By Bernadette Fisher / EnvironmentServicesSpeeches / / 0 Comments

 

Local residents will have noticed that our green waste collections are due to restart in March after two months of suspension. These collections help keep our gardens, driveways and pathways clear by removing surplus green material at a time when gardeners are often busy improving their immediate environment for the approach of spring. Yet the Council’s decision to interrupt these collections has created an unnecessary backlog of waste, to the irritation of many local residents. Having represented Gorrell district on the Canterbury City Council since 2015, I’ve tried to raise my concerns about green waste collections being suspended. Often, I’ve found my voice blocked.

It’s the older and less mobile residents that concern me the most here. When this suspension first came into effect, I asked whether the Council have considered its impact upon this particular demographic? Recent complaints to the Labour Group have highlighted the winter clear-up of gardens and the difficulties many residents have in just putting garden waste into a car and taking it to the tip. Some are not mobile enough to drive, or cannot afford to run a car. This is a cut which particularly affects the older generation, with the correlative impact upon their immediate environment and, potentially, on their spirits.

My query at the last meeting received a response from Conservative Councillor Nick Baker, who told me that when proposing “the short-term suspension of the green waste collections, the needs of all those residents who use this particular service were considered, and balanced against the need to ensure the general, dry-recycling and food waste collection services received by all residents were effectively delivered.” The view was taken that during the eight-week period, (January and February) as there was a large drop in usage at that time, residents could take garden waste to a local household waste recycling centre, or, particularly if older and less mobile, start home composting if space allows or wait until their green waste is next collected in March.

My reply to Councillor Baker highlighted that no equalities impact was recognised in the reports to Community and Policy and Resource in January and February last year and no Equalities Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out, despite this constituting a reduction in service. I asked what measures had been put in place to reduce or ameliorate the impact of the loss upon those with the protected characteristics, including those in receipt of ‘assisted collection’? Councillor Baker replied that the decision to cease the green waste collection during January and February was taken by officers, who would be asked to provide a written response to the councillor.

I waited for this written response, but eventually had to chase it up. When I received it, baldly stating that “the garden waste collection service was only temporarily suspended, and as a consequence an EIA was not required,’ I didn’t find it satisfactory. The lack of care and detail apparent here, spurred me to consult an expert who carries out frequent local authority
EIAs, who confirmed that “if a proposed change was likely to be short-term in nature, or have limited negative impact, then a full-blown EIA would probably not be required.” However, she added, “it would still be necessary to undertake an initial screening exercise, and it is through this screening, that you are able to identify whether the changes are likely to have a negative impact and how to mitigate against any such disadvantage…’

I had done a bit of screening myself, regarding the older and less mobile residents who can’t just put their garden waste into a car and take it to the tip, as well as those we have already identified as needing ‘assisted collection’. To these I’d add Councillor Baker’s suggestion for starting home composting, although this is clearly not possible or reasonable for all. A 90-year-old lady in my Ward recently informed me that she imagined another bin was going to be provided, as she had double the garden waste already. ‘It’s almost as if they think old people don’t do gardening’, she remarked.

So what are we going to do, at the very least, to deal with the triple amounts of waste that will need to be collected in March, however and wherever, our unfortunate residents may have stored them? Councillor Baker did confirm to me in January, after all, that the needs of all those residents who use this particular service were considered in Jan 2018.

The bigger picture here is the Council’s repeated, though not consistent I am glad to say, failure to carry out EIAs on changes or reductions in services like this, in the spirit of the law. The Equality Act was designed to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable were considered in our decision-making and things were done to make any loss less painful. It was not designed to give councils another boring hurdle to pay lip-service to before decisions were made. I sincerely hope that the next Council is able to face decisions in the correct manner, focusing, as we always should, on the needs of those who need us most.’

Garden waste may seem like a relatively small issue (though I am pursuing it to see what can be done), but it is a good example of things that need to change in the City Council. My concern that the Council wasn’t taking its equality duty seriously has been building since I was elected. It first reached a peak with the cuts to Enhanced Care homes where an equality assessment was done nothing was considered at first to mitigate the effects of the cuts. We did have some success in the end by working with residents of the homes for older people and their families, but it had to be pushed for repeatedly at successive meetings and with demonstrations to show just how upset people were. A Labour-run City Council would put the needs of the most vulnerable first in all our decision-making, and would assess the impact of any change in accordance with the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law, in this case the Equality Act 2010.

By Canterbury Labour Party / MiscellaneousSpeeches / 0 Comments

What are local Councils for? Simply to represent local people in taking decisions on public services that affect everyday life – things like planning, licensing, parks and museums, and bins collection. It follows that to be effective, Councillors have to both reflect the views of local people and to intimately know the area they represent.
The current proposal for an East Kent mega-Council is an assault on both these principles. It will drastically reduce the numbers of Councillors, down from eleven to four in the City, making them more remote from voters and less able to represent their areas effectively.
The past 20 years has seen an erosion of the role of Councils through a combination of cuts to Government funding and wide scale outsourcing, to the stage where we now have the lowest level of democratic representation in western Europe.
Is this in any way important? Who cares who provides the bin collections or paves the streets or cuts the grass in Dane John, anyway? Well, no-one: until something goes wrong. Then we need someone on our side. After all, if Serco don’t collect the bins, individual residents have no power to make them do the job they’re paid to do. So we rely on the Council to put pressure on the contractors they’ve appointed and, if something can’t be fixed, to be accountable.
We need an effective Council to control building development, as we’re seeing with the spate of major housing schemes being proposed by developers. We want our Councillors to protect our City and countryside, and to do that they have to know their patch, be in contact with the people they represent, and be capable of arguing our case against well-funded professional developers.
Over the last hundred years Councils developed many services. They created parks and museums so that local people could enjoy and benefit from them. They set up safety nets for local people in trouble. Well before the welfare state, enlightened Councils ran schemes to help the unemployed, homeless and sick. They developed their local economy, setting up bus companies, paving the streets and building gas works to support local businesses and promote employment. Civic enterprise, this was called, and it was no bad thing.
All this used to be unremarkable. Some Councils did more, some less, but there was a consensus that these were valid activities for local government. Councils could respond to local conditions and events in a way that central government simply could not. In short: local government was A Good Thing.
But no more. Stripped of most of their powers and scandalously underfunded, local Councils are in crisis. Now we are being asked to accept the creation of a new mega-Council which covers Whitstable to Romney Marsh, to produce yet more service cuts to balance the budget. This is a badly thought through deal which isn’t agreed with Kent County Council and is so poor a deal that Ashford Council pulled out.
There is no proof that this merger will actually deliver savings, although there are some back of an envelope calculations; but since the whole idea rests on creating new Town Councils to take on some of the workload in Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay, and possibly merging some parish councils too, this is going to increase, not reduce, costs. Worse still, this will mean that there are three local government bodies providing services in each area, an idea which mans no-one will be able to work out who does what. Accountability will be lost, along with the support of professional officers. And for what?
Councillors will be even more remote than at present. They will be more stretched in terms of case work, and they will know less about local issues. After all, what can a Councillor in Dover know about the impact of Mountfield Park on Bridge or Wincheap?
So now we must ask seriously: what are local Councils for? When does a Council cease to be local? After all, if someone asks where you live, you probably don’t say “East Kent”, do you? It doesn’t sound right – its not a real place, is it? People with long memories will remember when Canterbury City Council was create to include Whitstable, Herne Bay and the rural areas around about, and what a fuss that caused through the towns feeling a loss of power to Canterbury. A takeover, they called it, and some still do. How will people feel about becoming part of this massive new District?
This idea looks awfully like a carve up giving more power to fewer people. Is this what the people intended when they voted to “take back control”? Why have our MP’s, so vocal on the issue of the EU, nothing to say about the negative impact of this mega-Council? Its time we got some answers.’