A resident's response to dog fouling
A resident’s response to dog fouling

The two big issues that came out of the Shaftesbury Let’s Talk were dog fouling and fly-tipping. Poos and dumps.

These were unsurprising, several had written to us before to raise the issues and they are running problems. I often report fly-tips and have raised the issue of dog fouling repeatedly. But these are problems that just don’t seem to go away.

They are also interesting because they are indicative of a particular type of problem, where the council get a lot of the blame for someone else’s misbehaviour. Somewhere in the act of an owner letting their dog foul the pavement or someone illegally dumping their rubbish the fact it needs cleaning up becomes the council’s responsibility. It is, however, worth remembering that responsibility would never be needed if people were just a little more considerate of their neighbours.

I take a fairly hardline view of both. A lot of the discussion on the night featured ideas like spring cleans, when the council would offer a once a year collection and invite everyone to dump on that day. But while superficially attractive I wonder how many people would change their lives to fit in around it. Would everyone buy a new bed the week before so they didn’t fly-tip their mattress? Would fridges and washing machines only break down and need replacing to the council’s spring clean schedule? And if they didn’t would (or could) everyone store their rubbish for up to a year?

Others highlighted the cost (which can be waived in some instances) but again, I’m fairly hardline. In most of these cases we happily pay the cost of delivery for something new (which may be included in the price), but some balk at the cost of disposal for the old as if the decision that something is trash somehow removes responsibility for the item.

Finally, some believe the council collects rubbish from certain spots or from certain groups for free. One person said it was unfair home owners and housing association tenants had to pay when council tenants and leaseholders could have their rubbish collected for free. This is not the case, but if you see the council regularly collecting rubbish from a fly-tipping hotspot it’s easy to see how the misconception starts. I have spoken to several who have, totally innocently, fly-tipped because they thought the fly-tipping hotspot was a legitimate collection point.

But if there is confusion and different opinions on fly-tipping, I suspect few would be forgiving of dog fouling. Occasionally being responsible for a push-chair and a child on a scooter I know of some patches I avoid simply because the stress of making sure all the wheels and feet avoid the faecal land mines is just too much.

The fact that there are particular roads and pavements with a problem rather implies it is an issue with a few owners (were all dog owners irresponsible the problem would be more uniform). It also suggests that they and their dogs have developed fairly consistent toilet habits. Yet, even with this intelligence it’s hard to do anything.

The council has traditionally had one of the largest dog teams of any council and at times been responsible for most of the prosecutions in the country, let alone London. The difficulty is that most people tend to behave when being watched, so however big our dog team is they will struggle to catch anyone in the act and, therefore, be unable to take any action.

In both cases the council is largely reliant on education in an attempt to change behaviour; while we will attempt legal action it will only ever get a small minority of offenders. Sadly this is a slow process, even when the overwhelming majority of people are responsible, the impact of the irresponsible few is disproportionate.

The council’s website provides more information about the dog control team including contact details should you wish to report anti-social behaviour involving dogs, including fouling. The street cleaning section also provides contact details should you witness any fly-tipping in the borough.

The council's fault? (In this case probably yes, it's a pile of rubbish collected together to make a single collection point.)

Several weeks ago I posed the question does the council actually hinder people doing the right thing? The example offered publicly in the comments (and by email from someone else) was on our policy of charging to collect bulky items.

I’ve never been directly involved in our refuse policy. But I’m not afraid of idly speculating to cover my ignorance, so I’ll carry on regardless.

Obviously the council is aware that by charging, we run the risk of people fly tipping. There is, to use the economic term, price elasticity. Some people won’t pay, and will fly tip whatever the price (and some even if it were free). Most people will pay if it’s a reasonable amount, but as the fee increases so does the proportion of people who will just dump their rubbish illegally. The judgment is where that price covers the cost of the service (or as much as possible) without seeing the income wiped out by increased fly tipping.

But moving on from the charge, I think there are valid points in the comment about the complex rules surrounding waste collection:

Now does the previous owner’s dismantled desk that they left in our cellar count as 1 piece of furniture, or should i saw it up into 3 standard sized sacks? And if i did would they still weigh less than 25kg and how would I even know? What about the spare kitchen cabinet panels, scraps of carpet or broken pane of glass? It makes my head hurt!

Wouldn’t 1 fee be easier? Or small/medium/large collection fee? Or 1-yearly free collection?

Also when people try to do the right thing and then can’t find the information they’re looking for on the council website because it’s rubbish, I’d say that stops good behaviour.

It is, I think, a consequence of a bureaucracy (a word I always use neutrally) that it is rule-bound and, therefore, tends to think everyone and thing else is rule-bound. What’s the betting those rules are there because there restrictions on lifting heavy items? So, we have to protect our staff and contractors from potential injury and do that by passing on the rule to the resident, never thinking that many people have no way of weighing heavy items.

Going further, I wonder why we are even collecting a lot of bulky items. When we tried to dispose of a fridge we paid the bulky collection fee only for someone to steal it from our garden the day before collection. I know the fridge itself had no value as a fridge (I’d even managed to pull one of the doors off when removing it) so can only guess it had some scrap value. Why aren’t we investigating whether scrap merchants would consider taking on some of these collections for us? Or charities? Despite frowning on their use of chuggers the British Heart Foundation in Wandsworth will collect furniture and electrical items for resale in their shops.

However, when you look at the council’s page on using others it manages to contain, within five bullet-points, two references to prosecution, the need to check (with another agency) waste collection registration and the potential need for advance authorisation to take things to the tip. Not something that encourages alternative disposal methods!

And finally, I sometimes wonder if we are too good at clearing up. There are a few fly tipping hot-spots in my patch and, speaking to officers, discovered that, at times, they collect daily from them. But what impact does this have? Residents might appreciate the clean streets, they might be impressed that the dumping they see in the morning removed by the evening. But might they also think that next time they have something they need to get rid of there’s an easy route? Some might not even realise it isn’t a legitimate service!

I once suggested that we just stop collecting for a week, to see what happens. We’d tell everyone that’s what we were doing, and then use the accumulated rubbish as an example: it isn’t just for the council to remove the rubbish, it’s also for people to stop dumping it, and pass on information when they see others doing it.

Increasingly I’m seeing the way the council should operate is not as a service provider, but as a party to a contract. In this example, we agree to keep the streets as tidy as we can, and residents agree not to dump rubbish and help us find those that do. We could even bring in others, like the BHF, to play their part and give them opportunity to raise money. There are huge areas of life where residents, business and charities, as well as the council, all could have a role to play if we moved away from a simple service delivery model and towards a mature relationship where we all recognised the part we play, effectively a Wandsworth contract. Would you sign it?

As I said last week I was stopping doing my weekly report because it didn’t quite work, and, instead, replacing it with a weekly round-up.  Already, I’ve broken the promise (a politician, a broken promise, never!) by changing the name.  I obviously don’t know if this will work any better – only time will tell.

Dealing with a backlog
For anyone going on holiday having work build up while you are away is just one of those things you have to live with.  For most people you can delegate or ask someone to cover for you while you are away.  For a councillor, that just isn’t possible.  We don’t have admin support and don’t work in an office where people can keep an eye on your desk.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to chip away at the back-log of emails and mail that built up – while all the time new stuff is arriving.  Of course, much of this falls into the spam category (for example, as a councillor there are an amazing number of companies who think the council would like to pay several hundred pounds for me to attend their latest conference) but I don’t know that until I’ve opened the envelope or double clicked the email and read it.

As someone who likes to keep his inbox empty it is frustrating.  And if you are waiting for a reply from me and haven’t had one yet.  I apologise, I promise it will be coming as soon as possible.

One of the real highlights of the week has been Tooting.  We had a bit of a review of how the work under the Tooting Together programme has been going – and I hope most will agree that it’s made a real difference and has been a great example of how all the council’s departments can work together to astonishing results.

One of the real successes has been the time-banded waste collection, which has meant Tooting’s streets are much much cleaner.  It has also meant that we have identified a lot of businesses that were illegally dumping their waste.  It was a common cry from Labour that Wandsworth wasn’t cleaning the streets enough.  In fact Tooting was (jointly with Clapham Junction) the most cleaned area in Wandsworth, some parts were cleaned every couple of hours.  But Labour’s political convenience ignored the fact that it wasn’t the council littering the streets in the first place.

The subsequent crack-down has made a huge difference – even though there are still a few businesses resisting, feeling they have the right to dump their rubbish on our streets.

Hopefully the successes from Tooting can be copied in our other Town Centres in coming months.

Shaftesbury Ward News
We’ve also started putting together the July/August edition of the new ward newsletter.  Summer is always a quiet time, with people going on holiday and the formal business of the council taking a mini-recess (though that doesn’t seem to make any difference to how often I am there).  The newsletter should be out in a week or two, but if there’s anything you’d like to see in there, or even any local events you’d like to advertise, let me know.