An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

While you were looting

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This sort of thing is not supposed to happen in August. It has been difficult to blog this week as when not seeing the heart ripped out of the two cities I call home I have either been working or despairing at the body politic’s frantic rushes to judgement (when they weren’t being shamed into coming back home like the saps they are). As Hopi says:

That about sums it up. Political parties, think tanks, charities, local authorities, government and others will spend weeks and months and years analysing and understanding the event of the last week. For London local government it is that dreadfully phrased thing, a “game-changer”. The game is changed. Everything local government does in London will take place against the backdrop of this August’s violence, ever mindful of the criminality (let me use the word just once, I haven’t had chance yet), social dysfunction and resentment that appears to lie below the surface of society, seemingly unchanged by the years of youth work, housing improvement and community engagement. And what that means for London’s communities we can, for now, only speculate.

Almost as interesting for a geek like me (although probably without the longer term repercussions) is the #riotcleanup initiative, spontaneous community action organised by social media to put right what the feral riff-raff made wrong. Now, I didn’t think these clean-ups were “the closest thing to popular fascism that we have seen on the streets of certain ‘leafy’ bits of London for years”, but I will admit that the darker parts of my soul did feel like informing these evangelical do-gooders that most councils maintain a large street cleaning fleet who would be able to do the job to a high level of competence well in advance of their leisurely 11.00am start time.

This, of course, would have been nothing but churlish spite, targeted at people who in my eyes had committed a crime even greater that violent disorder and theft – the crime of not understanding local government infrastructure. It was with some relief then that I was turned back to the light by reading this post by We Love Local Government, which saw the community stepping up and working with local councils as the undoubted good thing it is for both local government and local communities.

And here is the rub; the cleanup operation proved the success of both local government (and government in general) and society in general. The elected local governments were able to adjust the services they provide, on behalf of the people, to ensure that the worst of the damage was put right. Without this base level of competence, personal commitment from the staff involved and the logistical skills of the councils involved the clean up probably wouldn’t have been completed as soon as it was. Likewise, the support of society was able to send the sort of powerful message that local government alone couldn’t manage.

Read that, and then read nothing else. Take a deep breath. We all need it.

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Written by samelliot

August 13, 2011 at 10:00 am

What bins tell us about the future of localism

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I’m not snooty about waste management. When it comes to council services it is probably the most visible to the average punter, and councils screw up bin collections at their electoral peril. A decent rubbish collection service is good for the environment, good for the local area, and good for an area’s quality of life.

That said, as with yesterday’s bizarre council procurement showdown, what is it about bins that means that every council that plans to vary its collection frequency hits the front page? According to this morning’s Telegraph:

The Government is to announce a deal under which councils will be offered financial incentives to collect household rubbish every week.

A similar plan using government grants was successfully introduced to encourage local authorities to freeze council tax this year.

The policy is expected to be announced as the centrepiece of a review of waste policy being conducted by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).

A source close to the review said the funding plans for councils to restore weekly bin collections – estimated to be about £100 million a year – had been agreed and the scheme will be unveiled within the next fortnight.

More than half of councils are thought to have abandoned weekly bin collections over the past few years, depriving more than 18 million people of the service.

I’m not sure whether fortnightly collections are a good idea or not. I’d rather leave that to the professionals. I do suspect that with different recycling, garden and food waste collections becoming increasingly common then speaking of the ‘weekly bin collection’ is becoming less relevant. But if residents value the service and the resources can be found to pay for it, then who am I to say different?

But forget all that for a moment and look at how the ‘deal’ is going to work. A (presumably) small specific grant that is contingent on councils behaving in particular way as mandated by central government. The council tax freeze, whilst undoubtedly popular, worked in exactly the same way, and was an early indication that Pickles-Shapps ‘guided localism’ is a lot less about allowing the development of distinctive local democratic agendas and a lot more about creating local government that behaves in a way dictated by them.

When Conservative council leaders (and a fair few Labour ones) used to bemoan Labour centralism under the previous government, they would talk of the ringfenced funding, the heavy-handed central guidance and the lack of independence for councils. It seems like we’ve still got all that, but without the funding increases that softened the blow. I’m not sure that is going to work in the long term. Who’d want to be part of a system like that?

(Photo by Flickr user Leo Reynolds.)

Written by samelliot

May 30, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Environment, Localism