What can a council do to make itself as unpopular as practically possible? The bright sparks down the road at West Berks have hit on the perfect formula. It turns out that there are four key factors to ensure universal discontent:
- Mess something up related to household waste – for many the bins are the showpiece local council responsibility – “it’s your one job!”, cries Joe Public
- Waste public money – always key to maximising disgruntlement
- Bicker amongst yourselves or your neighbours – nothing riles more than seeing elected representatives turning toddler-esque tantrums or taking their toys and sulking in the corner.
- Unfairness – if you screw everyone over you’ll only ever achieve a mild grumble. To truly enrage you have to arbitrarily target one subset of your electorate for your punishment.
Having identified the right recipe, the Newbury authority has validated its accuracy with devastating effect, combining lashings of each ingredient to produce what can only be described as “the mother of all unpopular policies”.
Let’s keep this simple. You put your rubbish in the bin, the council collects it and takes it to the nearest waste and recycling centre. If your rubbish doesn’t fit in the bin – maybe you’re having a clear-out – you can take the rubbish to the nearest waste and recycling centre (or ‘tip’) yourself. The council runs the tip.
West Berkshire is quite a large area. It turns out, for many of their residents, the nearest tip, and rather a good one at that, is the one at Smallmead, in Reading. Smallmead is run by a group called Re3 – a collaboration (shock horror) between Reading, Bracknell & Wokingham. Because more people from West Berkshire use an Re3 facility than the other way around, West Berkshire makes a payment to Re3 for the service (and because obviously West Berks itself doesn’t need to process the associated rubbish). This is a wooden dollar payment between two implementations of local government.
West Berkshire has decided to stop making that payment, with the inevitable consequence this week that Re3 has announced that it will prevent access to Smallmead to West Berkshire folk. So now people will have to travel further to dispose of their rubbish. That’s point 1 accomplished – make something worse to do with bins.
But surely the same amount of rubbish needs to be processed, and we’re not closing or opening any facilities, so have they actually wasted any money? Fear not, they have. In order to implement this segregation, Re3 need to give everyone eligible a pass, and employ “meet & greet” staff to check them. According to the Reading Chronicle, that’s £65,000 with more to come to fund a more high tech solution. Annoyed yet? I hope not, because we’re only half way through the enragement process.
Now for a little inter-council bickering. This payment between the authorities is apparently £97,000. This presumably means that Re3 believes it provides a service to West Berkshire residents that costs around £100k, and that West Berkshire should have expected to pay that amount itself to provide the service but doesn’t need to because people use Smallmead instead. Now, maybe that figure is slightly low, maybe it’s slightly high. All you have to do is to agree to get some kind of guru of the Grundon to provide an industry figure of the standard per population head cost of providing this service. Then you need a bloke with a clipboard at Smallmead for maybe a week to ask people for their address to get a fair sample of where people are coming from. You multiply one by the other to validate the £100k, then you pay it. No public money spent – other than maybe your for your bloke with his clipboard… and for the clipboard… and a pencil… maybe a sharpener. Or, you go off in a strop, stop the payment, and saddle a neighbouring authority with a £65k bill to impose a border crossing at the weigh bridge. Point three. Check.
Finally, let’s bring the blood to the boil with a final flourish. How about stuffing something up but only for some people? Obviously, one key factor here is to make sure it’s not you that’s inconvenienced. No problem – we’ll make the decision here in Newbury that only affects people 15 miles down the A4 in Calcot, Tilehurst and Purley (other than obviously affecting neighbouring authorities saddled with extra costs to pass onto their residents).
A little digging on the West Berkshire website and it turns out they actually have a name for Calcot, Tilehurst and Purley. They call it the “Eastern Suburban Area”. And with 26,000 people it’s their second biggest “settlement” after Newbury and ahead of Thatcham. The Eastern Suburban Area is a bit of mouthful. It’s a shame that there isn’t a catchy collective single name that you can use to group together suburbs into a bigger thing – you know, like one name for Whitley, Tilehurst, Caversham, Southcote, Katesgrove… would be handy wouldn’t it? I can’t think of one but open to ideas.
Wake up West Berkshire! You’ve achieved the grand slam – messed up the bins, wasted public money, argued with the neighbours, singled out your outlying enclaves in the town whose name you won’t even utter. Universal outcry accomplished. GetReading got so excited with their 30+ comments that they ran the story three times! Andrew Peach had a field day this morning! Come on, please just take another look, and open talks with the “Re3 area”, or as I like to call it, Reading.Follow @readingonthames