We live in an increasingly complex world, writes Ipswich Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere.
That is the price we pay for progress. It has given us the internet, smart phones and sat nav – things that would have been unthinkable only a couple of decades ago.
These are tools that we now take for granted but only a relatively small number of people understand how they work.
That’s fine most of the time because things normally “just work” but it can cause big problems when they go wrong.
The financial system that built up before 2008 with its “sub-prime mortgages” and “collateralised debt obligations” was designed to be complex because it was thought that was how you eliminated risk.
When it all went wrong it became clear that complexity hadn’t eliminated risk, it had just hidden the fact that no one knew what was going on.
We have a real issue in local government as well. There is a network of overlapping responsibilities which means many people don’t know who is responsible for what.
Suffolk County Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner are responsible for 80% of the cost of your council tax bill but, because Ipswich Borough Council sends out the bills, they tend to get blamed when bills go up.
Similarly the Government sets the level of business rates but, because Ipswich Borough Council collects the money on the Government’s behalf, the council quite often gets the blame for level of business rates.
The provision of street lights is a real mess. Most are owned by Suffolk County Council, some are owned by Ipswich Borough Council but all of them are maintained by the County Council’s contractors.
The Borough is responsible for collecting your rubbish but the County is responsible for disposing of it.
I could go on.
Many people criticise the Borough Council for congestion in Ipswich or the number of potholes in our roads but it is Suffolk County Council, as the highways authority, which is responsible for these – and for putting them right.
When things are working properly, complexity is not an issue but when there are problems it is important to know who has the responsibility for fixing them.