It now appears that it was Oxford City Council who weeded the 30 foot stretch of gutter illustrated in my post No grass in Oxford except in the gutters . I had surmised in A gutter gets weeded in Oxford that a resident had done it in frustration, perhaps on their way back from posting their Council Tax payment.
Kevin Penpusher of Oxford City Council said: “After 14 phone calls of complaint and the Oxford Inciter article, we knew we had to act to avoid a serious threat to the public perception of our competence. We don’t have the resources within Oxford City Council to deal with major gutter clearances like this, but we were lucky to have Maczysz Kosciuszko seconded to us by Wallsall Council (are you sure he said “Wallsall”? Ed) to lead the team for the operation”.
Within days the team had sourced the necessary equipment from all corners of the yard and had undergone the rigorous training course which is the way they do things in Wallsall. Meanwhile my colleague Darren Fileshuffler and I dealt with the formalities. A union meeting was convened and, after several hours of discussion, approved a resolution which permitted the work to be done subject to suitable safeguards for the workmen, compensation for the unsociable hours, stress etc.
Our 28 page risk assessment was approved by Derek Clipboard of Health & Safety, whose report had to be approved by a meeting of the full Council. The composition of the team had to be checked by the Oxford Discrimination, Equalities, Disabilities and Diversity Directorate (OxDEDDD) to ensure that the team was ethnically diverse and included people representative of all minorities – the team had to be expanded from three to five to make sure that all shades of colour, religion and disability were included. All this was achieved within 48 hours of the problem being made known to us for the fourteenth time this year.
The operation was carried out under the grimmest conditions imaginable – only one catering van was available, and the weather turned a little chill, forcing the team to put on protective pullovers at one stage. Maczysz was a hard taskmaster, allowing the men only one 20 minute break in every hour. It is a tribute to Maczysz and his team that they achieved the clearance of all 30 foot of gutter in under a day.”
I tried to interview Maczysz Kosciuszko but was told he had already flown back to Walsall to be ready for the next tough assignment, wherever the call came from. “You wouldn’t have understood a word he said anyway” said Darren Fileshuffler. “Walsall is only just beyond Birmingham but it might be a foreign country when you hear Maczysz speak. You should see the translation bill we got for this job!”
I asked Kevin Penpusher when the residents might expect to see another stretch of their gutter cleared. “Not this year” he said. “You can’t mount two operations like this in a hurry”. He added that the reports of children getting lost in the gutters on their way to school were much exaggerated. “There have only been three such incidents to my knowledge” he said, “and two of the children got out safely eventually”. He hopes to find the third when the rest of the street is cleared some time during next year. “It will have to be done in stages” he said. “This operation cost £23,760 and that’s without counting my overtime”.
The real issue, he says, is one of resources. The residents pay only £2,250 per year in Council Tax and could not realistically expect cleared gutters for that. Many officers have been diverted into fining residents for putting out their rubbish in the wrong box, on the wrong day or in too great quantities which, Penpusher says, makes the streets look very untidy. “Besides”, he added “Derek Clipboard is on indefinite sick leave suffering from the stress of having had to make a decision about our risk assessment. There are only 345 trained officers in the Health and Safety department and it is not possible to adjust their workload for this sort of thing. The union made it clear that this was a one-off and that they would not approve of repeated applications for their members to engage in demeaning gutter-cleansing operations”.
I left Penpusher picking his nose and looking at the clock. Four o’clock. Soon another hard day at the desk would be over and he could go home to tell his wife and admiring children of his exploits in the abandoned streets of Oxford. “Tell them we did it” he said to me as he led me past the rows of support staff and showed me to the door of his outer office. “Tell the Council Tax payers of Oxford how we work for them. ‘Pride in our City’ it says on our letter paper, and we are proud to have done our bit to clean up the city”.