Am I missing something here?

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.

Clayhanger Common in 2007 - I reported this mess to the council, but Brownhills Champ reckons he cleaned it up as a volunteer. Should volunteers really be dealing with waste of this nature?

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.

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15 Responses to Am I missing something here?

  1. Will Chapman says:


    Your post sums up what is happening all over the country and I suspect is going to become increasingly common as funding is put under pressure as we try to recover from the current financial climate.

    I agree that the council should take care of issues like this but they always site ‘lack of funds’. I suppose the two big questions are whether they are spending OUR money wisely in other areas and what is being done to get at the root of the problem, changing attitudes of local citizens to treat their community with more respect. On the latter point, are you aware of any programs where, for example, ASBO holders; truants; those caught fly-tipping; graffiti artists, etc. are given community duty to work on the tidy teams?

    While touching on the subject of graffiti, one point about the responsibilities of British Waterways (BW). BW’s main responsibility is keeping the canals and open for navigation and over the past few years their budget has been cut so dramatically that their budget for maintaining the canals in a safe, steady state is £30 million short. So while they spend between £5-8 million a year on towpath maintenance and cleaning up after graffiti artists and fly-tippers, it is clear that most of their funding is going to be directed on keeping the waterways safe.

    Most local councils don’t make any direct contribution to the the upkeep of the waterways but most are more than happy to accept the benefits it brings. It seems to me that it is time local councils stopped passing the buck and took the responsibility for clearing up the mess that was, after all, created by their own community. In this sense, Walsall is right to ask for volunteer help and no doubt the number of volunteers will depend on how well the council spends its budget in other areas.

    Your readers might like to see what the Save Our Waterways organisation is doing about such issues. (

    • Hi Will

      I know that community service teams are often active in the area, just as most other places. I also seem to remember NACRO work teams rebuilding towpaths on the Trent & Mersey canal in the past. We could certainly do with more of that.

      I share your concern about the position of British Waterways, and support your campaign. My argument is that existing undealtwith vandalism leads to more of the same, so it really would be of benefit to the council to deal with the graffiti, particularly on the Silver Street bridge. However, it’s easier to point the finger at another agency than to deal with the problem.

      Best wishes


  2. Walsall Council says:

    The Street Pride team work incredibly hard to keep the borough clean and tidy but unfortunately it is impossible to cover every street every day of the year.

    The council is grateful to the work carried out by volunteers, such as these in Brownhills, who support us in what we do.

    This particular team of volunteers meet monthy, under their own steam, to carry out litter picks and the Street Pride team is more than happy to support their work by arranging them to meet them at an agreed location on Mondays to take away and dispose of any rubbish they have collected in recognition of their hard work.

    • I certainly don’t expect Street Pride to cover every street, every day, but dealing with several years old graffiti surely isn’t beyond them?

      Standards of cleansing have fallen noticeably in recent years, presumably due to cutbacks in the department. Walsall used to be very hot on such matters, but sadly, no longer.

      I’m well aware of how the team of volunteers meet – according to your press release fortnightly, not monthly and I’m sure they welcome your support. I just can’t help thinking that the council are getting a very good deal out of the arrangement, and had former levels of service been maintained the volunteers would not feel the need to undertake what is a very unpleasant task.

      Thanks for your contribution


  3. Rob says:

    Do the council clean my house? No, of course they don’t, I do it, no one pays me but I do it anyway. Why do I do it? Because if I didn’t pretty soon I’d be knee deep in rubbish and my life would be miserable.

    Does my sphere of responsibility end at my front door? Depends on how you look at it. It is arguable, indeed you have argued it, that the responsibility lies with the council, they collect council tax and keeping the area clean is down to them.

    The idea itself is a corrosive one, responsibility is abdicated to a higher authority, in this case the council. The streets are strewn with rubbish, the walls daubed with graffiti and all the individual can do is look on,shake their heads and bemoan council waste and incompetence. They might even go so far as to complain to the council about, moan to their mates in the pub or write to the local rag.

    Engles observed that the English have a genius for organisation and self help 50 years or so later Orwell quoted Engles and moaned that in his time the average English man has no involvement in self organisation outside of his union and community group. 60 odd years on from Orwell and his description is of a contemporary collectivists wet dream.

    The council, just like the streets and my house belong to me, they are my responsibility. OK, my house is mine alone, so it would be unreasonable of me to expect the community to clean it but have I really got any less responsibility for the state of my area and the competence or otherwise of my council than I have for the state of my lounge carpet? I’d say no, I haven’t any less responsibility except that the responsibility for what lies outside my front door is shared.

    A counter argument could run along the lines of – There is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families. But that’s what’s go us where we are now.

    • Hi Classcrisis, nice to see you in the house…

      I certainly don’t think that we should abrogate responsibility for community cohesion onto authorities, however, a council that used to do a fine job doesn’t do so any more. You seem to imagine I have some kind of Thatcherite agenda, which would be rather wide of the mark…

      I would tenure that one of the ways in which the majority of us demonstrate our community spirit is by not littering in the first place. Should Walsall Council deliver value for money once more, I’m sure those with such admirable community spirit would be free to dedicate their not inconsiderable commitment towards more pleasant community activities.

      Since your organisation was recently advocating the posting of stickers around Lichfield in your campaign to boycott a certain restaurant, I suspect you’re not quite ready for litter picking or graffiti removal yourself.

      Up the revolution.


  4. The Plastic Hippo says:

    Rob has a point and it is well made. I would not expect the council or, indeed, my neighbours to clean my house. But, I am still just about active, self-sufficient and able to run around with the Dyson and put the Famous Grouse empties into that nice big green wheelie. But what about people less fortunate than the likes of me and Rob?

    Last night, the Social Care Scrutiny Panel took a look at the council budget. The plan is to save £10million over the next 3 years in savings, efficiencies and redesigns – cuts to you and me. A monthly litter pick by the good folks of Brownhills is peanuts compared to the nearly 3 million quid “saved”, as the budget report points out, “by working in partnership with voluntary organisations to provide more cost effective and adaptive services.” In other words, dumping expensive duties onto people who actually do have a sense of community. Don`t take my word for it, you can read the wretched abrogation of responsibility here:

    When it comes to clearing out the rubbish in Brownhills, St Matthews, Pelsall, Pheasey Park Farm and other parts of Walsall, Friedrich Engels was right when he said:
    “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”

    Remember that on 6 May 2010.

    • Hi Hippo

      Rob does indeed have a decent point, but obfuscates it a little, which is unfortunate.

      I continue to despair at the perpetual shortchanging by a council that can fund acts of such immense largesse toward the civil engineering industry in the form of the white elephantine ring road, yet sees fit to cut essential services to the bone. I think you know my views on social care, and the article in this evenings E&S chilled me to the bone. I will post about that later.

      To me, at least, it’s all part of the same attitude that the authority will dump any responsibility for absolutely anything it can on any agency or group who’ll accept it. Thus we have the palliative care ballsup, falling standards in primaries, roads falling to bits and now helpful groups of volunteers doing the Street Pride’s work for them.

      I’d like to think things might change on the 6th of May, but where’s the opposition in this town? The Labour party are invisible, the Liberals seem to consist solely of Ian Shires and I’m not quite sure we’re ready for Pete Smith as elected mayor.

      Any ideas?


      • Rob says:

        I have an idea. Engagement. Not simply ticking a box on election day which in my view isn’t engagement at all. As I see it there’s two ways it can be done- an active scrutiny of the council and their decisions and physical engagement in solving our problems ourselves. It doesn’t have to be the same person doing it or even the same group just as long as it’s happening in the same community.

        It’s not exactly revolutionary in any sense of the word – syndicalist you could argue, I’d argue it myself but not revolutionary. Reformist, which is used by some as an insult but just to please you Bob I’ll out myself by quoting some words of Walter Smith which I agree with “Every reform brings us closer to revolution and every push for revolution brings reform”.

        That’s just theory though and theory can justify just about anything as it invariably imagines a future – It’s the here and now that matters.

    • Rob says:

      The same thing is happening right across the country, it’s not even slightly good. Next door to you in Staffordshire the lead cabinet member responsible has decided that he doesn’t want a top down approach so he’s published as set of questions so we’re consulted.

      It’s madness. The questions are all wrong (or right depending on the result you want) and the situation is put backwards – Instead of finding out the minimum standard of care we are prepared to accept and then setting the budget on that basis the budget is being set and we’ll get the level of care that buys.

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  7. Pedro says:

    Hi Bob

    I think you should also link the gnome story to this article as your council seem to have the time to search your area for gnomes that are a fire hazard…“We also cannot allow an excessive number of items to clutter communal areas…. Our aim here is to be using common sense.”

    Perhaps they could be helped by some of you photos showing examples of fire hazards!

    Regards Pedro

  8. Bill says:

    I clean my house because I don’t pay some one else to do it. For the past three years, in Walsall, there have been the highest council tax increases in the area and the one proposed for next year is four times the current rate of inflation. We did not get a payrise this year and the way things are looking there aint one next year.

    All citizens ask for is some sense of value for money. Senior management of the council being paid more than the Prime Minister is obscene and to have a management salary structure based on a %ge of the highest salary is plainly not helping keep costs down.

    It would be interesting to know how many of the top 50 paid employees of Walsall Citizens actually live in the borough. Then we should assist on a survey of those who do not asking why not (it can be anonymous). Those moving in from elsewhere in the UK can have a relocation allowance if they live in the borough. If they do not they can move to where they want to at their expense – and hopefully work there as well. We don’t want them if they do not have enough confidence in their own work to live in the area where they work.

    Regardless of any political beliefs, or competance, at least we get local councillors living local.

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