Public duty or optional extra?

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TO LIGHT or not to light? This is the dilemma facing local authorities across the Britain as they look for new ways to balance their books after Chancellor George Osborne signalled his determination in the Autumn Statement to keep the public finances under the tightest of control.

TO LIGHT or not to light? This is the dilemma facing local authorities across the Britain as they look for new ways to balance their books after Chancellor George Osborne signalled his determination in the Autumn Statement to keep the public finances under the tightest of control.

Symbolically, in the centenary year of the lights going out across Europe because of the outbreak of the First World War, a significant number of town halls are now following the austerity route – more than 1.3 million lights are now being switched off, or dimmed, at night compared to just 148,000 in 2010.

Yet, while it is proper that these matters are decided by local councillors who can be held accountable by residents rather an edict issued from the office of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, it is important, even in these challenging times, that finance is not the determining factor.

Road safety should be the primary consideration at all times and it would be remiss of town halls not to accept this. In doing so, it simply isn’t accident rates that need to be taken into account, but also the fact Britain’s economy operates on a 24/7 basis and four million people work unsocial hours. For them, a street light can provide peace of mind to those who do not have the luxury of their own vehicle, or public transport, when travelling late at night.

Although environmental campaigners welcome reduced levels of light pollution, it is the precursor to a wider debate that needs to be held in 2015 about the role of local authorities. With the spending squeeze here to stay, and the financial demands posed by an ageing society likely to become even greater in time, councils will have to evolve in order to survive. Difficult decisions need to be taken about those services previously taken for granted, not least whether street lighting is a public safety obligation expected of local taxpayers or an optional extra.

Wheel of fortune

Get set for the Tour de Yorkshire

NOW TO the legacy. After a year that will be remembered for the ‘grandest Grand Départ’ in the Tour de France’s history, the race is now under way to retain Yorkshire’s status as the country’s cycling capital.

Next May’s inaugural Tour de Yorkshire will certainly help to maintain the momentum which was generated back in July. Many regions have been striving for years for the right to host a UCI-approved race of this prestige and this would not be possible without the strength of the relationship which now exists between Welcome to Yorkshire, British Cycling and France’s Amaury Sport Organisation that organises such events.

This should not be under-estimated. Ever the optimist and opportunist, tourism supremo Gary Verity managed to secure the dates of May 1-3 for the race – with Bank Holiday Monday free for spectators to explore the delights of God’s own county. This is precisely the type of innovation that led to the Grand Départ exceeding all expectations and creating history.

Yet, as the route plans for the new Tour de Yorkshire are finalised, it would be remiss not to make two further points. First, the fact that Team Sky and their rivals will each be able to field eight riders increases the likelihood of the world’s best riders, once again, returning to the region so soon after the world sport’s biggest annual event.

Second, the new race will embrace many of those towns, like Wakefield, Selby, Bridlington and Scarborough, which missed out earlier this year. This can only be helpful when it comes to cycling’s wheel of fortune and persuading even more people to embrace Britain’s newest national sport.

The human spirit

2015 should be year of neighbour

Raychel McGuin is emblematic of the army of public-spirited people going the extra mile to ensure that this Christmas is a memorable one for those senior citizens, and others, who would otherwise be alone over the festive period. This is the Big Society in action. Such selfless people are also indicative of the growing awareness of loneliness

and society’s need to respond to Britain’s changing demographics and the fact that many elderly people do not live within close proximity of their relatives.

It is also reflected by columnist GP Taylor’s desire, on the opposite page, for 2015 to be the year of the neighbour. As he says with such eloquence, all it takes is one word – “hello” – to keep this tradition alive and help to counter loneliness and mistrust. As New Year resolutions go, it has the potential to change the fabric of the country. Even better, it does not require a political lead because it revolves around one simple principle – people power.