The Street That Cut Everything

Nick Robinson and residents of the street

I'm going to take a risk. I know it won't make me popular. Indeed, I can already hear your reaction. Nevertheless, I'm going to make my request. Spare a thought for our politicians tonight. No, really.

Ponder how you'd do if you had to run not the whole country but just your own street. "Easy," I hear you cry and, "I certainly wouldn't make as much of a hash of it as they do."

Really? What if you couldn't run it on your own but you and your neighbours had to agree who was in charge? What if you didn't have a budget but each house had to decide how much to spend on what?

What if you had to organise and pay for the everyday things we take for granted: the bin collection, the recycling, the street lights; and the ones we all forget - those men from the council who deal with noisy neighbours or remove graffiti or clean up after people's dogs; and those things it's a bit more awkward to talk about - the money we receive to help us look after our children or care for the elderly or pay the rent? Still think it would be easy?

If so, come and join me on The Street That Cut Everything - to be shown tonight on BBC One at 21:00 BST.

The street in question is in Preston, but it could be pretty much any street in any town or city except for one thing. The residents of this street agreed to take part in a unique experiment.

They agreed to live without all the services their council tax pays for - all, that is, except for schools for their children and the emergency services - and to let the BBC film how they got along or, more often, how they did not.

Nick Robinson

At the beginning of this year I made a series of journeys from London to Lancashire - a short journey on the West Coast lines but a million miles from my day job.

I witnessed the efforts of John, who sells caravans, Jeanette the school teacher, Chris, who works on the railways, Tracie, a single mum who's training to be a social worker, Lily, a care assistant, and all the others who - though they didn't know it - had agreed to become politicians for a little while.

I watched as they argued about who should be in charge and, indeed, whether anyone needed to be in charge at all. I looked on as they debated the contents of a four-page memo exploring the options for which solvent they should use to remove graffiti, while steadfastly ignoring the request of a neighbour to talk about how she should replace the childcare she no longer got from the council.

I talked to people "over a brew" about why they didn't trust their fellow residents to take the right decisions.

As there are limits to the tolerance of people who had to get on with their everyday lives at the same time as worrying about where to put their rubbish, how to light their street and look after an elderly neighbour, and because there are limits to BBC filming budgets, this experiment lasted just six weeks.

And, just in case six weeks didn't really feel long enough, the production team presented them with additional challenges, such as the graffiti and noise nuisance.

The residents weren't paid for taking part, but they were given back their council tax money for those six weeks to spend - not on themselves but on the needs of their community.

The results I found fascinating. The programme offers a window on to the competing priorities and prejudices that politicians have to try to balance in an era of austerity when it is no longer possible to give everyone at least a little bit of what they want.

It reveals the resentments of those asked to pay for the benefits of others who they live alongside and those who have to argue for why they deserve to get what they've always received without the need to justify themselves.

It shows how, for some, graffiti on the walls can provoke fury, and noise outside their house a threat to come round with a crowbar - while for others it's barely noticed and, after all, "they're just kids who need something to do".

You might think that life wouldn't change that much if the council closed down. So, too, did many of the residents of The Street, as we dubbed their cul-de-sac. Soon they thought differently. Shift workers woke early to find their street in total darkness. The only light there was the red one on the top of one of the cameras that filmed the residents' comings and goings from before dawn until long after dusk.

Children emerged earlier than usual. They could no longer get the bus to school and had to be walked or driven by Mum or Dad. One elderly resident sorely missed her weekly council Dial-a-Ride service to pick her up and take her to the shops.

Uncollected rubbish began to pile up (sometimes in the strangest of places) along with other objects - thanks to an ever-thoughtful production team, who left mattresses and old fridges on the street to prompt a debate about how to legally dispose of them.

This led to, believe it or not, lengthy street meetings - a couple were held most weeks - and heated recriminations.

Nick Robinson

Those who fancied a trip to the local leisure centre to get away from the rubbish and the endless meetings and the cameras found their way barred: it's run by the council. So, too, the park…oh, and the local theatre and the library, of course. No wonder tempers began to fray once or twice.

Now, because this is more observational TV than heavyweight analysis, I am bracing myself for a bit of a row. During filming, I had a glimpse of what might be to come.

An enterprising local journalist obtained a photograph of a motley collection of local hounds being taken for a walk and filmed while leaving their doggy calling cards.

This provided no lesser an organ than The Daily Telegraph itself with the opportunity for a series of gruesome puns (it reported that I had "kicked up a stink" and "got up Tory noses") and offered a ministerial bag-carrier the chance to condemn what he called "an outrageous piece of scaremongering by the BBC", which "compromises their editorial integrity".

Given that that denunciation was based on a single photograph, the reaction to the full, 90-minute programme could be interesting.

I know that some will assert that the programme's title shows that the BBC has an anti-cuts agenda. After all, no street in Britain will cut everything. Some, at the opposite end of the political spectrum, will argue that, on the contrary, a made-for-TV "experiment" risks trivialising the very real impact of cuts on families up and down the land.

After all, a TV programme cannot - for the sake of education, let alone entertainment - take away services from those in greatest need and see what happens.

My reply to both is that this programme does not try to assess what cuts do or don't need to be made, nor how communities will cope with those that are. That is what the BBC's news coverage and current affairs programmes are there to do.

For me, The Street That Cut Everything captures why running things isn't as easy as people often say, whereas it is all too easy for them to condemn politicians - local as well as national - as stupid, self-interested or corrupt.

I'm well aware that this is probably not a good time to ask you to spare a thought for our leaders. After all, we've just had our first national referendum for more than 35 years in which one side told us to vote No to stop politicians lying and the other to vote Yes to stop them being lazy and corrupt.

Nevertheless, what better time could there be after so many ordinary citizens put themselves up for election or rejection? If we want better politicians to make better decisions, we would all do well to consider the difficult choices they have to take in the face of confusing and contradictory advice from those of us who elect them.

The Street That Cut Everything is on BBC One tonight at 21:00 BST.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

UKIP - power struggle, not soap opera

All the bizarre news stories that have emerged from UKIP in recent days reflect a power struggle within a party that aspires to hold the balance of power after the next election.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Nick


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Still haven't seen the programme, feeling quite ashamed about that. I'd imagine, though, that it pointed up how the value of communally provided and funded (via taxation) public services is often insufficiently appreciated by ordinary people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    I 'think' that Peter Sissons worked at the BBC for long enough to make HIS opinion valid. Don't you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    What about a show where a town of people who complain a lot to the BBC get all BBC services blocked in return for their license fee(they pay your wages) and are given their own Local TV radio and internet services to run themselves. Unlike this program, Provide them with the tools and the training to do the job first. That would be funny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    jobs @ 93
    But how bland would the BBC have to be in order to avoid ever stepping on anyone's toes? Whenever they offend, the 'we have to pay for this drivel' reaction is inevitable. Personally, I'd rather fund a thought-provoking piece which I felt was a bit right-wing than endless episodes of cash in the attic. Why are you so frightened of things you disagree with?

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.


    In other you think they would employ the same kind of tactics used by the BBC. You may be right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Mark @ 95 wrote: 'even the people who work at the BBC recognise it as inherently and irredeemably politically biased'.

    I think that's your own opinion - don't attribute it to people who work at the BBC, they wouldn't agree. You are reading too much into a small number of over-used quotations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    91. jobs
    'Of course Fox News wouldn't do such a thing because they have at least some professional integrity.'

    jobs, Fox would have moved a Muslim family in, had them knock up a mosque in their front garden, paint the street walls with jihadist slogans and set fire to effigies of Cameron and the Queen.
    Fox, integrity? You jest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    The show proved one thing at least: that communities really do value state-funded services and aren’t so keen on running them themselves.

    And therein lies the inherent failing of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ – people are fine at being neighbourly, but nobody wants to deal with next door’s rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    "She had a dog but couldn't afford to make sandwiches for her daughter's lunch or pay her bus fare!"

    The country's privatised(more efficient and cost effective?) Buses are subsidised by the council.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    "Why did the daughter not walk home from school & be home alone like I did as a child?"

    The school was about 2.5 miles away. That would take more than 3 hours each way and would be dangerous. I know its political correctness gone mad, but she wouldn't be allowed to be home alone either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Did I miss something or did the residents only get back the equivalent of their council tax. In case people forget council tax is only around 25% of the finance that councils receive so the BBC premise seems wrong. Was money given for services, really in line with the costs I think not so what does this program tell us, more about the street than council budgets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Stop it, Jobs. I laughed so hard I fell off of my chair.

    I also hurt my back so I'm contacting an ambulance-chaser. See you in court!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    The point I was trying to make, earlier, was that even the people who work at the BBC recognise it as inherently and irredeemably politically biased. As a publicly funded organisation this is utterly unacceptable, and brands it as unfit for purpose.
    I await a one hour special, presented by Nick, on "Why The Cuts Are Both Necessary And Unavoidable" with bated breath.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    trevmuttley 85

    and what your posts shows is that you are an economically illiterate, politically clueless, morally bankrupt liar. The fact you managed to do so in fewer than 400 characters is quite some going. It takes most left wing posters several long winded rants to do the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.


    You certainly have to be creative to package blatant propoganda as investigative journalism. Nick Robinson and the people behind this are just a toned down version of Glenn Beck. The main difference being that with the BBC you're forced to pay for this drivel whether you want to or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Unless I missed something, there was a key piece missing from this drama. The residents had their council tax returned to them, but council tax only contributes 1/4 of local government funding....shouldn't they have had a proportion of their income tax, VAT contributions, plus an element of local business rates returned also?

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    What is the programme supposed to prove exactly ?

    Imagine if Fox News produced a programme called 'The Street that coped with cuts' where the producers cleaned away rubbish and graffiti free of charge to ensure the residents managed OK without council help.

    Of course Fox News wouldn't do such a thing because they have at least some professional integrity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Excellent exercise on how to be uncharitable and unneighbourly towards those around you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Mr N@73
    Actually the programme was reminiscent of Lord of The Flies - individual welfare versus the common good - mixed in with the inevitable personality conflicts.

    PS You've quite put me off my lunch - I have a canary yellow vision coming back to me and it's not a pretty sight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Just trying to answer a straight (though backwards) question with my 86 and yet it still gets marked down. Honestly, I give you people the best years of my life and this is what I get ...


Page 1 of 6



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.