Councillor battles to keep filth off the streets (literally)

TIMOTHY GODFREY is a councillor who receives the Town Hall perks, the allowance, the car parking permit. But his lofty position offers no favours when it comes to getting his north Croydon street cleaned

Just in case you think councillors get special treatment, we don’t. Our roads are as filthy and uncared for as lots of others in Croydon.

Builders' waste... just a stone's throw from a councillor's home. It's been there more than three weeks, despite being reported to the council

Builders’ waste… just a stone’s throw from a councillor’s home. It’s been there more than three weeks, despite being reported to the council

I’ve been told that my road gets swept on a Tuesday. The next road gets swept on a Wednesday.

It doesn’t of course. Come midnight on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the streets are still as filthy as ever.

The street does get a once-over every couple of weeks though. You know, the sort of once-over that picks up all the big bits, but doesn’t actually sweep the gutters or pavements properly, and leaves them grimy and unkempt. Sound familiar?

Well, I came home one day and found a paving cobble – the sort used on dropped kerbs – sitting on the roadway.

Next to the post office pouch (where the postie stores their mail) there was big heap of dumped sand. I put the cobble on top of the sand reported it to the council.

I then emailed the council about this on July 9, at precisely 13.24.

I got an acknowledgment about this on July 10, at 16.16.

Just 27 hours to acknowledge an email.

Duly reported, I expected it would be picked up by the council contractor within a few days.

By July 15, I was convinced something had gone wrong, as nothing had been done about the dumped sand and the cobble. So that morning I sent a further email to the director and the Tory cabinet member about my “personal experience”. I was genuinely trying to share my experience with the council director and the cabinet member responsible.

Finally, on July 22, my patience expired… I had reported the dumped rubbish 13 days before and nothing had been done. I had then highlighted the possible issues with the council call centre and contractor with the service director and cabinet member.

Now completely convinced that the council has a real problem with its internal processes as well as its contractors, I emailed the chief executive of the council. His office agreed to “look in to it”.

So it’s now the July 30… And the dumped builders’ waste is still there. Three weeks to instruct a contractor to pick up some dumped rubbish? Really? And how many times has our road sweeper passed the dumped rubbish and neither dealt with it nor reported it?

It shouldn’t matter if you are a councillor or not, it should have been dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

Look familiar? A typical Croydon street scene in 2013. Even the council's CCTV warning doesn't deter dumpers from leaving their rubbish on this street on any day of the week

Look familiar? A typical Croydon street scene in 2013. Even the council’s CCTV warning doesn’t deter dumpers from leaving their rubbish on this street on any day of the week

Woe betide you if you happen to work for a living and return home to find detritus and debris across your street after 5pm. You’re especially unlucky if you happen to live on a street that has its bin collections on a Friday.

Because since the latest round of cuts to the council’s call centre, with evening, out-of-hours and weekend staff culled, if you have a street cleaning issue to report after 5pm on a Friday, your call  will now go unanswered until 9am on a Monday.

And then you’ll only get through it you are a combination of lucky, patient and don’t mind running up large phone bills.

After an information message about green waste bags, this was how the recorded service played out when Inside Croydon called the call centre on Monday at 4pm and today at 10.30am: “We are sorry, all our advisors are busy at the moment…”. “There are currently … five …in the queue.” In our calls, it was never fewer than four.

“The customer currently first in the queue has been waiting… five… minutes.”

Hang on? Or hang up?

There is an online option, but many prefer to phone and speak to a member of staff. A call over the weekend might be answered by the emergency operator, but they can only send an email to the street cleaning team, and then the wait begins. Of course, fly tippers only ever operate in office hours, Monday to Friday.

And if the dirty streets are not reported by residents (who can’t get through on under-staffed call centre phone lines), then there can’t be a problem, can there?

I’ve always been really proud of my borough. Proud of its staff. Proud of its history. Proud of its people.

All I now know, is the task facing an incoming Labour council next year is enormous. Right across the council from its chief executive through its layers of management, we need a council that is focused on solutions and being proud of Croydon.

Sorting out our rubbish services is just one of them.

  • Timothy Godfrey is the Labour group’s shadow cabinet member for culture
  • Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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4 Responses to Councillor battles to keep filth off the streets (literally)

  1. I reported a missed collection via the croydon council website and it was dealt with within 2 days. I was surprised but impressed especially as I got an apology email and a follow up to ensure that it had been done.

  2. Quite agree, Timothy.

    One of my constituents reported the state of her street (Whitworth Road) to the council and obtained a reference number for her complaint. Even armed with this information the council was still unable to clean the mess up.

    When I challenged this I was told that “the complaint must have slipped through the net”. The council was unable to trace any complaints to the area although plenty of complaints have been made.

    I wonder how many other complaints “slip through the net”?

  3. I sympathise with Cllr Godfrey.

    Of course Councillors should not get preferential treatment but his experience is totally unacceptable from the stand point of ordinary residents who take up street cleaning issues.

    What is worse is that if Godfrey cannot get action for his own street then why should residents have any confidence in taking matters up through Councillors, especially Opposition ones?

    When I was an Opposition Councillor in Wandsworth (1982-86) I would regularly walk the streets making lists of actions that needed to be taken (cleaning, paving repairs, street tree problems, etc), submit these to the officers, and if no action was taken put the list down as a Council question. After a while the officers realised it was easier to carry out the work to avoid the next Council question.

    My street regularly sees a street cleaner; he does a good job, but it is always the day before bin collection, instead of the day afterwards. Streets would be a lot cleaner if cleaning followed rather than preceded bin collection. How about some Party manifesto promises on this for the May elections? Persistance in pressing officers for responses does pay off as I and other residents I have found in re-negotiating aspects of the street lighting programme for the road.

  4. Sean Creighton makes valid points, though I think he underestimates just how Croydon Council is a failed organisation.

    The point of this story was to demonstrate that when you do things properly, you report it, as the council asks you to do, and then your report goes into a black hole.

    Then, if the director of the service can’t get it sorted out, that should send alarm bells ringing.

    Then if the chief executive of the council can’t get it sorted out, then you realise that the whole council is a failed organisation.

    It means contractors are out of control. It means the council has no means of monitoring what goes on nor what the council pays the contrator for.

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