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Archive for July, 2017

Public outcry over Grenfell may ensure prosecutions, but the root causes of public sector indifference are cultural and injustices are destined to continue

Residents of Kensington and Chelsea are right to be very concerned about the conduct of the local Council in their handling of events leading up to, during and after the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Yet we should all be concerned with the reality sitting beyond and concerning the state of the whole Public Sector, which leaves Grenfell unique only because of the size and obvious impact of this horrific event, which has captured the public imagination for all the wrong reasons.

It would be difficult for anyone not to picture the horror of the event and to at very least attempt to consider just how significant the impact of an experience of this nature would be. But the race to apportion blame and the politicisation of this disaster for purposes which reach way beyond those of helping or supporting the people directly involved are diversionary at best, and belie the indirect culpability which lies at the feet of politicians of all backgrounds and officers alike, who are operating and making decisions within a system which might appear fine beyond without the presence of Austerity, but is otherwise quietly failing us all miserably.

Yes, the criminal inquiry which the Police are now working on may well identify individuals who will be charged and subsequently found guilty of having some kind or level of criminal liability. Just as the Judge-led inquiry into the technical aspects of the event, construction and renovation of Grenfell Tower may identify problems with wider policy which will then be used to inform changes which will be intended to make structural development safer for users.

But as I have written before when then Prime Minister David Cameron was talking up Jail-terms for the individuals responsible for the failures of the Local Council and Public Sector in Rotherham, there are cultural issues present right the way through local government and the public sector which make incidents that continue to disadvantage the public all but inevitable at all levels, and in many ways that people outside of Government may never become aware of.

Did anyone get jailed over Rotherham? Has anything changed since then? Have any of the parliamentary political parties demonstrated even the slightest hint that they are in touch with the greater problems caused not by Austerity alone, which persist far more significantly in the background and way beyond?

No being the answer to these questions is of course a travesty in itself. Yet even worse is the misleading direction that this whole debate will be taken if sound bites and labels such as ‘social murder’ continue to be taken literally by followers of the media who rely on news mediums – rightly or wrongly as it may be – to provide them with an accurate view of what is really going on, when all they are really getting is very little fact and one hell of a distorted view.

If the complexity of the issues which make our public services arguably unfit for purpose in all but name are not understood by the very people who hold the responsibility to lead us at all levels of Government, how can anyone who does not even have the slightest experience of the inner workings of the public sector be expected to have even a remote idea of what is really going on?

If they did, we would surely be now looking for names for a whole range of crimes either carried out or instigated without intent otherwise known criminally as corruption, embezzlement and fraud, to name just a few.

Some might like that idea greatly. But the very regrettable reality is that the problem spanning the public sector is culturally embedded and the result of many issues which to address will take political leadership of a kind that we have long since seen on offer.

Ultimately, an embedded problem of this kind must be addressed by action taken at the very top and this is why I previously asked if the last Prime Minister should himself be the one facing the jail term.

Until there is an acceptance and willingness on the part of politicians from all political parties to address the greater problems which sit behind not only events with the level of notoriety of the Grenfell Tower disaster and Rotherham, but also the ‘unintended’ injustices of all kinds which are visited upon taxpayers daily, we remain destined to have future events of this kind continuing to unfold.

This is at best unjust and it is a very long way from what we should all be able to expect from any form of government which actually works for the people it is supposed to serve.

10 Years on from the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods: Some things are different, but out of sight is still very much out of mind for the politicians and this is what must really change

Floods 2007 1

Unloading water at the Wheatpieces Community Centre, Walton Cardiff, near Tewkesbury, following the July 2007 Floods

With 10 years now passed since the Gloucestershire floods of 2007 we cast our minds back to the magnitude of those events that affected significant numbers of people and communities across the County and surrounding areas in the middle of July that year.

Only a matter of weeks into my first term as an elected councillor at Tewkesbury Borough, I remember well that the significance of what felt like a tropical rainstorm parked overhead for most of that Friday would go way beyond a vast extension of what sadly remains a regular local event.

So much water trying to find its way to a natural watercourse created rivers and lakes in the most unexpected locations and seeing upended cars by the roadside and in ditches the following day, like some scene from War of the Worlds left a picture in my mind which was at the very least quite surreal.

But it was on the Sunday, when word really began to spread that there had been a problem at the Mythe Water Treatment Plant as a result of the Flooding which meant tap water was about to run out, that the real consequences of what we were afterwards told was a 1 in 100 year event really began to unfold.

After an unexpected phone call from a constituent that afternoon, asking where they could get water I found myself spending over two weeks delivering water and coordinating drinking water supplies around my Council Ward, increasingly conscious of how very thin the veil of individual social responsibility, commonly known as civil order actually is, when it was pricked in so many other areas by people fighting over water, steeling it and even urinating in bowsers where communities had been supplied. We can only begin to imagine what would have happened if the emergency services had not won their battle against the rising floodwaters of the River Severn when just centimetres from flooding the Walham Electricity Substation just outside Gloucester.

From my own perspective, the contact with members of the community I then represented that getting so directly involved gave me was of incalculable benefit. Not only did I see the impact of the breakdown of our utility service supply at first hand, I also gained real-time understanding of flooding and also what can be the very localised nature and requirements of our arbitrary Planning system, which continues to fail local people, and the communities in which they live every day.

The news channels have today made use of the good-news stories which followed the 2007 Floods, such as the permanent flood protection and defences that have been erected in places such as Upton on Severn, just a few miles upstream from Tewkesbury. Yet the bigger story beyond remains the lack of understanding or failure to acknowledge the real impact of building not only near or on flood plains themselves, but also on ground which in extreme weather events, would or has historically become the natural channels where a rainfall overload will find its way to our local main rivers via the floodplains in between.

Sadly, consideration of the issues which sit behind those which are most obvious is not something that Government at National or Local level beyond is happy to embrace, particularly at a time when the politically expedient route to solving our housing supply problems is to simply focus on everything that encourages people and businesses to build.

Events like the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods are not rare events. This fact has been only too well illustrated by the many different experiences that Towns, Villages and in some cases even Cities have been continuing to experience ever since, and yet we still have a Planning system, environmental policies and public sector approach which is in real terms not even fully reactive in nature.

The pain, loss and suffering which people suffer, often much longer than during the time of these flooding events themselves should have by now resulted in a proactive approach to flood prevention. But 10 years now gone – a period in which even the very slow wheels of Government could have delivered the creative and fully considered policy changes and developments which might at least have future-proofed existing properties from what might be avoidable disaster – Politicians are still failing to adapt to dealing with the biggest issues which are facing communities, albeit the ones that are far from being obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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