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Published on August 1st, 2014 | by Gaelle Finley



Clean air, clean water and a clean environment were key objectives of the Victorians who ran Birmingham Council over 100 years ago. This was in response to the identified public health hazard that a dirty city environment represented to the health of Birmingham citizens. They were successful in achieving these targets.

I attended my first community meeting in Handsworth in 1990 just after I moved here. There was a consensus amongst those attending  that rubbish on the streets was a major concern shared by all sections of the community.

Over twenty years I have attended numerous residents, neighbourhood, district and ward meetings, community consultations, and sat as a community representative on many boards and committees. Rubbish has always been one of the top three problems that local people wanted addressing.

Since 1990 hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent in this ward; SRB rounds 1 to 6 and the Urban Pathfinder scheme are just two examples of additional government funding (ie on top of the core council budgets). We have also had District/Constituency management and Neighbourhood management as well as Ward management, and all have had extra funds.

They have been told over and over again that residents want an efficient proper cleaning service – but unlike their Victorian forefathers, Birmingham City Council have totally failed to deliver anything even approaching a good service these past twenty years.

I have cited evidence that shows the links between a dirty environment and poor educational and health outcomes, organised resident reporting campaigns, brokered meetings between residents and council officers, supported the environmental warden scheme (the latter was never properly organised monitored or managed in Handsworth), all to no avail. The service is as bad as it ever was. We live in a ‘shithole’, to borrow an expression from some young men I tackled about spraying grafitti a couple of years ago. In the current heat it is a stinking shithole.

Current austerity and budgets cuts are no excuse, this is a problem of institutional failure. Handsworth council tax payers do not get the most basic of services that a council should be providing: clean air, clean water (check out the pollution in the lake in Handsworth Park) and a clean environment.

The Council, with the tacit support of our local Labour councillors, has socially engineered our area, presiding over a doubling of the population of Handsworth in just ten years without undertaking any study of the impact that this has had upon our well-being or quality of life. No impact studies means no extra services or resources to deal with of all these extra people. Not in cleaning and environment, nor in education, health & social care, housing or transport infrastructure. It has been an unstated conscious policy to use our area as a dumping ground to absorb population growth, and our Labour councillors have done nothing to challenge any of this.

Birmingham City Council is a multi billion pound organisation, the single largest local government administration in Europe, and yet it has failed and continues to fail to provide the most basic of core services that councils were set up to deliver –  services that the Victorians were able to provide, that of a clean environment for our tax paying citizens. Maybe we should organise a council tax strike until we start getting the service that we are paying for.

Susan Green has over thirty years’ professional experience working in community settings across the UK and has delivered training in both Europe and the USA. She was Secretary of her local Grove Residents Association for ten years, and sat as a community representative on Ladywood SRB Board and Handsworth Neighbourhood Board, as well as worked with local Parents for Play on campaigning for better facilities for children in Handsworth Park. She is currently working on a film about incompetence and possible corruption in Birmingham City Council’s North West Housing Regeneration & Planning Teams and the resultant degeneration of her neighbourhood. She has been a Handsworth resident since 1989.

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  1. Brilliant, Gaelle. Going to the core of a failure of government. It brings to mind the values expressed on the first para’ of my account of the founding of Handsworth Park ‘As the civic gospel of municipal improvement spread from Birmingham into the estates of Handsworth, its local government leaders saw a public park as a benefit for the district. Following the setting up of an education board and a free library, the adoption and proper kerbing of roads, street lighting, tramways and the construction of sewers,1 influential voices in the district began to speak of the need for a “lung” in the city. They did not pursue the idea simply out of expediency or to raise the value of their properties. Such self-interest was present – used unashamedly to strengthen their case among the practically minded citizens of Handsworth – but opposition to the Park from that quarter was at times so intense that calculative motives alone would not have carried the project through.’ I do believe that central government has a lot to answer for – cutting the legs off the grasshopper then shouting at it to keep jumping. We are witnessing a melt-down of Birmingham City Council’s capacity to fulfil its most basic duties, meanwhile Veolia and other private international corporations are making immense profits incinerating, landfilling and in some cases, recycling the waste that BCC is able to collect. The private sector has no interest in or commitment to the tasks that ought to be basic to local and national government. Thanks for your essay. S

  2. Gaelle Finley says:

    Ideas: School girl devises program to teach kids about dangers of littering: http://www.earthsavergirl.com/esg/index.html
    With thanks to Rachel Toussaint, Handsworth Helping Hands

  3. Gaelle Finley says:

    The UK Select Committee on Litter and Flytipping invites submissions on how significant a problem littering and fly-tipping is, and whether current government policies are adequate and give local authorities enough autonomy to tackle the problem in local communities.The deadline for submissions to the UK select committee on litter is October 14th this year. Here are more details: http://www.parliament.uk/litter
    With thanks to Simon Baddeley, Handsworth Helping Hands

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