Communication Breakdown?

The recent grassroots campaign erupting over tarmacking of some of the seafront pavement – “Civic Butchery”, according to one observer – has been a great success in getting East Sussex Council to agree the restoration of the paving slabs. But it has got me thinking about the relationship between the local council, the county council and the community and why social media is so full of criticisms of how the borough and county council appear to ignore the wishes of the local community (and when approached for comment, seem to hide behind vacuous words). 

So what exactly does this latest success indicate? Perhaps there’s a policy to ignore local input and only do something when outrage reaches fever pitch. On the other hand, perhaps just talking to a real person at the council can help. This latter view was given some credence when recently discussing the state of our drains with a friend – prompted by the flooding of her nephew’s house in Kent three years ago “partly due to the drains not being cleared by the council for 20 years.”  

Work to be reversed

She started inspecting drains where she lived back in 2019. Over time, more blocked drains were revealed, but she found it was only possible to report one drain at a time on the council website making it feel an unnecessarily time-consuming task. It got to such a point that she phoned to report all the drains in the street early this year and managed to get through to a real person on the phone – who immediately dispatched a drain-clearing lorry to sort out the problem.

There’s a similar situation with potholes (covered extensively in HIP and elsewhere). There’s a system to report them and as quoted in HIP, 2nd June 2020, East Sussex Highways (ESH), the agency responsible for upkeep of the county’s roads said they “have been pulling out all the stops to keep the county’s roads in tip-top condition during the coronavirus lockdown.”

But reports on the ground suggest they are simply getting worse and worse. So bad that the SindySnap Facebook page spends considerable space
poking fun at the state of the roads and even has a 2022 calendar for sale with highlights.

Gardener, Denis Yeo
CREDIT: Nick Price

Then there’s the story in HIP 179: Denis – Our Favourite Gardener who was so successful in maintaining St Leonards Gardens that there was outrage when he was moved without warning to another post by the contractors, idverde. Although idverde backtracked, he decided to retire – with a big send-off on his final day last Friday. 

There are endless stories: inexplicable planning decisions, actions that contradict policies such as the use of glyphosate despite warm words on biodiversity. The list goes on. The common thread in these stories seems to be either an outsourcing of work to contractors or the outsourcing of responsibility for communication to websites. So rather than there actually being a policy to ignore local input, perhaps there is simply an ever-widening communication gap between councils and the people they represent, only bridged with great persistence. 

Denis with wellwishers
CREDIT: Nick Price

Maybe the money that is known to be wasted on failed outsourcing contracts would be better spent employing more council staff to oversee in-house operations that work for long-term civic regeneration rather than short-term disintegration.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.