Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Caring for Your Area

I chaired the last Environment Committee meeting of this council yesterday afternoon but it certainly wasn't an easy or gentle end to the committee's year.  The new committee will be appointed by the full council at its annual meeting on May 25th but to avoid a long hiatus in the process of looking for best value for money out of council services this meeting prepared the ground for the new committee.  The service area to be looked at is the one everyone knows, even if you don't know what it's called.  Care for your Area teams are responsible for collecting waste and recyclable materials from our kerbsides, gritting the roads, filling the grit bins, cutting the grass, planting and weeding the flower beds, keeping our parks tidy, looking after the cemeteries, digging the graves, sweeping the streets, cleaning the public toilets, installing play equipment, filling potholes and so on and on.  Mostly, they're very labour intensive jobs and it's hard to see how much of that labour can be saved - they already use machines where possible to do jobs like sweeping and grass cutting.
No doubt there will be some opportunities for making sure that the work is carried out more efficiently.  This is the chance to look into those accusations which councillors hear from time to time of workers arriving late, leaving early and having several tea breaks in the middle.  But I think that finding a £1m saving from the annual budget is going to be very difficult and the new committee will end up making some very unpopular decisions before making its recommendations to the new cabinet.  Which of all those many services will most people feel aren't necessary or can be reduced?
This year's committee spent a long time discussing the information that would be needed in order to make those decisions and the need for a fresh look at some of the policies of the council on how services are delivered.  Council officers now have until June to prepare detailed papers on costs, staffing levels and levels of complaints and compliments before the new committee meets for the first time.  Good luck to all concerned!
One of the complaints for the last few days which we've had from residents and seen for ourselves is the standard of the grass cutting.  The complaints are all being looked into to see whether more training is needed for the seasonal staff who are taken on each year to do this work.
The last item on the agenda yesterday was an overview of work carried out over the last 4 years, including wastes management, cemeteries, carbon management, dog fouling and animal welfare.  They're all big issues for the borough and the results of the reviews are still being monitored.  Overall, the committee did feel that some differences had been made for the better though there are still some disappointments - the level of dog fouling hasn't reduced despite increased and higher profile efforts by dog wardens.  Why do some dog owners think that pavements, grass verges and play areas are provided as open air toilets for their dogs?  Thank you to the hundreds of dog owners who don't think that way and who use the bins provided for cleaning up after their pets.

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