The unpopular £35 green garden waste policy is coming to a welcome but slow and very shabby end. On Friday a cross-party committee will meet to consider the results of the consultation with residents about the changes to waste collection. This involved several meetings of varying worth and polling 1000 residents as I have written about previously. The results are overdue as I write, having been earmarked for publication yesterday.
As usual, the LibDem Executive have not bothered to wait or have an advanced copy. Last Friday, they held a group meeting with the two MPs in attendance and agreed to the expected u-turn. Having agreed to scrap the charge, the two MPs issued a press release demanding that the Council, er, scrap the charge.
The whole episode has been a shambles from beginning to end. I am amazed that they have not learnt any lessons and still seek to treat consultation with such disdain. They have come up with the right answer in this instance but this is not because of the expensive communication exercise that they have just undertaken. This was merely a way of justifying the climbdown. Either they have sat on an advanced copy of the results and are refusing to let others seat it or they have decided without considering residents’ views.
LibDem backbenchers are seeing their future on the council melting away in the light of this incompetence. I hope that you as residents share my anger that you are just a pawn in the LibDem hierarchy’s game of political survival. I’m afraid that you have another 18 months of being treated as someone whose chequebook should be seen, but definitely not heard.
Sutton Council made it to the venerable pages of Private Eye, in the Rotten Boroughs section as a result of changes in their communications department. The service was outsourced to Westminster Communications after they had been brought in to write a report on the in-house provision. LibDem Lead Councillor Tony Brett Young said at the time that the new arrangement would not cost ‘more than we spend at the moment.’ In fact, according to the magazine, costs have increased by around 51% from £379k to a massive £573,600.
I am not an advocate for slashing communication budgets. It is important that residents do know the good things that the Council does. The Council also needs to act as a central repository of information and to share bad news. Many people are unsure how to access council services, or indeed do not know much about what their council do, despite paying through the nose for the privilege.
The biggest failure of this Council with regard to communications is understanding that it is a two-way process. Whereas there will always be messages that the Council wishes to get across, it is even more important to be able to receive, digest and act upon messages that members of the public want to pass on. After all, the Council is only an extension of the residents in Sutton, acting as the provider of collective services paid for by them, when it is most convenient to have a community-based service rather than everyone fending for themselves. Imagine the number of dustcarts that would be driving around if it was a free-for-all.
The unpopular green garden waste charge is but one illustration of this failure. Logic dictates that the Council should consult before introducing a policy, not six months into the service. The LibDem Executive knew that it would be an unpopular policy, therefore they knew that they wouldn’t like the answer that was likely to come back. This was failure no. 1. Secondly, they did not clearly articulate the changes. Many people were not aware of the changes until their old clear bags were left uncollected. Others were not aware that the £35 was per bag and not the total charge. Few people knew that the £35 got them a bag that was half the size of the original.
Finally, the consultation that has just ended was strictly controlled to exclude debate. Colin Hall made the mistake of walking into the Carshalton Local Committee where an open Q&A session raised some interesting points, with some shall we say animated residents. None of the other Local Committees allowed this, instead having Colin Hall and or officers standing to the side whilst residents quietly filled in a form. The communications team contacted 1000 residents to gain the views of a statistically relevant sample, which is to be commended. Unfortunately, the LibDems held a meeting on Friday night, before the cross-party group charged to suggest changes had seen the results. Therefore, either the decision has been made behind closed doors without worrying about what residents actually said, or the results are back and are being ‘analysed’ before general release. Either way, it’s not the transparent U-turn that we might have been expecting after the grief that the LibDems got for making the original decision in such an intransigent fashion. The cross-party meeting is next Friday, so we won’t have long to wait.
A couple of weeks ago, an eagle-eyed resident from Clockhouse saw a truck emblazoned with the Sutton tree logo tipping cuttings onto an overgrown area near Corrigan Rec. He took a photo of the truck as it left and reported it at a residents’ meeting attended by Cllr Tim Crowley. Further investigation showed that this wasn’t the first time that this had happened and that the rubbish was being dumped over the borough boundary into Banstead & Reigate.
It is not acceptable that we are lectured on fly tipping when the Council takes a different line for its own actions. Although we were told that there was nothing to worry about, the waste was hurriedly cleared up by several employees and a couple of tractors on a Sunday, presumably at double pay. Whilst the political administration continue to attempt to ‘contain’ the issue, Council officers seem to taken action, holding their hands up and started an investigation to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Last week, the Lead Councillor for the Environment told us all via the Sutton Guardian that Sutton had the fourth lowest fly-tipping problem in London but fly-tippers were punished most severely.
On the day of publication of that issue, Cllr Tim Crowley inspected this pile of garden waste that a resident had seen dumped by a vehicle bearing the Council tree logo next to Corrigan Rec in the Clockhouse Estate. On reporting the fact that on at least two succesive Thursdays this pile had been added to, he was told variously that it was due to an attempt to save petrol and that it should not have happened and an investigation would be started. It was collected on Sunday by 7 men, 1 tractor and 2 pick-ups.
Despite this, the Lead Councillor for the Environment calmly explained to a public meeting on Wednesday that included Clockhouse residents that it was normal practice to dump the cuttings from Corrigan Rec and then pick it up the next day. This statement came shortly after he responded to a question from Clockhouse residents asking him how they should deal with green garden waste as there was no collection point within several miles of the Estate, by telling them to drive to Kimpton Road (17 mile round trip) or Beddington Lane (11.8 mile round trip).
So… Councillor tells people that they will be in real trouble if they fly-tip whilst the service that he is responsible for is fly-tipping; councillor tells Clockhouse residents to travel across South London to get rid of their rubbish, whilst council waste is tipped in a nearby field. Imagine what your neighbour would say if you chucked your waste across the fence. Have a look at what the Council Leader of Banstead and Reigate found out that the field near Hatch Lane was in fact, not in the Borough of Sutton at all.
…Quite literally. I spoke to a Sutton resident this morning who clipped the glass recycling bin in her green wheelie bin. On collection day, the green wheelie bin was emptied into the back of the truck along with the blue bin.
How many of these bins have been recycled themselves? Another example of the system becoming more complicated without adequate communication or provision?