The Labour-run council has been forced to back down from an attempt to quietly drop one of his key election manifesto promises, to provide a fly tipping hotline.
Labour leader Tony Newman fought the 2014 Town Hall elections on a pledge to tackle the “epidemic” of fly tipping across the borough. Making it quicker for residents to report incidents of fly tipping, with an easy-to-use phone line, was an important part of the strategy.
Inside Croydon understands that there have been strong disagreements among some of the Croydon Labour leadership. Mark Watson, part of Newman’s close clique at the Town Hall, is understood to have been behind moves to drop the hotline to help further progress the cost-cutting “online only” strategy, which forces residents to use the council’s poorly presented website or, worse, the MyCroydon crap app, which functioned poorly when it was commissioned under the previous Tory-run council.
The hours of operation of the council’s phone lines have been reduced to just 35 per week, on weekdays in office hours only.
But the out-of-hours service, on the council’s main switchboard number 020 8604 7000, remains staffed at weekends and evenings – exactly the sort of time when fly tipping is more likely to occur – and it continues to deal with reports of rubbish being dumped and other instances of anti-social behaviour.
The scheme appears to be working, with more residents reporting fly tipping and as a consequence more than 110 prosecutions taking place since the new system was introduced in 2014. This weekend, the council’s enforcement team reported from Waddon that with help from the police, it had confiscated the 18th van or truck which had been reported dumping rubbish illegally.
Croydon Labour’s manifesto going into the 2014 local elections had said:
Labour’s new approach will ensure that many more offenders are caught and punished. This will send a clear message that fly tipping and other anti-social behaviour in Croydon will no longer be tolerated.
Fly tipping has been a particular problem in some parts of Croydon. Where possible, we will use fixed or mobile CCTV to identify offenders. We will work with the police to pursue large-scale fly tipping through the courts and press for the maximum penalties in addition to seeking compensation. We will require council employees to report incidents and also establish a dedicated fly tipping and litter hotline to make it easier for people to report offences. We will name and shame offenders.
But recently, council staff had been directing residents to use the website or the crap app to report fly tips. There had also been some suggestion that technical problems with the council’s phone systems – provided at multi-million-pounds costs by Crapita – meant that the hotline was not functioning.
Stuart Collins, Labour’s deputy leader and the cabinet member responsible for the council’s high-profile “Don’t Mess With Croydon” campaign, has insisted that the fly tipping hotline should be kept and remains open for calls.
“I checked with officers today and they confirmed the hotline is still in place,” Collins told Inside Croydon. “It’s 0208 604 7000 as one of the three ways of reporting fly tips along with the email address and phone app.
“There was an issue a few days ago with an engaged tone, which Capita say they are looking at.”
Given the technical issues and criticisms of the council website and its crap app, the relatively “old tech” approach of using a phone to speak to a real-life, breathing human being seems to be a sensible option for a Labour-run council – even if it does involve actually having to pay staff weekend rates. This is especially the case for older and poor Croydon residents, who may not feel comfortable using or even have ready access to broadband, a laptop or a shiny smart phone.
Collins did concede that some council staff may have been directing residents to use methods other than the phone hotline. “I think members of the call centre got used to trying to encourage people to use online facilities. But we had a word with the staff there so they should be saying it is OK to use the phone line.
“The key issue is just to get it reported.”
Having the fly tipping hotline and the council’s campaign to get residents to log dumped rubbish has seen the number of incidents reported soaring in the last two years, from 15,113 in 2013-2014, the last year of the previous Conservative administration, to 18,560 during 2014-2015 under Labour, to 24,416 in 2015-2016.
From April to June this year, 6,602 fly tips were reported.
Croydon Tories have tried to misuse these figures to suggest that the council’s contractors are not clearing up the mess caused by those who behave anti-socially and criminal rubbish dumpers. Some within the Labour leadership have been suggesting by dropping the hotline, and therefore making it more difficult for the public to report dumped rubbish, they might also make the nasty smelling political problem go away, too.
The Conservatives – who when they were running the council reduced the frequency of bin collections around the borough from once a week to fortnightly to cut spending – have now been calling for more public expenditure, for more staff to patrol the streets and more clean-up crews in operation, to deal with what they call a “fly tipping epidemic”.
Collins maintains that most fly tips are now cleared within 48 hours of being reported.
“It is not the council putting the rubbish there, it is the residents,” Collins said.
The council’s latest publicity on the subject states, “We can only catch them if you help us.”
Collins highlights the lack of enforcement action against fly-tippers during the previous Tory administration, and he said, “These people that are doing it know it is wrong and we will catch them.
“The key message is that under our council, we try and do something about it. Right across the country, councils are facing this battle.”
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