eye.

Lets imagine that the Town Council finalise the sale and buy this unlovely tin box, what are they going to do with it next? Well, thanks to the previous owners who were thoughtful enough to vary the original specification and make the first floor suitable for disabled access (now there's a co-incidence) the Town Council will have groovy offices where they can have their meetings. Granted, the view out of the windows isn't exactly spectacular but our Town Councillors seem to be quite happy with 'ugly' and they'll have plenty of that at Bancombe.

That leaves the rest of the tin box and Somerton's taxpayers will have to fit this structure out to satisfy some sort of community need. Now I guess is that this fit-out won't be cheap and a big part of that fit-out will have to be insulation otherwise it'll have to be renamed the 'community cold-store'. So the community forks-out for the fit-out and everything in the garden is rosy, or is it? Because the continuing question is whether or not anyone is going to bother to drag themselves out to Bancombe to use this unlovely tin box. And what happens if the structure becomes the feared white-elephant. No-one is going to want to buy a community hall botched-up out of an old industrial unit. So it'll be sold off to the highest (or lowest) bidder and, in the economic climate of the next few years, that sale could mean a significant loss for Somerton's taxpayers and some lucky person's bargain of the century.

To say that this project is half-baked is a compliment and the problem continues to be that some of Somerton's Councillors want to play at being property developers. Now I don't mind if they do that with their own money but I do object to them playing fast and loose with public funds.

Somerton's Town Council managed to avoid doing anything vaguely creative with the land at Etsome Terrace which was, in case none of them noticed, a very central and convenient site for a community building. They did manage to carve off a few bits, squandering (or should that have been disguising) the site's true potential and then, finally, they sell it off to create a housing development. In the meantime they continue to faff about with the doctors surgery and generally behave exactly as property professionals don't. Now, with all that lovely (taxpayers) money from Etsome Terrace (assuming that it has arrived in the bank) they are going to start throwing money about at the furthest edge of an industrial estate converting a tin dunny into a 'community tin dunny'.

I'm speechless, but only till next time.