Neighbour Stuart Cottis reports yet more street sweeping problems in Rufford Street. Fly tipping around the bins, a need for street sweeping after a car break in and missed recycling collections (archive photo). It was problems in Rufford Street that got me into commmunity action about eight years ago – particularly fly tipping. Rufford Street has suffered from being on the fringes of Islington – geographically and where services are concerned metaphorically. Stuart has reported the recent problems to Contact Islington. Rufford Street has improved vastly over the years (I still own a flat there) due to a variety of factors: one of which has been residents like Stuart and our neighbours persistently reporting problems to the Council often via Contact Islington.
Basic vigilance and activism to hold service providers to account are fundamental to an a decent neighbourhood. As we enter an era of public service austerity/cuts it's even more important that we all speak up for our neighbourhood to make sure we continue to get the services we need. Contact Islington despite its occasional faults makes it easier to report stuff and for the council to track what happens to the issues we phone in. But as with any contact centre operation you can sometimes feel that your request has disappeared into a black hole.
A little transparency wouldn't hurt – both of what happens in Contact Islington and then of the performance of service providers. Street cleaning, repairing and maintenance are nearly all services delivered through outsourced contracts. The council buys services from large companies. The contracts with these companies will have performance measures in them. So i am delighted that Contact Islington has begun to release basic performance data about what happens to our phone calls and emails.
Admittedly i had to use FOI to get this information and it may not be readily digestible, but it's a start and i am grateful to officers for releasing it – we now have some monthly reports on street environment issues (tipping, waste, broken lamp posts etc), trees and road and pavement repairs (links are to small spreadsheets to download). I shall plough through these spreadsheets in the coming weeks to pull together as much as i can a coherent picture of trends etc – if anyone out there who is good with spreadsheets would like to help with that please drop me a line.
There's a lot more that can be done here – consistent release of what the targets are for resolution of issues (some sheets have them some don't), transparency on how these feed back into the contracts for service delivery (commercial confidentiality here would easily be over-ridden by the public interest) etc but it's a start. It should easily be possible to connect in one simple view say a broken street light report, the time it takes to get it fixed, whether this is on target or not internally, where any slippage occurred, what company is responsible for street light maintenance and how much their contract is worth. This should then aggregate into a report at year end on how well that company is doing and how they are paid or not under performance clauses in their contract – after all it's public money.
It's a bit tiresome to have to go through an FOI route to get this information – I wonder if the new administration can help save time and get all this information out into the public domain warts and all.