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Failing councils are creating gravy trains for consultants

Keith Parkins | 19.12.2006 18:12 | Analysis | Repression | Social Struggles

Failing councils, lack of accountability, democratic deficits, are creating a gravy train for consultants, whilst at the same time reinforcing the lack of accountability, the democratic deficit.

Why do we employ an army of useless council officials, then, when any decisions are required, employ an army of consultants? Would it not be simpler, cheaper and more cost effective to simply engage with local communities?

The Rotten Borough of Rushmoor serves to highlight the problem, but virtually any local council would do.

Two of the most recent reports presented to cabinet in the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor are on rubbish and recycling and Farnborough town centre. Interestingly, neither reports tell us how much it cost to produce the reports, how much it cost to employ the consultants, what tendering process took place, on what basis were the consultants engaged, ie what is their expertise, what is their remit.

Farnborough town centre – Keith Holland

What masquerades as visionary thinking by Rushmoor Head of Planning Holland, is in essence a regurgitation of planning applications either in the pipeline or already approved. Absolutely nothing on how to regenerate a town centre that has been killed stone-dead by a council acting in collusion with property developers.

Too little, too late. Much already has planning consent, and what is in the pipeline appears to have been predetermined by this report.

We are told Farnborough station is a hub. No, it is a railway station. If was also an integrated bus station, for buses to take advantage of the bus lanes, there may be some ground to call it a hub.

We are told Farnborough can take advantage of its 'aviation heritage'. Does this mean the return of powered kites? Or are we referring to a once world-class aviation research facility, which was wound down and destroyed long ago? Or has no-one noticed global warming and climate change, that aviation has no long-term future?

And who is the driving force behind these plans? Earlier in the year a group was formed of three businesses to decide the future of the town centre: KPI/St Modwen, Slough Estates, TAG Aviation. All three outside business interests, the local community excluded. KPI has shown its commitment by destroying Farnborough town centre, driving many retailers out of town if not out of business. TAG Aviation shows its concern by wishing to double the number weekend flights, increasing the misery of local residents. Slough Estates has hived off part of its business park for a massive housing estate.

The consultants employed have set up a website. It is noticeable for its lack of information. Even the report from Holland, which is mainly waffle, contains more information.

Once these plans have been approved by cabinet, the public will be allowed their say. In other words was is farcically called 'consultation', when minds have already been made up.

We should have gone through this exercise at least five years ago. Before KPI were granted planning consent to destroy the town.

There should have been widespread consultation with local people and local retailers, a few alternatives drawn up, then back to the public for consultation.

Within this framework, the planning application from KPI determined. If they did not provide what the local community wants, the plans rejected.

Instead, we have seen our town centre trashed, many retailers forced out of business, residents of Firgrove Court to be kicked out of their homes.

We have been subjected to unedifying public spectacle of a Lib Dem councillor wringing his hands, shedding crocodile tears and complaining he cannot understand how the town centre has got into this state. Could it be because he sat on the planning committee and helped push through the plans?

A Lib Dem councillor who was one of three councillors found guilty by the Standards Board for England for having a prejudicial interest. All three councillors let off, even though the Standards Board found that they had improperly sought to influence a planning decision. Found guilty of a serious offence, then lot off under the pathetic excuse of having received bad advice from the Borough Solicitor.

Anyone with half a brain can see why Farnborough town centre is in the state it is, because councillors allowed themselves to be bounced into a decision which is bad for the town.

All for what? An unwanted superstore, that will face out of the town. A store which will kill off the remaining town centre retail. An unwanted superstore in an area saturated with superstores.

The only time proper scrutiny has taken place was January 2006 before a Public Inquiry into road enclosures, and then, due to the narrow remit of the inquiry, only into road closures, rather than the overall plans.

One would have expected the council to have acted on behalf of the local community. Instead, the leader and chief executive have for a number of years been in secret talks with the developers, to then act as spokesmen for the developers, vilifying anyone who dares to oppose what is being done.

Were there a genuine attempt to regenerate Farnborough town centre, and the same equally applies to Aldershot, the New Economics Foundation would have been engaged to help draw up a strategy.

The New Economics Foundation has done much work on town centre regeneration. But the way they work is with local communities, an absolutely no-no in the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor.

Recycling – David Quirk

A careful scrutiny of this report by Rushmoor Head of Environment David Quirk shows it has little to do with recycling, everything to do with cutting services and the propaganda to force these cuts through.

The volume of waste collected is to be cut. Nothing may be left outside of the bins.

Repeated violation by householders is to be met with unspecified Draconian action.

What this action is to be is left unsaid, but we only have to look around the country: 100 people a day being fined, on-the-spot fines, chips in bins, bin men rifling through bins, CCTV at refuse centres.

Contrary to the lies from portfolio holder Roland Dibbs at the last council meeting, there are problems elsewhere. In Alton there are problems with smells, maggots, flies, rubbish being burnt in back gardens.

Southampton was forced to go back to weekly collection. Basingstoke has been forced to think again.

The main emphasis of the recent report to cabinet on refuse collection was on the introduction of a fortnightly refuse collection, how to persuade the public to accept a highly unpopular cut in service, how to counter opposition. Part of the strategy was spokesmen to put across the message of a reduced service, to play down the problems, give the impression there was no alternatives.

Two of the councillors who took part in the working group that helped draw up the strategy were Roland Dibbs and John Wall. This explains why these two councillors have been very vocal in the local press in the last few weeks in promoting a cut in services.

Consultation takes place before a policy is introduced, not after.

It does not a six month trial to determine whether or not people want a cut in their refuse service. A cut which will cost £19,000 in the first year, £16,000 per annum in following years.

People have said loud and clear, they do not want this cut in service. Are Dibbs and Quirk not listening?

I wrote to Quirk opposing this crass policy. In reply, I got an arrogant response saying he was not prepared to enter into a dialogue.

Key people are to be engaged in the community to promote fortnightly refuse collection and promote its benefits.

Does this not smack of the old Communist Soviet Union, lackeys in the community to do the state's dirty work, spy on dissidents, punish those who do not display the common mindset?

Part of the strategy was to introduce smaller wheelie bins, but as this involved a capital cost it was decided instead to reduce the frequency of collection, which has the same impact.

How is the householder to immediately halve their waste (assuming their bins are currently full or near full)?

The problem lies not with the householder, but elsewhere in the chain.

Asda: half a dozen kiwi fruit shrink-wrapped on a plastic base.

M&S: four slices of ham shrink-wrapped on a plastic base.

Asda: mince pies on a plastic base, plastic lid, shrink-wrapped in a cardboard box.

The report is not about recycling.

Quirk is trying to increase the amount of garden waste householders put out to artificially inflate recycling figures.

Garden waste should be composted in-situ in the garden. We should should be encouraging householders to compost in their garden.

Paper can be added to the compost heap, and improves the quality of the compost. Better still, use shredded paper, even better if it has been used as animal bedding.

Hampshire is one of the waste disposal authorities that cannot handle shredded paper.

Quirk claims to have carried out public consultation. No, questions were asked, courtesy of consultants, of a carefully selected group of people. The methodology was clearly flawed as the results bear no resemblance to the widespread public opposition to fortnightly refuse collection. More public money wasted.

Quirk has then misrepresented and added his own spin to his already flawed survey.

Quirk cannot be credited with any original thinking as he is simply regurgitating and passing off as his own, policies from WRAP, a government quango established by Defra. But at least it cannot be stated Quirk has no commitment to recycling!

Government advice is to introduce fortnightly collection in the winter, in the hope that by the time summer arrives and the problems become widespread, the opposition will have died down.

'A common concern raised by residents is that alternate weekly collections will lead to bad smells and problems with vermin linked to refuse and/or food waste being stored for a longer period of time. It is advisable to roll out the scheme in autumn, winter or early spring such that by the time warmer weather arrives, residents are used to the scheme and initial resistance has faded.'

Anyone who has lingering doubts that this is an exercise in cutting services, only has to heed the warning from the Audit Commission, that told councils to go to a fortnightly collection service as part of an exercise in cutting costs and services.

The Commission has told councils that they should "explore the potential for reducing costs, such as alternate weekly collections." Failure to cut services, the Commission has warned, will mean reduced quality ratings for councils which in turn mean less money from Government and more interference by Whitehall.

I am not saying we should not recycle. Far from it. The record on recycling in the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor is abysmal, as is the target for 2010.

We should be cutting the amount of waste we generate, increasing the amount we recycle.

Recycling by the public means putting the appropriate waste in the appropriate bin. It has nothing to do with how often the waste is collected. It means education, cooperation, providing help and support.

The public are willing to do their bit. But it has to be a whole-system approach. The public are only part of the solution.

You do not get the support and help of the community if you reduce the service of the community, go out of your way to alienate and antagonise the community.

We all agree on the need to cut waste, increase the amount of waste recycled. You meet these laudable aims by adopting a whole-system approach, by targeting supermarkets who generate waste. You meet these aims by all working together, government, local government, industry, retailers and householders. We need the elimination of junk mail, reduction in excess packaging, products that last, that can be broken down into their component parts at the end of their life and reused, manufacturing using non-toxic process within closed loops. We need a Zero Waste Strategy. You do not meet these aims by targeting and punishing householders, on whose help and support we depend.

All Dibbs and Quirk are succeeding in doing is antagonising and alienating householders.

This crass policy has to be stopped, ideally before it is introduced.

Quirk should be fired and Dibbs kicked out.

Other reports

This is to only look at two reports, but similar comments could be made on other reports to Council, reports that no one scrutinises, no one questions.

Recent reports by Rushmoor Head of Housing Alison Whiteley, head of another failing Rushmoor department, highlights the problems.

Three recent reports by Whiteley: sale of a Pavilion house, serving a CPO on a householder to seize his home, merger of First Wessex with Portsmouth Housing Association.

No one questioned why a Pavilion house at 16 Redan Road in Aldershot has been allowed to fall into dereliction over a period of three years. But it does serve to reinforce what the damning Audit Commission report had to say of Pavilion on the number of properties empty, the length of time they were empty, the appalling condition of the empty properties, and that Pavilion had no clear idea on either the number of empty properties or for how long they had been lying empty.

Currently, one in five of Pavilion homes fail to meet the Decent Home Standard.

At Firgrove Court, adjacent to Farnborough town centre and earmarked for demolition for a car park for a superstore, there are a large number of properties lying empty. Whiteley knows this, but turns a blind eye. Not only turns a blind eye, but condones and supports that Pavilion has deliberately trashed empty properties, ripping out kitchens, bathrooms and boilers.

The remaining properties at Firgrove Court are in an appalling state of repair, but again no action by Whiteley.

To these empty properties must be added the 40-50 empty properties above the shops in Farnborough town centre. Again Whiteley turns a convenient blind eye.

Questioned on the empty property in 2004, Whiteley at first claimed there was no empty property. When pressed, she admitted half a dozen, then a number running into double figures, but paraded the pathetic excuse it would be too costly to the public purse and the area was scheduled for demolition and regeneration.

The empty properties are owned by property developer KPI (a Kuwaiti-financed St Modwen front company), thus no cost to the local taxpayer, at the time Whiteley came out with her pathetic excuses, KPI lacked planning consent, thus Whiteley prejudiced the planning application.

If the unwanted superstore is ever built, it will have several floors above of flats. This development will not meet the council's own policy on the percentage of affordable housing. No objection was raised by Whiteley.

In the report to cabinet on a merger between First Wessex and Portsmouth, it was claimed relations with tenants have improved, repairs are being carried out. This is not the experience of tenants, or of anyone who has had to act on their behalf. There was a brief honeymoon period of a few months when things did improve, it is now as bad as it was.

A CPO is to be served on a property in Chingford Avenue in Farnborough. This belongs to a Farnborough resident who is renovating the property as a retirement home. The resident is in poor-ish health and wishes to retire to a bungalow. None of this information was communicated to cabinet in the report by Whiteley, no consideration was taken of his Human Rights (which is in itself a clear breach of the Human Rights Act). No-one on cabinet questioned what was happening, they simply rubber-stamped what was put before them, indeed, a press release was drawn up ten days be fore cabinet met showing it was all a foregone conclusion.

The Council is now facing an expensive legal challenge over this CPO. Another CPO that was served in 2005, is also being challenged in the High Court.

These failings of Whiteley are only the tip of the iceberg. She should have been fired years ago with root and branch reform of her housing department.


What we have is systemic failings in this council. Partially because we employ useless staff lacking in competence or integrity, but mainly with one or two honourable exceptions, we have useless councillors who are failing the public, failing to get out and about and talk with local people, failing to properly scrutinise what is put before them, failing to discharge their oversight responsibilities.

The Rotten Borough of Rushmoor has not been especially singled out. The problems with local authorities and their failings is endemic across the British Isles. One only has to read the Rotten Borough column in Private Eye.

To see local democracy in action one has to go beyond these shores and look to Latin America, in particular Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, places like Porto Alegre, Curitiba or the autonomous region of Chiapas in Mexico.

Local government has to either work directly with the people, or as we see in Chiapas, they do without it altogether, where the agents of the state are viewed as corrupt.

Representative democracy at local level, especially that of childish party politics, has failed to deliver. What we need is participatory democracy, where all decisions are taken by local communities directly, and the only role of local government, if it is to have a role at all, is to deliver what the people want.



Big business brains plot bright new future, Farnborough Mail, 24 October 2006

Chris Bentley, Delay to new town centre is slammed, Farnborough News, 22 September 2006

Chris Bentley, Anguish as town centre talks stall, Farnborough Mail, 24 October 2006

Lester R Brown, Plan B 2.0, Norton, 2006

James Chapman, £110 fine if you put bin bags out early, Daily Mail, 31 July 2006

Consultants to create new masterplan, Farnborough Mail, 6 June 2006

Council backs plan for another Pavilion merger, Farnborough Mail, 12 September 2006

Councils to 'snoop' through rubbish to discover who recycling offenders are, Daily Mail, 27 November 2006

Martin Delgado, Dawn of the Super Rat... and blame the end of weekly rubbish collections, Daily Mail, 16 September 2006

Steve Doughty, Homeowners face a tax on their bins, Daily Mail, 5 October 2006

Steve Doughty, Councils move to fortnightly bin collection by stealth, Daily Mail, 6 October 2006

Steve Doughty, 100 households a day fined by bin police, Daily Mail, 10 November 2006

Steve Doughty, Now councils install spy cameras at rubbish tips, Daily Mail, 26 November 2006

Jason Lewis, Now there are spy cameras at rubbish tips: CCTV system will record your car's number plate and what you are throwing out, Mail on Sunday, 26th November 2006

Andrew Milford, Public to get say on new town centre?, Farnborough Mail, 28 November 2006

Homes to stay empty until town centre redevelopment, Farnborough Mail, 5 December 2006

Keith Parkins, Natural Capitalism, October 2000

Keith Parkins, A sense of the masses - a manifesto for the new revolution, October 2003

Keith Parkins, Audit Commission savage Pavilion Housing Association, Indymedia UK, 27 July 2004

Keith Parkins, Rushmoor councillors guilty!, Indymedia UK, 8 November 2005

Keith Parkins, Tragedy of Firgrove Court, Indymedia UK, 30 January 2006

Keith Parkins, Public Inquiry into road closures in Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 30 January 2006

Keith Parkins, Curitiba – Designing a sustainable city, April 2006

Keith Parkins, Big business to decide future of town centre, Indymedia UK, 30 October 2006

Keith Parkins, Alternate Bin Collections, Indymedia UK, 13 November 2006

Keith Parkins, It's just rubbish, letters, Surrey-Hants Star, 16 November 2006

Keith Parkins, Rushmoor fortnightly bin collection, Indymedia UK, 17 November 2006

Keith Parkins, Shredded paper not recyclable, Indymedia UK, 21 November 2006

Keith Parkins, Empty property in Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 27 November 2006

Keith Parkins, The Truth in Rushmoor, Indymedia UK, 30 November 2006

Keith Parkins, Fortnightly collection of bins has nothing to do with recycling, letters, Farnborough News, 1 December 2006

Keith Parkins, A load of rubbish, Indymedia UK, 12 December 2006

Keith Parkins, Dodgy land deals in Farnborough town centre?, Indymedia UK, 18 December 2006

Keith Parkins, Council attempts to seize retirement home, Indymedia UK, 18 December 2006

Jen Rivett, One in five homes fail to meet standards, Farnborough News, 30 June 2006

Shops deal 'is no big deal', Surrey-Hants Star, 23 November 2006

Keith Parkins
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