If you haven’t heard of purdah, it’s a period in the run-up to an election when public organisations like the NHS and the council are prevented from making any sort of announcements that could be considered to influence the vote.
Purdah normally beings around six weeks before an election, and it’s almost inevitable that politicians seeking re-election will attempt to rush out some eye-catching announcements in the days before the deadline.
This year is no different. Days after the Canterbury Labour Party released a bunch of flyers saying they would ‘Bin Serco’ and bring rubbish collection under control of the council, Tory leader Simon Cook and his crew announced that they would be doing exactly that.
Hooray! Labour has wasted a load of money on flyers, and plucky Simon has pulled the rug from under their feet.
Except it doesn’t really work like that. Firstly, it’s plainly electioneering.
Secondly, you may have heard how much trouble Tory Transport Minister Chris Grayling found himself in when he awarded a multi-million-pound ferry contract to Seaborn Freight when they didn’t have any ferries or experience of running a ferry company.
Whoops! Canterbury council doesn’t have any bin lorries. Maybe they can buy some old ones off Serco, but they don’t have anyone to fix them if they break down. They could hire some mechanics too, but now you have a council pen-pusher running an auto-repair shop when his or her entire experience of vehicle mechanics comes from accidentally topping up the power steering fluid with screen wash. What could possibly go wrong?
Let’s get this straight. In principle I’m not against the council running services in-house. The problem is that local authorities don’t have a great track record when they’re out of their comfort zone. Or indeed within their comfort zone quite a lot of the time.
The most egregious error a local authority can make is to allow ideology and politics to override good business sense.
Labour wants the council to take bin collections in-house because members believe in nationalisation and taking public contracts out of the hands of private companies wherever possible.
The Tories are on the defensive and without any substantial policy ideas of their own are resorting to nicking Labour’s.
The correct way to approach the bin collection issue would be to fully investigate the true costs of bring the service in-house (with all the inherent risks that entails) and then allow private companies to bid against it.
The winning proposal should be the one who can guarantee the most reliable service at the best cost, regardless of who’s behind it.
Then maybe everyone can stop getting angry and playing politics with important decisions that affect our daily lives.