How long does it take Greenwich Council to shift some wheelie bins that are dumped in the road when you e-mail its “contact centre”? Answer: it doesn’t.
How long does it take Greenwich Council to shift some wheelie bins that are dumped in the road when you’ve e-mailed a senior council executive and your local councillors? Answer: Less than 24 hours.
Let me take you back, way back, to the end of January, and I noticed, just outside my flat, some wheelie bins just dumped in the road. That’s funny, I thought – maybe the owners will claim theme back. Or maybe the binmen will pick them up. Except they didn’t. And then, the following week, came The Snow. So I let that come and go. So, after a couple of weeks of seeing these abandoned bins every time I opened my front door, I dropped the council a line; telling them this and grumbling about neighbours leaving rubbish and their entire complement of wheelie bins out elsewhere in my road; after all, they were council tenants, and I hoped the council might nudge them into line. Well, you can hope. I used the marvellous Fix My Street to file the report – hopefully as a further incentive to get the council moving. Classic green ink stuff, I know, but it was getting on my wick having to walk past their crap every bloody day. So, one simple request – please shift some dumped bins, and one slightly more fiddly one. Which would the council attempt first?
So, on 9 February, as the last clumps of snow melted away, I filed the original complaint. On 12 February, I finally got a reply from Council Person A saying it’d been reported. Nothing happened. Weirdly, on 17 February, an anonymous message was posted on FixMyStreet straight out of the remedial class: “Quite obviously, the above was posted by a Greenwich Council ‘pen pusher’ with nothing better to do, but waste taxpayers money. Instead of wasting time like this, why did they not speak to their own department that deals with this?” Heaven knows where that came from – your guess is as good as mine.
On 24 February, I sent a follow-up e-mail. Two days later, a reply came from Council Person A: “This matter has been reported for you and our waste department has sent letters to the residents.” Right. But there were still the original bins outside my flat, blocking the pavement. In fact, one more had appeared. I now had three. I let them know.
This time, it took until 3 March for Council Person B to respond. By which time, my street had seen that rare thing – the business end of a broom, for the first time in about six weeks. “Can you please advise of the following information – are these bins still here? what bins are they? and what addresses are they being left outside of?” I’d told them three weeks ago, but I told them again. It took two more days to get an acknowledgement from a new figure, Council Person C – “letters have been sent out by the Waste Department to the residents concerned”. Errr…. wrong complaint. I replied: “With regard to the bins outside [my house], wouldn’t be easier for someone to collect the bins and take them back to the depot?” Council person D replied to that on 7 March, but again, ignoring the fact I had bins dumped outside my house.
By 11 March, as spring flowers bloomed, enough was enough. From past dealings with the council, I knew the name of the head man in charge, neighbourhood services director Jim Wintour. I also included my local councillors, and re-submitted my complaint asking just how long it took the the council to move its arse on a bloody simple complaint like “please shift these dumped bins”.
Within five minutes, I was cc’d on an e-mail from Mr Wintour.
Was this code? I had a picture of Jim at the front of the Starship Unenterprising, weaving wildly around bits of space junk and spluttering smoke into the galaxy, directing his lieutenants to another mess his explorers had left behind somewhere in the universe. His directions even beat the automated response from the council’s contact centre.
And guess what? Within 24 hours, it was fixed. The moral of the story? If it really matters, the council won’t leap into action until you tell its bosses (and its councillors, forever having to clean up the messes caused by their tired administration). Sad state of affairs, isn’t it?
(UPDATE – 17 March: An e-mail pops into my holiday inbox from Celia Johnson of Greenwich Council, claiming I hadn’t told them about the abandoned wheelie bins first time around. This could go on until Christmas, couldn’t it?)