We've given the Labour party a hard time here, but I want to give them some credit for improvements in infrastructure, education, and the health service, which are becoming evident all around Willesden.
Uffington Road secondary school has been rebuilt and was opened last week by the Prime Minister as a new City Academy. It will specialise in sport (the only one in the country) and is alongside Willesden Sports Centre and Stadium which is scheduled for demolition and rebuilding to much higher standards over the next three years. Just down the road, Willesden Local Hospital is undergoing huge rebuilding works. The roads have been relaid and some of the pavements renewed in great style, all around where I live. All the old sodium lights have been replaced with modern ones, which nostalgia aside, provide much better lighting; in fact they turn night to day. [Is this a good thing? Ed.]
I happened to find out, by chance, the inventory of IT equipment at one of our local primary schools - a lot - with plenty of support to back it up. Looking at pictures of classrooms there and the smiling children I wondered what on earth children have to complain about here; their environment is lush with space and resources and teaching assistants and everything on earth they could possibly need. What it's like for them at home, I don't know. I have personally seen some improvements in the Health service. NHS Direct is a brilliant innovation: you phone them if you don't know whether you need to see a doctor, and an expert professional tells you what you need to do. I was astonished to be seen almost on time at a recent appointment (it didn't last, they went back to being two hours late on a subsequent occasion.)
I haven't got the expertise to know whether a City Academy is a good idea educationally, and I don't know if the PFI is terrible thing or not. People say it puts us in hock to the private sector - but (shush - don't tell them) they can be controlled on an ad-hoc basis. I can't really see anything wrong with the idea of the government buying in services from non-state suppliers. As long as the public gets the health service, and the education etc etc, it's sensible for the government to try and deliver them economically. Where they can go wrong is where they are stupid enough to fall for false economies and unrealistic tenders. I can confirm from personal experience that government bodies almost always give out work to the supplier who quotes the lowest price. This has led to ridiculously unrealistic quotes followed by horrendously over-budget projects. All this false economy, and penny-pinching can be traced back to that miserly old hag, Margaret Thatcher. Who else would abolish school milk for children?
The idea that tax has to be cut continually is a Thatcher legacy, and now the Conservatives are playing the same tired old tune again. When will people rumble this shabby trick? It's one thing that other countries seem better able to understand, the need for investment at realistic levels, and the benefits that flow from it. It's the backward looking, niggardly strain in British society that drags everything down: the railways, the building projects, the societal relationships.
Don't let the creepy old Tories capitalise on Labour's ineptitude. It's time for a new Labour leader, and a new confident era of investment and hope.