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In the National Interest: Panic on the streets of London

16 Aug 2011 | Stephen Fitzgerald

A burning building during the London riots (PA)

I LIVE close to Central London and as I sit in my front room, I hear the sound of sirens on the street. In my time of living in an inner-city neighbourhood, I have felt positive about the fact that, over the years, the streets have become safer and more welcoming, and I now live in an environment where it should be safe and positive for families to flourish.

The outbreak of urban rioting has raised questions about that progress. It is for politicians to argue about the current approach to deficit reduction in public spending. However, effective public finance policy is undoubtedly a key part of the creating a position where communities function effectively.

Against this backdrop of civil disorder, we are seeing a range of changes to public finance that could affect the picture. There are reductions in police and local authority funding, the localism of welfare benefits, and changes to the arrangements through business rates in the local government resource review. The government has now also announced special funding to assist in the aftermath of the riots.

There will be the inevitable arguments about whether the civil disorder is a result of pure criminality or a function of deprivation. But whatever the case – or if it is indeed a mixture of both – the management of public finance is intertwined with these issues. Whether providing police, cleaning up after disorder, or funding preventive social programmes, the availability of the appropriate use of public funds is key to the response that society will make.

I have a vested interest in seeing urban communities work. Within this context, correct decision-making is critical. It would be a disaster if the improvements in inner-city areas that have happened in recent years were reversed as a result of these unfortunate events.

All those in the finance community, including public sector finance directors, should be thinking hard about the financial policies of the future that can help to achieve more harmonious urban neighbourhoods. Hopefully, this can result in a more effective use of public funds. This can support a safer urban environment which, as a city resident, is essential for the quality of life for my family.

Stephen Fitzgerald is finance director of Hounslow

 

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