I recently talked about the gaps in public services that many charities fill. Whilst I suggested that these organisations were society’s saviours for stepping in to ensure continuity, it’s not always the fault or wish of the local authority when they’re forced to terminate the provision of an amenity, resource or facility. Councils have budgetary constraints, too, and their funds are shrinking all the time in the UK’s fragile economy and as a result of the current cost-of-living crisis. The fallout is that they have to prioritise what they’re able to provide with the funds they have available.
In February, Alan Williams became a champion of his community in Dorset. The local bus company, FirstGroup, ran a Sunday service; however, due to diminishing passenger numbers, it announced that the route would soon be dropped from its timetable. Alan relied on this Sunday service to get where he needed to go—such was his need, he offered to personally fund the running costs of the Sunday bus. He reasoned that he could afford to plug FirstGroup’s financial losses, in respect of this specific service, and was prepared to do so.
Dorset, though a largely wealthy area, like anywhere, has its deprived areas too. Alan felt that the people living in these pockets of deprivation probably needed the bus service now, more than ever, especially compared to the costs of booking a taxi or running a car. In the end, Alan didn’t need to put his money where his mouth was…on the back of his campaign to raise awareness of the issue, FirstGroup reversed their decision to stop the Sunday service.
In the summer, Rishi Sunak was filmed talking to an audience at a garden party. It was before he won the Tory leadership contest and became Prime Minister; he said that, once he was in power, he would continue the work he had started…which, in his words, involved cutting government funding to disadvantaged areas across the UK, in favour of wealthier places, such as his constituency in Richmond, North Yorkshire.
Unsurprisingly, Sunak was lambasted for this (though he was still appointed Prime Minister). Richmond is an incredibly wealthy part of the UK. Even if the same situation cropped up there as in Dorset, there would be numerous ‘Alans’ around to fund terminated services if they wished to do so. Compare this with such as the district of Wakefield, which, according to the ONS, contains two of the ten most deprived areas of the UK. Given that it’s just down the road from me, I know that there are very few wealthy suburbs in the Wakefield area. The chances of coming across an Alan Williams there is slim, and yet Sunak believes any public funding this West Yorkshire city receives should be ripped away for the benefit of his wealthy neighbours. What planet is he on?! He talks about levelling up, but it’s clear that this is all hyperbole.
The average amount of funding per individual in Wakefield is approximately £26. Compare this to the average for the whole of Yorkshire (which Richmond clearly skews)—this is £324 per head. Before we, as a county, can feel pleased that this figure is so much higher than Wakefield’s lot in life, it’s really nothing in comparison to the national average, which works out at £835 per head. And if you want to feel even more hard done by, consider this: the funding per head of those living in London is a whopping £2,552. How the heck do you level up from £26 to £2,552 without years of major investment and an almost psychotic desire to pull the North up from, and out of, the ditch in which it lays? The divide is, frankly, disgusting. It almost makes Sunak’s desire to increase funding in wealthy Richmond laudable—if he went ahead with this, it would at least bring more money into the county overall, and reduce what the capital receives.
The Tories seemed to have robbed this country blind over the last twelve years, but I think this funding gap has existed for many decades, with each consecutive government doing their bit to widen the chasm.
What’s the result? Should we all become Alans, and do away with paying our taxes and public funding and simply contribute to the services we need on an individual basis? Would that at least stop those in Westminster skimming their cut from the top? Using this method, maybe we’d have enough to ensure all our frontline services are operational. Maybe we’d even find the average funding per head would even out a little.
If London has received more than two-and-a-half grand per person over the last couple of years, it’s surely funded what it needs to now. Send some of that money northwards, please, because it’s long overdue.