Saturday, August 24, 2013

From bona fide emergency to nothing to do with us

When the car disturbed the manhole cover in the middle of the road outside the rental property we moved into yesterday, I ventured a look into the hole. This turned out to be an approx 40 foot drop into a surface water drain, with upended cast-iron cover sticking up - end-on - diagonally into the air. Either way, it represented a serious danger to passing cars, who were at risk of hitting the cover, driving into the hole, or both. So I called Calderdale Council's emergency helpline. It's a bank holiday weekend and the operator agreed that I'd taken the correct course of action; for around 5 minutes - at which point she called back to say it wasn't their problem, because the were the responsibility of an unknown private contractor. So, from emergency to nothing to do with me in 5 minutes. The only suggestion forthcoming from the helpline? 'Call Yorkshire Water' - on the vague offchance that they might know who had fitted the manhole cover. Solution? Go to neighbour, who, bravely, manhandled the manhole cover back over the hole (I'm a devout coward when it comes to positioning heavy metal objects over deep holes and not afraid to admit it). The hole's safe-ish until Monday, when my neigbour assured me they're coming back to tarmac the street. We'll see - it'll still be a good old-fashioned British banky then, after all. It shouldn't surprise me, but the speed with which the Council washed their hands of the matter - especially given the potentially serious consequences - shows, yet again, how far the public service ethos has been lost in the UK.

Monday, August 19, 2013

An Unintended Consequence...

We returned home from holiday on Saturday 3 August to find our house flooded. On the morning we left, I went into the bathroom to discover no water was flowing from the taps. I called Yorkshire Water, our 'service provider', to report the disruption to our supply and then went on holiday, with the operative's words wishing me a good holiday ringing in my ears. Not so welcome was the call from our next door neighbour the following Saturday. We were just south of Worcester on the M5 when she called to say that there was water running out of our front door and that her partner had turned off the stopcock on the pavement outside. As our 'keyholder' - my sister-in-law - turned out to be enjoying a weekend away in Rutland (is that even possible...), we then had to endure the torture of a stop-start drive back up the M5/M6 before we could witness the damage first hand. The journey did allow us the luxury of reporting the flood enroute, so we arrived home in the knowledge that the restoration team would call on the Sunday morning, but also that the emergency accommodation promised by our policy would not be available until the following night, because all 'quality' hotel accommodation in our area was fully booked. I was, therefore, left with the need to secure overnight accommodation in a local 'non-quality' hotel, or cheap flop-house, if you prefer; least said the better, though a room that comes complete with a dog-end must now be a comparative rarity in these smoke-free days. After a fortnight in a Holiday Inn, we're now enjoying the delights of a Premier Inn, while waiting for the formalities to be compeleted on the assured short-hold tenancy of a three-bedroomed house near to all local amenities and our own, slightly damp, home. It was at this point that I reported our predicament to our local authority, Calderdale Council - itself no stranger to flooded households, but which was still able to deliver a most unwelcome surprise. Owing to changes the Council had been allowed to make by central government, Calderdale's cabinet has recently reduced the second home exemption to a nice round 0%, which means, shorn of the legal terminology the official tried to hide-behind, that we will have to pay full Council Tax on our own home and temporary accommodation. This is, apparently, an example of the coalition government's localism agenda, which gives local authorities powers to do what central government and civil servant used to do, but for which no-one gets the blame when hard-of-thinking local councillors and their employed jobsworths make a complete pig's arse of something in their own area. This came home to me when I brought the matter to the attention of one of my ward councillors. An independent, he turns out to be a member of the very cabinet that voted for the disastrous change. His reply was a prime example of how much havoc a no-doubt well-meaning numbnuts can cause when left in a room with a number of other elected representatives, a supply of tea and coffee making facilities, some biscuits and a frightening array of devolved powers. He had voted in favour of the reduction in exemption rates because he thought it would somehow prevent private rented accommodation being left empty, but he went on to say that the reasoning behind the decision was 'scant consolation' for us, as we were victims of the 'law of unintended consequences' that 'will get you every time'. He ended his apologetic email by asking if there was anything he could do. To which I must respond with two suggestions: 1) get your hand in your wallet and pay one of the two Council Tax bills you have landed us with, and 2) think about the consequences of your actions, rather than trying to use financial policy to motivate private landlords to do what you should be doing - housing people in need in your borough, councillor.