Monday, 14 February 2011

Passion v's Cold Decision Making

Old habits die hard. For 25 years prior to retirement, I led two voluntary sector organisations in the field of social welfare in Belfast and Hastings. Both were heavily dependent on Government funding to provide contracted services, and so national and local budget setting was of huge interest to me. Though now living in Nottingham, my interest in budgets and social welfare remains. Last October, in the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review, it outlined what Council's could expect over the next few years, and during this month of February 2011, Council's throughout the country are finalising their own individual budgets.

Nottinghamshire County Council says that it expects to have to make savings of around £150 million over four years, and East Sussex County Council around £100 million. A large chunk of this will be in the first year, as the Government has "front-loaded" the cuts to Council funding. Through Council conversations with local residents and at various Council meetings, the debate has been hot and heavy.

East Sussex County Hall
East Sussex County Council stream all of their meetings by webcast. On the 8th February I watched the debate on the proposed budget. If we take out the party political point scoring, the debate showed how much many of the speakers cared about issues and programmes that were under threat. It was unfortunate though that after about two hours, and with about eleven Councillors still to speak, someone moved a motion to curtail the debate, which was carried.

I found this to be unacceptable in a democracy, and with so much at stake. The Labour group, who are in the minority were apoplectic, and were not slow in showing it. Following statutory procedures, the Chairperson asked the lead Councillor who had presented the budget report to sum up and respond to the points raised in the debate.

He questioned the sincerity of those presenting two amendments, and though acknowledging the passion of many members, stuck to the original budget proposal. In commenting about passion, and I confess to paraphrasing him here, he said that setting budgets does not have passion at its heart, but cold decision making does. On hearing this I was near apoplectic myself.

Passion is a Greek verb (also a Latin verb) that means to suffer or endure. Wikipedia says, "Passion can be expressed as a feeling of unusual excitement, enthusiasm or compelling emotion towards a subject, idea, person, or object".

The idea that passion and business decisions are mutually exclusive is anathema to me. We are not cold automatons, but beings with feelings that affect the decisions that we make. I've set and controlled enough budgets over 25 years to know that the process is not easy. I understand that budgets have to be affordable and achievable. What I don't accept is that passion should not be a driver in the decisions that are made. For me, passion is business.

David Lloyd George
There is a political example of this. In 1909, David Lloyd George as Chancellor of the Exchequer forced through Parliament what he called 'The Peoples' Budget'. At the time he said, "This is a war budget. It is for raising money to wage implacable warfare against poverty and squalidness. I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away, we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty, and the wretchedness and human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests".

Poverty in a different form may still be with us, but this does not change the driver behind the budget of Lloyd George. His passion was to eradicate poverty, and that passion guided his budget. For him, passion and business decisions were not mutually exclusive, so why should they be today?

Budget setting without the driver of passion is merely 'bean counting'. I want politics that does not accept passion as merely acceptable in the periphery of debate, but that accepts it at the very heart of decision making. TAKE YOUR PASSION AND MAKE IT HAPPEN.

How do you feel about passion in political life and decision making?

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