Many thanks to Paul Stygal for the image

We’re into the tenth year of what increasingly feels like permanent austerity. With the year on year decrease in central government funding to local authorities, councils are slashing services in a desperate bid to balance the books. Vital services such as social care are suffering from cut after cut. In Southend, the number of homeless people and rough sleepers is rising inexorably. The impact of permanent austerity is exacting such a cost on the most vulnerable people in our communities it can only be described as an emergency.

Yet, £2milion can be found from the Department For Transport’s Local Growth Fund, via the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, for Phase Two of a project that can best be described as tarting up the approaches to Southend town centre: Work underway on greening gateway to Southend. The metal structures (complete with rust) shown in the photograph above are, believe it or not, a part of this project. Very cutting edge and an obvious attempt to play on and appropriate Southend’s reputation for being a bit ‘arty’. Having said that, the reaction we’ve seen so far from people we know in Southend has been one of ‘what the actual f**k?!’

So…central government can still make money available for capital projects that are essentially about improving the appearance of a town but when it comes to anything that would start to make a dent in the human cost of austerity, it’s not going to happen. This project is about improving surface appearances in a bid to ‘sell’ Southend. It’s the triumph of style over any substance that would make a meaningful difference to people’s lives. To put it bluntly, it’s ‘all fur coat and no knickers’.

That’s neo-liberalism for you. There’s money to spend on tarting up and promoting your town to supposedly benefit business but there’s none to prop up the services needed by the more vulnerable people in the town. As a matter of interest, we’d be interested to hear what the small traders in the vicinity of these ‘improvements’ think of them, particularly given the amount of money that has been spent. To conclude, as we’ve noted more times than we care to remember, yet another example of why the system of local and national governance that we endure is dysfunctional and broken…