As Creeting St Peter Parish Council's Vice Chair and Portfolio Holder for Finance (a much less prestigious job than it sounds), my role is to think the unthinkable, tell people that things are far too expensive or, occasionally, reassure that all is well and that we can do something.
Naturally, finding ways to save money without risking the public good is important, so when Suffolk County Council started turning most street lights off, I was keen to bring this to the attention of Council. Unfortunately, they weren't convinced that the investment in meters, which would only become profitable in year 4, was worthwhile. And, given that our nine street lights are fairly elderly, it was easy to see their logic.
However, when the electricity bill turned up this week, coincidentally not long after a County Council report highlighting the anecdotal impact of turning street lights off (crime has apparently fallen in Norfolk and Gloucestershire), the subject was revisited. Clearly, the cost of engaging giant hamsters to run in wheels to generate electricity has gone up substantially, and our bill, before reclaimable VAT, was an eye-watering £450.
And then, one of my colleagues said, "Why don't we turn them off and use the money saved to give everyone a voucher for a free solar-powered light?". I was surprised. Very surprised. And even more surprised when everybody else agreed that it was well worth thinking about. And so we shall.
It is an astoundingly radical idea but, given the profusion of security lights, and the ambient light pollution, do we really need street lights? After all, when it is dark, very few people walk to the village and, if they do, they really should be carrying a torch. Otherwise, people come in cars, which have headlights.
So, we'll see. As the finance guy, turning the lights off will save us a fortune and make balancing the books so much easier. But that, in itself, is hardly the best basis for such a big decision...