Since Dan and the folks up at Walsall Council’s press office helpfully include me on their mailing list, I receive a steady trickle of low-level press releases from Walsall Council, which I keep a weather eye upon for anything useful or noteworthy. This morning, I recieved one such press release that surprised me, and having thought about it, I wonder what the views of readers are on the matter. Here’s the release as sent to me.
Walsall Council PR 4406 30/11/2009 [For Immediate Release]
Residents and council join forces to keep Brownhills clean
Volunteers in Brownhills have joined forces with Walsall Council’s Street Pride team to keep the area clean as part of a tidy up operation. Aruond 10 helpers meet up twice a month to carry out a thorough clean in parts of the town which they feel need targeting.
This weekend saw them clean up an area known locally as the black path which runs from the Parkview Centre, past Holland Park and across the A5 and is used by large numbers of pedestrians every day.
Doug Birch, chairman of Brownhills Local Committe, said: “We feel it is important to keep the town looking as clean and tidy as possible. We are a small but very enthusiastic team of volunteers who want to do our bit for the area we live in.”
Their work adds to and complements the clean ups which are also carried out by the council’s Street Pride team. The volunteers work closely with officers who arrange to meet up with them to collect the rubbish after each tidy up.
Councillor Mike Flower, Walsall Council cabinet member for environment, said: “The Street Pride team do a great job keeping everywhere clean and tidy but it is a never ending job. It is great to see the amount of pride these Brownhills residents have in the area they live in and their determination to keep it looking smart and welcoming to visitors by organising their own tidy ups.”
Let me put this straight from the beginning: I have immense regard for the work the volunteers are doing here. Litter picking is a foul job, and it must take real balls and dedication to do so for no other benefit that that of the community. I salute anyone who undertakes this work, and I’m not criticising you in the slightest. I’m also very much aware that it’s generally idiots within our community that cause the mess, and education and effective detection are key to stopping the litter problem. What is worrying me, however, is that Walsall are collecting council tax and business rates from citizens of the borough in order that they carry out tasks like street cleansing on our behalf.
I’m not surprised that Councillor Flower is chuffed about the voluntary effort; every job he can get done for nothing by willing volunteers doesn’t have to be funded by an increasingly overstretched authority who are just about to push through another eye-watering council tax increase of over 4% on an already hard-pressed public. Since we’re paying these above-inflation hikes in taxation, it seems reasonable to expect that we should get decent levels of service, not a council that milks every last penny out of it’s citizens then crows about the goodwill of those who are prepared to do a job for free that they have already been paid to do.
I’m aware that this arrangement has been going on for quite some time, and I feel that it’s sad that ordinary members of the public feel the need to clean their own town. That they find it necessary to do this can only signify that the council is not fulfilling it’s obligations fully, and that’s regrettable.
Walsall has been shouting from the rooftops for some time now about its crackdown on environmental crime – however, the reality of this crackdown experienced on the ground is one of a service provider that talks tough but shilly-shallies when it comes to action. Many sites remain blighted by flytipping, like the former Railway Tavern in James Bridge, as the authority claims itself unable to act about issues on private ground. Is it really beyond the authority to clean the site up, then secure it and just bill the owners, taking court action if need be? Brownhills’ showpiece pedestrian bridge remains plastered in the ugly scrawl of Malpas and his mates, because it’s apparently the responsibility of British Waterways to remove it – this point seems to have escaped our mandarins when they trumpeted the new facility as being their own beneficent gift to our town. In fact, every single piece of graffiti I highlighted in that post still exists, whilst buildings like the Brownhills Senior Citizens Centre remain plastered in spray paint for months. One supposes it will all remain until some helpful volunteer with a scrubbing brush comes along and removes it, so that Walsall Council doesn’t have to.
Now I may well be wrong about this, but it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste for me. I’m interested to know what you think.