‘Mustn’t Grumble’ is a new and occasional feature that will appear when I, rather than explode, will find it necessary to have a very British rant: No.1. The Councils
1852: “As to Corporations, Parishes, Vestry Boards and similar gatherings of jolter-headed clods who assemble to exchange such speeches that, by Heaven! they ought to be worked in quicksilver mines for the short remainder of their miserable existence… how thick skulls may become”: Mr Boythorn, Bleak House by Charles Dickens.
2016: So, not much has changed then…
It’s a well known fact that councils or any other form of local ‘authority’, be they town, borough, city or county, do their level best to penalise motorists at every opportunity. Sure, they like to hide behind road safety excuses and the like and to an extent that is necessarily true, but they know and we know that the real reason is revenue.
Ask any stranger in any town who has been innocently caught out by a camera on a box junction at traffic lights and see what they think. One such junction in Fulham has earned millions in this way despite the root cause being poor traffic management. Forget Dick Turpin, this is the real highway robbery. Driving or parking fines should be about safety and fairness not cash flow.
Over time this has had me thinking about councils in general. For example, walk around any area and you will see playgrounds with signs that carry the legend, ‘This playground is the property of such and such council’ or words to that effect.
Councillors stand for election to serve the community, not to tell it what to do. The people they employ are ‘public servants’ and their role is inherent in the name. Who suddenly said to these people ‘you’re in charge’? Councils don’t ‘own’ anything. Public areas are owned by the public. The playgrounds, the parks and so on belong to all of us. Councils are there to administer them on our behalf.
This is another aspect of how the workings of councils have changed over, it has to be said, a very long time. Historically, to use the common expressions, the purpose of the council was to organise and arrange to ’empty the bins, cut the grass and keep the streets clean’ on our behalf.
Of course, it isn’t that simple. The management of local areas has become complex and expensive but the point still remains that councils in general have got above themselves in their dealings with the tax-paying public.
If this so far suggests to you that I have it in for my local council you would be right. To say that I am not impressed is beyond understatement. I realise that up and down the country there are many thousands of hard working councillors and council workers who are responsible and do a good job, so I don’t mean to generalise.
Conversely, there will be many readers who have had bad experiences from patronising or inept individuals of the type that have generated this rant.
Certainly, running a council is tough and tough decisions have to be made. We know there isn’t enough money to go around. Funds have to be saved (albeit sometimes in questionable areas). No reasonable person can complain about tax when there is so much to be done. That’s all understood although sometimes it is hard to accept this when town hall lights are left blazing all night or you see millions wasted on spurious, failed developments. The problem is not so much the service as the attitude.
The trouble with us lot is we don’t complain or march on the town hall with flaming fire-brands and pitchforks. In France or Greece for example, the populace, when aggrieved, make their voices heard. Here, we sit around and moan about our lot without doing the slightest thing about it. That’s the British way. Still mustn’t grumble eh?
Footnote: Swindon Borough Council have just published plans for a £22M museum and art gallery (It’s hideous, by the way). Obviously it will never get built but they’ll still waste millions on ‘feasibility studies’ and the like before it fails to become reality as per usual. Meanwhile they’ll demand more council tax from the residents.