Localism & public services

Last week the Government published its long delayed White Paper on Public Services Reform.

It’s nice to see that The Economist (“Little platoons on a slow march“, 16 July, page 29) chose a similar illustration to accompany its coverage of this as I did in my last posting a month ago on Cameron’s Big Society. (CamBigs)

When local services are cut, my photo (opposite) showed the gully clearing work I had needed to do as a volunteer with my mattock, rake and scythe.

The Economist cartoon (see below) showed a whole line of volunteers with similar equipment and Cameron in his overalls out there in front leading the troop with a sweeper and shovel in hand! Industrial scale voluntarism is a not so secret core ingredient of CamBigs.

As predicted the White Paper doesn’t contain anything very new about the Big Society. There’s an emphasis on localism (parish councils may have more to do), greater choice, diversity, fairness and accountability.

It all sounds very worthy. Some apologists see this as a radical shake up of public services and decentralisation away from Whitehall. But the rub will come with implementation because public service budgets for local councils, the police and elsewhere are being cut to the bone.

Will privatisation really bring the results for CamBigs when there’s no money on offer? And if not, where will all the armies of volunteers come from? I don’t think I’m very typical, nor my friend Peter who helped me!

Web ad or card box?

The digital era is impacting on everything we know – shopping, travel, politics, news, social networking, film, music, house purchase, learning, books, advertising; and now the web is increasingly going mobile. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau 41% of the UK population have a smartphone. By 2020 it’s thought there will be 10 billion mobile devices worldwide.

This revolution is particularly affecting communications and the transmission of information, shaking up industries like newspapers, publishing, book selling and telecoms. But will all the old ways just wither away? We think not and here’s an example in advertising of what we mean.

We like people to stay at The Larches because it’s a great place with an intriguing garden and belvedere. We tell the world about the cottage and facilities through our website and via the agents. But now we have hit on a simple non-digital idea: a card box for passers-by at the front of the cottage. The photo opposite shows the box by the road with the belvedere in the background at the top of the fellside garden.

Anyone interested in staying here and liking the look of the place can simply take a card with the address, postcode and booking details. A blended solution, mixing the old with the new!

And what’s so special about the card box? Made of recycled wood, it has a 20 mms thick perspex block at the front, enabling the cards to be seen but crucially kept set back from a possible wet front. [The close up photo below shows the rain on the lid.]

The lid lifts up to enable you to get your hand in to take the card; and there is a 15 mms deep wooden block above the sloping roof, which sheds the rain away from the hinge and area where there might be leakage.

Screwed to the gate post, the back base is made from waste oak flooring, with glue channels at the rear to allow the rain to drain down behind. All very practical and environmentally sound! We will have to explore patenting it.

PS We’re not forgetting the digital world completely! Just type “Lakeland belvedere” into Google maps and you’ll get full directions, telephone etc for The Larches. And if you have stayed at the cottage, you can write a review.

You can click on twitter.com/thelarches to get our latest tweets.

We’re also looking at the use of QR (Quick Response) coding with these cards. QR barcodes are easily created and can provide information (URL, location, contact number etc), which can be read instantly by a smartphone.

Clearest day of the year?

I’ll admit to a little exaggeration sometimes, but last Thursday evening the light did look something special as I was finishing some bracken clearing above the Belvedere. “But no. I’ll not rush for the camera”, I thought, “it’s probably my imagination.”

Then a short while later there’s a knock on the front door and our two friends Ann and Elizabeth from Cockermouth are there in time for an evening meal. They had been on the A66 on the way back from a day out. “Have you seen the light out there?” they asked. “It’s been so amazingly clear as we travelled west. Can’t remember anything like this!”

With this endorsement what could I do but rush up the fellside with the camera before the light had gone? The photo below is taken from on top of the sedum roof of the Belvedere, with the Seldom Seen hamlet in the foreground and the shadows cast by the westering sun picking out the sinews and structure of the Skiddaw massif.

The ospreys have nested on the marshes this year instead of in Dodd wood and their nest is just visible from the Belvedere in the sunlit fields on the other side of the A66. Tell us what you think of the photo!