Plugged In – The Big Green Society

Author: Alex Thomson, Localis (in the MJ)   |  

Waste management and street cleaning are not the most glamorous of political issues.

But, as every councillor knows, that doesn’t stop them carrying serious political weight since, for many local residents and businesses, they are the most visible council-provided service they receive.

But, in a new era of local government austerity, could it be time to look at new models of delivering these services?

Attitudes towards waste are intriguing. Residents are up in arms if the council fails to collect their bins, but at recent royal wedding street parties, for instance, rubbish generated was largely cleared up by party-goers ? because they thought it was their responsibility to do so.

Perhaps if the latter approach could be harnessed a little more widely, we could see some aspects of streetscape management being devolved beyond local government, with volunteers and local businesses becoming part of a ‘Big Green Society’.

But, if local stakeholders are to play a role in the cleaning and maintenance of their local urban and green spaces, changing the predominant mindset ? I’ve paid my council tax/business rates, it’s nothing to do with me ? will be crucial.

One potential answer is to ‘nudge’ communities into taking pride in their local environment. If this approach is successful, the applications could be wide-ranging.

For instance, Bromley LBC has already achieved results through its ‘Street friends’ and ‘Friends of parks’ initiatives ? encouraging local volunteers to muck in and help keep Bromley tidy.

Finding a way to get businesses on board is also important. In parts of the US, companies are made responsible for keeping the pavement outside their buildings clean, and those that fail to do so are fined.

There are already businesses, albeit a minority, which do their bit for streetscape maintenance in the UK ? regularly cleaning the pavement outside their premises, for instance, and without the need for financial carrots or sticks. The challenge is how to galvanise this attitude and extend it across all areas of the local community.

We at Localis, in partnership with Westminster City Council, will be working over the coming months on a report that will address the issues raised above, and a number of related ones ? Is there a role for social enterprise in this agenda? Can payment by results models help deliver behavioural change? ? in answering the question, Does the Big Society start at the doorstep?

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