Youth centres, public transport, and the need for political leadership

Our new MP, Chris Loder, has just won a place in the Parliamentary lottery to introduce a Private Members Bill, and has made a call for suggestions as to what legislation his bill could bring about. Well, the secretary of our Bridport Youth & Community Centre (which I now have the privilege of chairing) has made a suggestion that I would like to not only endorse, but to publicise as widely as possible. She has written to him suggesting that the Government reinstates “the funding and support of Youth Centres, making it mandatory for County and District councils.” As she goes on to point out, “Their closure all over Britain is already having a terrible impact on young people and the Government could give ring-fenced money to the councils to pay for this.” Since the old Dorset County Council decided it could no longer afford to pay for youth centres and youth clubs over two years ago it has fallen to volunteers across the county to give their time and energy to keep, what I consider to be an essential service for our young people, alive and kicking. I think this a scandalous situation in such a wealthy country.

It’s not that the government has not got the money to spend on other projects. Take HS2 for example. A leaked report has just suggested that the cost of the new high speed rail link could more than double from its 2015 estimate of £52bn to £106bn, with a considerable risk that it could rise by a further 20%! That is an awful lot of money to simply cut the journey time between London and Manchester by 50 mins. I have travelled on the existing West Coast main line many times and know it to be a far better service than which I experience travelling to London from the South West. No, what we need (and need urgently) is a national strategic transport policy – one that takes into account the lack of public transport (particularly buses) in many rural areas of the country. We not only need a fair public transport system, one that allows everyone to travel with relative ease (not just business people who could communicate and attend meetings on-line), but we need one that will entice people away from their cars. If we are in any way serious about tackling our climate emergency we need to make public transport cheaper and easier than owning and using a private vehicle. And don’t even get me started on domestic air travel and the government bailout of FlyBe!

The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has called for any decision regarding the future of the HS2 project to be based on evidence. This may sound eminently sensible, except for the fact that evidence, hard data, still needs interpreting. And it can be interpreted in different ways depending on how you understand the world, particularly how you understand the social world. We need to move away from the naïve view that evidence speaks for itself – it doesn’t. What’s needed in situations like this is political leadership. What’s needed is a clear vision of the type of society we want to create in light of the many challenges we face. A similar situation exists on Dorset Council’s Climate and Ecological Emergency Advisory Panel. We, on the chair’s guidance, are constantly searching for evidence on which any decision will be based in such a way that suggests this decision will be obvious and beyond dispute. But evidence will always be open to interpretation. No. We do not need any further evidence. What we need is a political interpretation of the evidence we already have. What we need is the political will to take action. What we need is political leadership.

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