Private affluence and public squalor


Liz Leffman, county councillor for Charlbury & Wychwood and district councillor for Charlbury, highlights a poor state of affairs in Oxfordshire:

"How often have you driven from Oxfordshire into Gloucestershire and noticed a visible improvement in the road surface on the dividing line?

It’s like a tide mark, with smooth surfaces on the Gloucestershire side, and pock-marked surfaces in our area.  Even if you haven’t seen that, you will be aware of the dreadful state of our roads. I was sharply reminded of this in the run-up to the OVO Energy Tour of Britain cycle race that crossed the District on September 9th

The race came right across my ward, visiting Charlbury, Shipton and Milton-under-Wychwood.   As a very rural part of the county, our roads get very little attention and I was not alone in worrying that the race was going to be going over some pretty dodgy surfaces with a lot of potholes. Several people contacted me before the race to ask what was being done to fill in some of the worst examples.

I was assured in July by the County Council Cabinet member responsible for Highways that the route would be inspected and repaired ahead of the race, but in the week before the race, none of the potholes on the route had been filled in, and Leafield Road in Shipton was still in a state of serious disrepair.  The race was on the Saturday and on the Friday a team turned up with some tarmac.  A mega-sized pothole on the hill out of Charlbury was finally filled in, having featured in the Oxford Mail the day before, but Leafield Road, which requires major re-surfacing, wasn’t touched, and was the scene of an accident, with a rider coming off his bike.

Of course, the County Council has to meet growing demands for adult social services, and the children’s services budget is over-stretched. But that doesn’t excuse us having very badly maintained roads compared to other counties.  The economist JK Galbraith coined the phrase “private affluence and public squalor” over 50 years ago, to describe the difference between privately owned resources and publicly maintained facilities. This is of course only partly true; we can be proud of many of our public services. Galbraith’s phrase, does, however, lend itself to describing Oxfordshire, which is one of the more affluent areas in the country, but whose public highways are very poorly maintained, and getting steadily worse.

At the last County Council meeting, the Liberal Democrats proposed that the Council should borrow while interest rates are low in order to repair our roads and reverse the inevitable decline.  This was turned down by both the Labour and Conservative groups. Their fear of borrowing means that our roads will continue to decline to a point where we will need to raise vastly greater sums to bring them up to scratch again. We should, to misquote George Osborne, be repairing the roads while the sun shines. Instead, our hand-to-mouth approach means that future generations will have to find the money to foot a much larger repair bill, most likely at higher rates of interest."


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