Some of the unsung heroes in the aftermath of the riots of earlier this week were the street cleansing crews who returned city centres to some semblance of normality with maximum efficiency and the minimum of fuss. Whilst senior political figures were quick to praise the public response with brooms and bin bags and cite it as an example of the ‘Big Society’, in reality many were turned away as local authority crews had been out from 5.30am and dealt with much of the clean up by the time the public actually arrived. It’s an example of a public service that goes largely unnoticed until high profile occurrences put it centre stage and yet there would be an outcry if our main streets were left in a mess when the rest of us got up to go to work.
All this as well at a time when Government cuts are having the impact of slashing the budgets of these services. A recent APSE survey of 102 street cleansing managers found that 77% expect their budgets to change this year, with 92% expecting this to be a significant decrease. 64% expect to have recruitment freezes, 53% voluntary redundancies, 34% compulsories and 52% expect a greater community sector involvement.
Personally, I think the public spirit demonstrated this week, whilst laudable, was a one off. I don’t really see that many of us wishing to contribute to the ‘Big Society’ by getting up at 5.30am to cleanse the streets and ensure that they are in pristine condition, on a voluntary basis.
Every now and again a one off event occurs that brings in to focus the immense value of frontline public services which we normally take for granted. It’s a pity that it took something so serious this week to demonstrate the high quality services most people take for granted.