I suppose one of the other reasons for my dearth of council-related posts is that it's been pretty rare so far for me to come away from a council meeting angry. No doubt that's one of the advantages of being a member of the ruling coalition, but either way it is the way of things thus far. I was particularly surprised, therefore, to find myself angry on my return home from two consecutive council meetings today. But then, in both of those meetings senior councillors attacked a service that the Liberal Democrats saved in the face of craven political incompetence, in some cases by their own parties.
The tale of 101 starts with Labour's 2005 Manifesto;
“Not all problems need a 999 response, so a single phone number staffed by police, local councils and other local services will be available across the country to deal with anti-social behaviour and other non-emergency problems”
And lo it came to pass that a year later there was a trial...
And a year later, they found that the trial was such a phenomenal success that they abandoned it...
You'd think the whole thing was being run by the Home Office under a Labour secretary of state...
As is often our wont, the Liberal Democrats jumped to the defence of an important local service and did a sterling job of retaining the existing trials (of the five trial areas, it's not exactly a coincidence that the three to retain were Cardiff, Sheffield and Hampshire...) In the Assembly, Mike German jumped into the fray, eliciting this Scunner Broon award nominee from Rhodri Morgan;
“It would set an undesirable precedent if, every time the UK Government could not afford to continue a scheme through its departmental budget, the automatic assumption was that it would be funded by the Assembly instead. You can imagine that it would start to withdraw from a range of schemes in the hope that the Assembly, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive would start picking those up instead”
Nevertheless 101 did survive in Cardiff, a result I can but hope was assisted by the Facebook campaign run by yours truly. And yet, plenty of councillors are unhappy, although today was the first time I'd heard such criticism in such vituperative form or in a public meeting.
The primary problem, however, is a simple case of unrealistic expectations. 101 is only a phone number; it does a fantastic job of ensuring that non-emergency issues are reported to the right authority more easily and more rapidly. Its mere existence does not cause those issues to suddenly become emergencies, however; it just means that they are dealt with in good time as opposed to not being dealt with at all.
Those councillors who have a problem with 101 should remember that that in itself is a massive step forward; perhaps the most remarkable result of the 101 trial was that referrals to the noise nuisance team went up by 500%. One of my commonest refrains as a councillor is that, while the system may be a bit slow and creaky, it is infinitely better to be inside the process than outside of it. There may be legitimate concerns about feedback from 101 on case progress, but we as councillors should be able to go beyond individual cases to look at the performance data and realise what an outstanding job 101 is doing.