Déjà Vu meaning ‘already seen’ – appears to occur with great regularity as a feature of Swindon’s political life, how else can we explain the launch of yet another ‘Vision’ for our town.
Now I am not in the business of knocking visionaries, unlike George Osborne the Conservative Chancellor who recently suggested that anyone having a vision should visit a doctor. No, for me true visionaries are to be treasured even if their view of things verges on the seeming insane. I look to the biblical when it comes to visions, and the words from the Book of Proverbs – Without A Vision The People Perish. The reality is that someone somewhere does need to visualise how something might be or might look sometime in the future. I’m just not sure that we can trust politicians to do that.
But back to Déjà Vu and yes it was only seven years since the last vision was made known to the prophets in the hallowed corridors of the Civic Offices and revealed to the waiting people; the vision was clear, our town would be a place offering greater employment opportunities, thousands of extra homes, cleaner streets (we will come back to them) well managed parks, road and pavement repairs and a cultural centre of which we could be proud. In 2008 the job of selling A Shared Vision for Swindon to the people of the town rested with the Swindon Strategic Partnership and to do this they produced a glossy booklet which set out what Swindon would be by 2030. The people were surely expected to marvel at the wisdom and foresight its leaders displayed and above to bend in gratitude as they showed how their way was indeed the right way.
So what happened to the vision of 2008, well a nasty little world recession didn’t help – did it? Oh and the Council did make a couple of bad choices in terms of partners but that happens and the good news is that it didn’t cost the taxpayer too much money (depending on what you think is too much). But, and I think it’s a fair question to ask, how does a recession affect the ‘vision’ surely the ‘vision’ is still valid it’s only the execution of the ‘vision’ which is delayed. Well, we might think that but the visionaries always hold the trump card and guess what – another vision occurs; this time it’s bigger and better, using new words and images, offering more assurances and promises, albeit the timeline hasn’t changed much.
To make it even more relevant and exciting the vision is accompanied by ‘clearly stated promises’ in this case thirty promises. But isn’t this another case of deja vu – yes it is as this idea has been tried before back in 2005 when former Council Leader, Mike Bawden gave us 56 promises (don’t you feel cheated with only 30 this time). It took five years before the majority could be ticked off and six were either withdrawn or not achieved – incidentally those were probably the ones the Council should have been working harder to achieve but simply failed to do.
Promises, vows and pledges are the ‘go to’ words for our local and national leaders, in truth they are just words they use to persuade the public of their intentions, whereas what the people of Swindon really want is less graphical representation of what the town might look like (although the pictures are lovely) fewer excuses as to why work isn’t being done (SBC did say that new high quality office space building at Kimmerfields would start in 2013) and why not get the town’s art collection online, surely that doesn’t take seven years to achieve?
Finally, let me come back to cleaner streets. They are a part of the Shared Vision for Swindon and yet it is a subject which has been listed by successive Council leaders as something residents should do themselves. An argument that found a willing advocate in former leader Rod Bluh who asked the question: “Is it really the council’s job to spend your money to do things that might be done better by local communities?”
A good question and one to which I suspect many residents might have an answer.