Thursday, 15 April 2010

Street Scene and North Park

When we come to prepare our manifesto for next year's local elections in Darlington, I shall be pressing for that document to include a promise of radical changes to Street Scene for major improvements in its performance.

Here is one local resident's view of the mess that is commonly known as Street Scene in Darlington:

"(Despite their claims) the Council do NOT litter pick in North Park four times a week - they may pick up the litter from the playground area but they certainly do not do the rest of the park because I can take photos to show the same bits of litter in the same place for weeks on end.

(Despite their claims) the Council do NOT empty the litter or dog-poo bins twice a week.

The Council have not yet contacted me to arrange any kind of meeting on site - and I do not believe they will, because in my opinion they do not like confrontation. [Quite a lot of residents have said the same thing, "They want to just go on behaving in exactly the same way as they always have - acting with a complete disregard for anyone else's opinions or thoughts, making illogical decisions, ignoring the fact they do not have qualified/competent higher level managers and far too many "under-managers" thereby leaving insufficient money to pay people to do the actual physical work". There appears to be about 7 layers of management before the person-on-the-ground who is actually delivering the services to the residents.]

"After over a year of my living here and the park being kept really nicely, the Council in its wisdom introduced Street Scene in 2006, which is when I started reporting incidents. This system has never worked properly throughout the entire Borough - ask any member of the public and they will say the same thing, "Since they brought this in the area is nowhere near as clean as it used to be".

"Prior to Street Scene each man had his own job, did it well and was justifiably proud of it. Now they're all just "told what to do and where to go" and they have no sense of "a job well done" at the end of their day. There were (I believe a lot have now resigned) qualified gardeners looking after all the glorious flower beds etc throughout the Borough - they now have to pick litter or dig graves or do whatever else one of their innumerable managers tells them they have to do. There were men who were quite content to keep our streets clean of litter but who now find themselves planting trees - I have been assured that all the men are "horticulturally trained" - well perhaps they were trained, but one day of training does not a gardener make!!!! And even if they had as much as one day's training, that doesn't mean that three months later they have remembered what they were taught!

"The emptying of the bins got so erratic that I even resorted to sending one of the managers a map of the park - having marked on it where all the bins were (because there were always several bins left unemptied, which consequently overflowed within a few days).

"The Council wastes thousands of pounds each year because men are not doing a particular job properly - e.g. last year planting ten baby trees and 20 shrubs in the park. Anyone who knows anything about gardening knows you dig a hole a couple of inches bigger than the pot a tree/shrub comes in, you put feed into that hole, you water the root ball before placing in the hole, when the hole is filled in the tree gets a thorough watering. None of that happened. All the soil was shaken off the roots and they were planted in approximately 3" of soil and were not watered in. Hence the 10 year olds came along and within a few "wiggles" found themselves like Britain's Strongest Man because they could fell a tree with their bare hands!

"Needless to say this proved great entertainment and so they went round demolishing the rest. Annoyingly this behaviour was seen by adults who said and did nothing! What few shrubs are left standing are actually dead, through neglect! So the amount of money spent on either buying in, or growing (not to mention a whole year's growing season) has been wasted. The Council also wastes hundreds of thousands of pounds paying for too many layers of management which are not fit for purpose."

As Liberal Democrat ward councillors we have been saying for four years that the decision to turn skilled workers into generalists, together with the introduction of a top-heavy, technology-dependent management structure, has ruined this service.

The litter and mess both in the town centre where I live and work and in many of the streets I've been canvassing over the past week are unacceptable. The problem lies not with the men who do the work: it lies with the politicians who endorsed the introduction of the generalist culture and who have pared the service down to the bare bones.

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