Thursday, 10 March 2011

Cutting Labour waste and responding to residents on environmental crime

Last November I blogged about the review I led into the Council's community warden service which sought to deliver better value and better services to residents.

This review began under Labour -  something local Labour councillors forget to mention when Yvette Cooper put her foot in it during her visit to Reading last week.

The review focussed on identifying ways of delivering a more cost-effective service which could respond effectively to residents concerns.

The review identified waste and duplication of resources under the previous scheme operated by Labour.The new warden service which we are launching is an excellent example of doing more with less.

Survey after survey the Council conducted of residents found that local people wanted to see action to tackle environmental crime. This came as no surprise to me or my Liberal Democrat colleagues - residents have been telling us this on the door step for years!

We campaigned in opposition for the Council to use its powers more effectively and to respond when residents reported issues.Dog fouling, fly tipping and graffiti were all real problems when Labour ran the Council and yet effective enforcement action was not taken. This was not as a result of a lack of powers or resources - far from it.

So much money was wasted and despite this the culprits got away with damaging the local environment.
  • Under Labour three different teams of Council staff from two Council departments carried out walkabouts in the same areas of Reading
  • In Labour's scheme all three roles involved estate inspections in the form of 'neighbourhood walkabouts' and regular liaison with the public through Safer Reading and Neighbourhood Action Group (NAG) meetings.
  • Cutting Labour's waste of resources will save £170,000 from Council budgets - reducing the need to put up Council Tax and delivering residents more for their money
In contrast the new improved scheme scheme we are launching includes:
  • Enforcement powers to enable RBC officers to issue fixed penalty notices for offenders
  • A team of 12 officers dedicated to working on the frontline line
  •  6 focussing on environmental enforcement
  • 4 officers working on crime prevention
  • 2 officers assisting residents with waste and recycling issues
A key feature of the scheme will be that 'no one walks past a problem'. This follows real problems in the past when Labour ran the Council - where issues reported by residents or councillors fell outside of the responsibility of housing or environment departments.

This meant that on many occasions effective action was not taken by the Council and problems at neighbourhood level persisted. The new scheme should mean that staff take greater ownership of issues and residents only have to report the issue once, not three times or two different Council departments.

I will be monitoring the new service closely and really hopes it delivers cleaner, safer streets for residents wherever they live in Reading.

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