Interesting experiment by Nick Robinson and the BBC with their programme The Street that Cut Everything.
The street was in Preston, but it could be pretty much any street in any town or city except for one thing. The residents of this street agreed to take part in a unique experiment. They agreed to live without all the services their council tax pays for - all, that is, except for schools for their children and the emergency services - and to let the BBC film how they got along or, more often, how they did not.
Many of the residents started from the premise that they paid too much Council Tax. However, when the 'invisible' services started to be withdrawn they soon realised how much we take these services for granted. They quickly worked out that the Council Tax they saved would not pay for private alternatives and so they had to do much for themselves. For a short period they managed to do some of this, but at a big cost in time and personal cash.
The other interesting factor was that while it did generate more community spirit in the street, it also resulted in real tensions, with neighbours quickly in real disputes. This reflects wider views as shown in an Ipsos Mori poll that showed 54% of people think that the big society is a good idea in principle but won’t work in practice, and as many as 57% also think it’s just an excuse for the government to save money by cutting back on public services. Like The Street, the poll also showed that most people have no clear view on the role of the state – they believe ‘people’ should get more involved, although they personally are too busy, and almost as many think it is up to the government anyway.
We did something similar to this last year with what we called 'A Day in the Life'. We followed one of my team, a young mum, for a day with a camera and noted all the public services she used. We were all surprised how many she came into contact with. See for yourself. We then did some calculations of what these services would cost if you had to buy them individually. Some examples are in the associated briefing. Schooling, security, private health care and refuse collection alone would bankrupt most citizens.
The key message from all this? Collective provision works. It not only binds us together as a community but it makes economic sense as well. Public Works!