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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Street That Cut Everything" BBC

  Last night the BBC, in their normal display of "due balance" did an experiment. For 6 weeks a street in Preston had been given back their council tax and pay for the council services they get themselves, which produced 1 1/2 hours of programming.

  Nick has made it quite clear what the balanced purpose was  I'm going to make my request. Spare a thought for our politicians tonight. No, really.

   To be fair they did not prevent schooling (which legally they couldn't anyway) or policing (though no policeman ever turned up the very existence of a police force is a major social good). Theoretically pretty much the plot of Passport to Pimlico but instead of wit and humour we got Nick Robinson fronting it.

   So they got £60 per house per fortnight and, at a meeting decided to pool it, and before they had finished the BBC had switched their street lights off. We were told street lighting costs £500 million across the UK  which amounts to £8 annually for each of us so if this was a real experiment they could have chosen to just pay that.

   Then the council turned up to dump their rubbish in the street. In die course they were able to find a merchant who was willing to pay them for their rubbish so long as they transported it there. Obviously if it had been a long term experiment, private enterprise bin men would have been able to do the job for a fairly token sum.

   Then there was looking after the 75 year old pensioner - which they did.

   And the single multiple mother who wanted taxi fairs paid to take her kid to school. Which they did.

   And the BBC sent round a team to fly tip along the street - which, since it was specifically said had never happened before, looked like stacking the deck.

   That included 2 fridges which the BBC eventually "fined" them £300 for phoning up somebody willing to dispose of them without going through all the council paperwork. Despite them being deprived of council services the council seemed able to pay for all the bureaucratic bull designed to prevent people doing anything without filling in forms in triplicate. This is another major difference from Passport to Pimlico where getting rid government/council busybodies was the biggest gain.

   Even supporting the single mother the street were quids in. Even though they also had to pay for her housing benefit, which being overly nice people they did, though a few politically incorrect words were said and had the BBC not been filming it was clear more would have been.

   So the BBC changed the rules.

   Suddenly they had to pay for the care of a father who lived miles away and clearly always had.

  The BBC hired some people to spray paint graffiti everywhere, something which hadn't previously happened. The community cleaned it off themselves and got told off by Nick for not filling in the council forms they weren't paying for.

  Then the BBC decided they all had to get up at 6 in the morning to clean streets in the city centre on a Sunday morning. This was done on the basis that they are part of the community and should have to pay for common facilities where people don't live. The fact that businesses there pay rates, and pay highly at that, would have disproven the argument if it had been allowed to be mentioned on air. At that point the participants should have told the BBC they weren't playing by these ever changing rules, and perhaps burned Nick in effigy without the effigy, but being nice people they didn't.

   Then the BBC hired a bunch of JDs to come round and make a nuisance of themselves. They were not allowed to call the police but told that, had the council still been providing the services their noise abatement officers would have been round within minutes to run these ruffians off. Presumably the noise abatement inspectors in Preston work a 24 hour shift.

   Then a pack of dog walkers to shit all over the place (well their dogs). Again not a common occurrence.

   They also introduced a rule that, like councils, any money unspent at the end is taken back, which tended to mitigate against anything being left, but would not have been the case if they had really been free to choose.

   At the end the locals were frazzled and not in profit, but not out either. The pensioner lady felt well ahead in the game because thrown on the mercy of her neighbours they had proven to be a lot nicer and more caring than the council "carers".

    The BBC had thus "proven" that our council services are basically good value for money.

    The big thing that went unmentioned in their programme is that council tax only pays about 20%  of council  spending - the rest coming from the rate support grant and business rates. So even assuming schools and police take up half of it they were getting by, successfully even with no economies of scale, inevitable initial costs of change and the BBC hired graffiti, on about 2/5ths of the money councils spend.

    On video. OK Nick I'll spare a few thoughts for the politicians, but I don't think you'll like them.

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Presumably in the interest of objectivity the subjects of the BBC experiment will be afforded the chance to conduct a similar experiment on the producers of this opus, with their consent of course. I look forward to the grafitti 'taggers' in the boardroom segment. (All humor aside wasn't that illegal, to hire grafitti artists?)
Yes, and the fly tipping and the dog fouling is certainly against by-laws. On the other hand they are journalists.
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