By John F Crawford

A READER recently recounted a holiday in Spain where he’d been impressed with streets being swept and washed every day, litter bins emptied frequently, and spotless public toilets, the only problem seemingly being "the attitude of tourists". Was this due to "civic pride’ he wondered?

He wasn’t far off the mark. In the last 25 years, we’ve come to accept that our councils have given up trying to deal with the public’s worsening littering and fly-tipping and rather than providing traditional street sweeping, instead offer platitudes and excuses for not delivering what are statutory services.

Some of it derives from the Thatcher Government’s attempts to privatise traditional municipal services in the 1980s. Our councils devised tortuous specifications for street sweeping to deter the private sector from bidding, then after having won the contracts in-house, found they couldn’t actually deliver the works specified. So the term "litter-picking" was created (that got round the requirement to actually sweep the streets). But the public were the losers.

It wasn’t helped when Keep Scotland Beautiful were roped in to assess councils’ standards of street sweeping and have been awarding most of them more than 95% in the last decade.

Meanwhile despite our councils having statutory powers to deal with littering and fly-tipping, many of them have shied away, using such excuses as "health and safety" or (more recently"Covid") as an excuse for their inertia. In such a situation, who can blame the public for losing pride in their local communities?

We’ve sat back when local hooligans have vandalised our public toilets, dog owners have blatantly refused to clean up after their pets, and some of us have been happy to pay a man cash to take away our rubbish with no forms filled in and no questions asked about what’s to happen to it.

Few people will know that anybody given a Community Service Order (instead of a custodial term) can’t be required to wear a tabard that alerts the public to their circumstances, nor that the council trade unions refuse point blank to allow these miscreants to remove litter and fly-tipping from publicly-owned land (their argument being that "if extra people are needed for this work, then the council should be hiring more permanent staff".) So community service offenders mostly clear up private property, unless of course Covid is an issue.

So how do we sort all this out? First, let’s have our councils appoint properly-qualified directors of cleansing who report directly to the chief executive. Secondly, get some big lads/lassies out to confront the litterers and dog owners who don’t lift their pet’s dirt and issue them with Fixed Penalty Notices. Thirdly get a "wall of shame" set up on social media naming everybody whose been issued with a FPN,

The time for "trying to understand why people drop litter and fly-tip" is long past. We need to get real and sort this out: the sooner, the better.

The author spent many decades in the Scottish waste management industry