Thursday, 22 July 2010

All's well that ends well, eventually, with a little pressure

After a few more days of government inaction over the environmental crime and arson incident which took place across the road from me recently, I escalated the situation last week. First, I stupidly called the general Environmental Services number for Southwark Council, which took me to a friendly, if somewhat baffled, call center employee, who didn't quite know how to direct my complaint. He eventually sent it to the department in charge of fly-tipping offences, before suggesting that perhaps the best way of dealing with the issue was to confront the builders/property owner myself. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps he was just rehearsing his script for our future lives under the ConDem government, where apparently most public services will be handled by volunteers. I told him in no uncertain terms that I don't pay taxes so that I can enforce the law in place of the Council.

Convinced that this call had been a waste of time, I sent my local Councillor an email with a link to my original blog post. This was now three days after the arson incident. He responded to me the same day, and forwarded my email to the head of the enforcement division, who got in touch the following day. Apparently this division had been aware of the rubbish dumped in front of the house, but did not know about the subsequent arson incident.

I was, and am, amazed that an incident requiring the fire and police services' involvement would not be reported to the appropriate local authority immediately, let alone four days after the event. I was also astonished to find that I was only the second person to file a complaint. The first person had apparently called in about five days before the arson, by which time the rubbish had been on the street for nearly two weeks, if my memory serves me well. This speaks of a level of apathy and indifference which even I find surprising. For days I watched people walking past, looking at the mess and shaking their heads, but it seems that not one could be bothered to pressure the Council for action - not even the family resident in the upstairs flat, who could have easily lost their lives.

Anyway, the environmental enforcement division took the extraordinary measure of sending out a crew last Friday, and cleaning the site to an immaculate extent. Apparently the property owner will get the bill, which is as it should be. The question I have is, would this neat and quick resolution have occurred had I not written about it and posted photos to name and shame the Council into action - and crucially informed them of the existence of the blog post? I suspect not.

On the other hand, what this incident suggests to me is that, if people expect their local government to do nothing, and then do nothing to make their complaints known, then indeed, they will probably observe inaction and erroneously conclude that they are powerless, and the local government indifferent or inept. It doesn't have to be this way.

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