Public service cuts

An article appeared in the local press recently about the council mooting an idea for reducing the size of the general waste bins for households by almost half.  Currently larger households and those with certain medical needs have an increased bin capacity and smaller households have a smaller one; this proposal would see all households reduce to the size of the small households.  The pros were that it would encourage householders to increase their recycling rate and be more careful with what they recycle as they would not be able to just chuck it in the bin like it is currently presumed they do.  The cons were the cost factor in replacing all the bins, for which it was hoped finding was available, and public negativity to the scheme as it would be perceived as a further erosion of a basic service that was already reduced from what they were used to.

Previously the idea had been suggested of moving from the current two weekly schedule to a three weekly one but this seems to have been dropped because of public resistance.  I remember when weekly collections were altered to fortnightly ones when recycling bins were first introduced and there was huge resistence to the move as people worried about bin capacity, smells and health issues but as the years progressed it is accepted that it works and people may very well have become complacent about the scheme.  The idea to move to the smaller size bin rather than reduced collection would force their hand to further recycling and I fully believe this would work but there would need to be further recycling opportunities available.

I have visited other council areas where, although there are complaints about the sheer number of bins available, they have paper bins, plastic bins, tin bins, glass bins etc where all your recycled items have their own bin and you sort it out and it is then taken for recycling.  In Highland there is no opportunity for this as all paper, tin and plastic are all placed into one bin and I believe, although I am more than willing to be proved wrong, that here at least, this is all for show as the recycling does not get seperated and is all ultimately dumped at the end point.

We are fortunate to have a wonderful recycling center in the town which was heavily used in previous years.  With generous opening hours and accommodating staff, it was well used by locals but in the last few years although the workers remain amazing, the opening hours are less so.  Curtailment on the type of vehicle you could use to enter the site was also implemented meaning that for a short time, even estate cars or people carriers were being barred from entering without prior booking although this was eventually sorted out.  If you don’t have transport however you are stuck.  There is no easy way to recycle glass for example and although living semi rurally,  transport remains scarce and there is an assumption that everybody has access to vehicles.  This is not the case as we frequently find during campaign times as we have nobody to collect and disperse election materials due to a surprisingly high number of non drivers within the local branches!  

The very people who are likely to recycle well are the very people who cannot access the recycling centers themselves.  I believe councils or ultimately the government have a real opportunity to change people’s mindsets on this but they have to provide the opportunity to make it easy for people to do so; it won’t work if you place obstacles in their way but provide the services and people will quickly use them.  If we could only follow the investment that the central belt appears to have then things would improve.

Another area where we fall short against the central belt is investment in public transport.  Again in rural areas where you either have to rely on personal transport or struggle if you do not have any, public transport to and from the major city in the region falls woefully short.  Dental and hospital appointments prove impossible to do in one day due to clinic times not fitting in with when the bus or train arrives or departs.  I frequently have to do a 9 hour round trip for a 5 minute appointment that I have spent many phone calls trying to reschedule as the only times that can be initially offered are long before the first transport arrives and if you are at a hospital  appointment, you can spend the wait to see the doctor panicking that you  are going to miss the return leg home as you have such a short space of time to fit it in.  In days gone by, this was not a problem, there were more transport options but particularly since covid, services have not been reintroduced and the bus company is the most affected.  

Highland council is beginning to take public transport under their wing and issuing their own vehicles starting with school runs in an innovative pilot trial in Inverness and this will hopefully spill out into a public service that actually works for the public.

Service workers are now striking or threatening to strike for increases in pay or working conditions.  Maximizing disruption to service users is the only way to get taken seriously and  the Scottish government have been relatively quick to step in and attempt to reach compromises.  Not so the British government where disputes seem to get dragged out and I wholeheartedly hope that the workers involved get what they rightly deserve.  I remember the teachers striking when I was in secondary and  they enjoyment of extra days off that came from  that; now as a parent of children in key exam years, the thought does not fill me with such joy particularly after the years lost to covid.  The work they do can not be dismissed however  and they need to be properly rewarded for it.  Spare a thought however for school support staff though who during covid were the ones facilitating the childcare centres yet were the ones who were given reductions in hours from pre covid contracts when schooling returned to normal.  Words of praise were plentiful at the time but they seemed quickly forgotten afterwards by those in authority.

As Westminster warns us of the further sacrifices that we must make in our attempts to simply live a warm, healthy and financially sound existence, I worry greatly about what this will mean in reality.  Rising energy costs show no signs of abating despite the support provided by the government and food shopping is worryingly expensive.  I remember  the financial crash of the 80s; my parents had just bought their first house when interest rates went through the roof and it was the generosity of family members that kept our family afloat during that time by buying what we children needed at Christmas or a sweetie and a comic at the weekend.  We are too far down the road for anything to be stopped now and these days are about to return; many have never experienced anything like to because largely, we have all had comfortable and easy lives these last few decades and I despair at the inaction being shown by Westminster as those in charge show once again just how out of touch they are from those they are supposed to be serving.  From platitudes at COP27 and lectures about playing our part to keep their share profits rolling in; when Scotland did not vote for it and cannot unburden itself, this democracy is an absolute disgrace.