Saturday, 5 December 2009

Street Scene

Street Scene is the organisation within Darlington Borough Council that is responsible for street cleaning, refuse collections, parks and gardens and all that sort of thing. It was created a few years ago by merging together all these various responsibilities into one organisation where most of the workforce would be generalists, able to turn their hand to anything, be it shrub pruning or emptying bins.

It meets the "Streamlining and Efficiency" criteria which the Labour Group is so keen on, but opinion is divided about how effective it is.

What Street Scene does excel at is providing a quick and flexible response to Councillors' requests. When I arrived home from work on Thursday evening there was a message on my ansaphone from an elderly lady living in Askrigg Street who had slipped and fallen on a pile of rotten leaves which, perversely, had chosen her front gate and wall to pile up against. I went round to see her and indeed, there was a huge pile of sodden leaves stretching across the pavement with all sorts of other rubbish stuck in it.

I emailed Carol Carter at Street Scene and at 9.45 the next morning Council workmen arrived to clear up the leaves. That's what I call service.

However...all is not well in Street Scene. I get frequent emails and complaints from staff in the organisation who say it is badly managed, that the generalist agenda means skilled work is being done by people without sufficient training and experience and that the harder-working, and generally older, staff are given the worst jobs to do because otherwise those jobs wouldn't get done properly. There is also disquiet among the workforce about the use to which the information gleaned from the satellite tracking devices which every vehicle and cart has is being put.

It's difficult to know how widely these views are held, or whether it's just a disaffected minority which is complaining. Maybe the new flexibility of the organisation, replacing the old rigid demarcation lines, makes some employees, who preferred the certainties and structure of the old organisation, feel that things are now badly organised.

Residents' surveys carried out by the Lib Dems always throw up numerous complaints about street cleanliness, dog muck, refuse collections etc. Yet, at the same time, the Council's customer satisfaction surveys show a generally positive and improving picture here.

I guess a visible frontline service of this nature, battling against a culture in which, unlike places like Holland, for example, a significant minority seems to think it has the right to throw litter out of car windows, flick cigarettes and chewing gum onto the pavement, doesn't have to control its dogs and feels free to fly tip where it likes, is always going to bear the brunt of any residents' complaints.

I would be interested in hearing your experience of this service, either here or by email.

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