Most of us are familiar with Network Rails "wrong kind of leaves" excuse to explain "leaves on the line" type delays to rail services. But where Network Rail lead, Northampton Borough Council are sure to follow with increased gusto and even greater hilarity and exposure to public ridicule.
Let me explain all:
A Northampton housing tenant informed me this week that the great mass of leaves outside his block of flats had got so out of control that they were now not only a danger to elderly residents who couldn't use the footpath without risk of slipping but also that the piles of leaves were attracting vermin looking for suitable nesting sites. Its not as if the leaves have suddenly accumulated, most of them have been there since the Autumn! So as a responsible citizen he contacted his landlord "The Council" to ask for them to be removed. He got a very speedy reply, in fact he got two.
The first came from a Customer Relationship Coordinator in the Neighbourhood Environmental Services directorate which informed him that:
"Leaf clearance is conducted by this department up to the edge of the Cartilage (sic) of the property but not encroaching onto pathways or garden spaces. This remains the responsibility of our Housing Department to maintain"
The second response came from a Housing Services Team Leader in the Housing Department who told him:
"I can confirm that Northampton Borough Council does not provide a programmed leaf removal service to any land owned and managed by the Housing Services Directorate"
It then went on to say inevitably that "in light of financial pressures" there are no plans in the future to change this.
So despite the tenants paying a service charge within their rent for "cleaning and maintenance" of communal areas, and despite the Housing Department being responsible for the up keep of their own communal gardens, picking the leaves up to stop people slipping on wet paths, or to stop rodents nesting within them is not it seems within their remit?
I raised this case on behalf of the tenant at this weeks Council Budget meeting and the Portfolio Holder for Housing Cllr Sally Beardsworth informed all present that the tenant should "Do what I have to do at home, and pick the leaves up for themselves" An extraordinary response given that the tenants already pay the council to pick them up for them? I wonder if Cllr Beardsworth would feel any different if she had a paid gardener, who told her that leaf picking wasn't in the contract? And are the tenants in the blocks of flats supposed to take it in turns at being the Floating Leaf Wardens?
It was a callous and unforgivable response from the portfolio holder, and a pointer perhaps to the levels of service our housing tenants can expect to get for their money in the future? Perhaps if the Council now admit to not being able to afford to provide a simple service like this, then the Council will consider repaying to the tenants all the money they have taken off of them in the first place to do so?
So it seems that these leaves will remain outside this block of flats and indeed others, because their in the wrong place for the contract. You see we now have "Highway Leaves" "Housing Leaves" and I guess within our parks even "Leisure Leaves" and whether or not they are picked up and taken away to prevent a fall or remove the risk of rat infestation is dependent purely on which way the wind blows.
Meanwhile in the Council's budget we noted a bid for £25,000 of new money to deal with "rat infestation of housing communal areas" which will have to be paid to an outside contractor after the Council closed down its Pest Control service last year as a budget saving.
So we cant afford a council rat catcher? we cant afford to pick up leaves outside our housing schemes, and we can't even afford to bring in an outside rat catcher to remove the rats from the uncleared leaves which shouldn't be there in the first place without making a bid for new money in the budget?
What a sorry state the Liberal DemocRATS on Northampton Borough Council have now got us all in.
Perhaps they should take a leaf out of Homer's book (from the Iliad than than the Simpson's) when he said "A generation of men is like a generation of leaves: the wind scatters some leaves upon the ground, whilst others the burgeoning wood brings forth _ and the season of Spring comes on. So of men one generation springs forth and another ceases"
So role on Spring 2011, I think a new generation of men and women springing forth at the Guildhall is desperately needed!
Meanwhile will the last one to" leaf" the Guildhall please switch out the lights?
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