The city council has had just over 200 weeks since it was elected. In all that time it has failed to do anything to improve the performance of Serco’s refuse collection “service”.
So it is something of a surprise to find that with just eight weeks of its tenure left, the ruling Tory group has decided to finally act. Or, more accurately, has said that it has decided to act. Which may not be quite the same thing.
But let us set aside for now the thought that this might be no more than pre-election window-dressing.
What is really striking about the announcement – first revealed in the Journal last week – that the council is considering bringing the refuse service back “in-house” as a directly delivered service is the utter hypocrisy involved.
The Tories, you may recall from their many statements over the last 40 years, are the party of small government.
They are the party which, despite all the proof of the negative impact on costs and service quality, has relentlessly pushed outsourcing and contracting as the solution to providing public services.
They are the party which has brought us the 2012 fisaco over Olympic security through G4S, which had to be replaced by the Army; that allowed Carillion to go bust and is nervously propping up Interserve; that has outsourced prison management, railways and many health services to companies with no prior experience of any of those activities.
Now, suddenly, they want to set up a refuse collection service for the Canterbury district. To which my response is: good. But why now? And, indeed, why?
Have they suddenly abandoned their closely held belief in the magic powers of the private sector?
Almost certainly not. Because it doesn’t take much understanding of the way things work to see this decision as utterly reactive and defensive.
It isn’t taken from a position of a thought out new strategy on service procurement and provision, and it isn’t part of a coherent review of how things get done.
It’s a decision in isolation, a purely skin-saving arbitrary act to try to stem criticism of one of the two biggest failures of this council over the past four years. The other, of course, is its failure to build any social housing.
What do these two failures have in common? Both have been the subject of announcements in the dog days of this Tory administration that they have suddenly come up with plans to do something. Just not quite yet, so please re-elect us and we’ll get around to doing the things we should have done three years ago but have only just decided on. Honest, we will.
That is not the only irritating aspect, although it is a serious one. Because the other thing this shameless council is doing is stealing these ideas from its critics. Of course, if you want to steal my ideas (I first discussed replacing Serco in the Journal in May last year), I have, as readers will know, plenty of others.
The reality is that binning Serco just so happens to be a direct lift from Labour’s manifesto for the city council, coincidentally also issued last week.
But if you want to steal the Labour Party’s ideas, then there are plenty more things that could be done to radically improve life across the district.
Dave Wilson is a community activist who has worked in and around local authorities for 35 years and is a Labour Party councillor in Barton Ward. He is a trustee of Kent Savers Credit Union.