According to the Express & Star, Sandwell Council street wardens are certainly justifying their salaries having issued more than 6 times as many on-the-spot fines as their counterparts in the neighbouring borough of Dudley, making the council a tidy £165,000 if paid in full.
Proactive council employees in West Bromwich issued 1000 of the total 2,200 handed out in Sandwell, and though this is clearly a pretty good money spinner for the local authority it seemingly isn’t acting as a deterrent to litterbugs, dog walkers and budding graffiti artists in the area. The borough is reportedly still ranked 2nd worst in the country for its messy streets.
So rather than reducing the amount of rubbish, it appears this council are just making money from it. Time for a reassessment of whether this is the most effective way of tackling to problem? Hardly likely when they’re raking in so much money.
Incidentally, one informant who was hit with a £75 fine in the borough after dropping a cigarette butt had no defence when issued with a ticket, but was rather bemused to be told 'not to worry about it' by the high visibility jacket wearing officials when he offered to pick up the offending article. Doesn’t give much credibility to the argument that these fines are issued for the mission, not the money.
But then it’s easy to criticise Sandwell and their watchful/pernicious environmental wardens, lurking in the shadows with the intention to swoop on the naïve, stupid or thoughtless, yet the number of fines in other areas barely seem to justify having officers on the job.
Just 336 fines were dealt in Dudley, 156 in Wolverhampton, 60 in Cannock, 45 in Lichfield and a paltry 34 in Walsall. As one canny commenter on the E&S website says – do the maths, surely an extra street cleaner would be cheaper/more effective than these wardens?
No-one is arguing that paying our council tax gives us carte blanche to scatter our detritus onto the pavement, but certainly in Sandwell, money that perhaps should be diverted to pay for street cleaners is instead paying for these predatory environmental officers with no real results other than for the council coffers. The local authority should be working in our interest which is, in this case, to have pleasant clean streets, and the issue of 2,200 fines seems to confirm that this project just isn’t working.
Our local councils can be pretty incessant in their attempts to ‘wow’ us, but self-congratulatory newsletters and needless awards schemes for staff? Is this really what we pay our council tax for?
A Worcestershire based supporter emailed the WMTPA to complain about the county council flooding out their bi-annual newsletter to the tune of over £50,000 per year. But of the 215,000 copies of WoW posted through letterboxes and hidden in local newspapers alongside other advertising and junk, it’s fair to ask – how many are actually read? Fortunately for our councils, that’s impossible to quantify.
Of course the problem isn’t limited to Worcestershire (though incidentally, the same supporter received a Freedom of Information response which revealed his local edition of ‘A View From the Hills’ (Malvern) was also costing £18,000 per annum), but is prolific right across the West Midlands and the rest of the country – councils promoting themselves to us, their service users, who actually have no choice but to use the local authority anyway. And aren’t these the same councils who continually push the ‘green agenda’ and encourage us to recycle and generate less waste? Pot, kettle, black.
Of course there’s a statutory obligation, imposed by central government, for councils to provide us with certain information, but as more and more of us connect to the internet aren’t cheaper, greener alternatives to these newsletters making themselves evident? Of course, hard copy information could be made available for those without access to the web, but Worcestershire for one are showing no signs of cancelling their 215,000 print run to look for new, more efficient ways of communicating with the public.
This is 2009, and we’re in a recession. Getting rid of such unnecessary publicity – the glossy magazines, the newspapers, the leaflets, the general deluge of ‘information’ that seems to be fast tracked straight into the bin in most households – should be an easy way to cut the fat, minimizing waste and saving the taxpayer money.
But sometimes we might question whether saving money is even on the agenda for local government, or whether such matters upset the Zen of their love-in. Stoke-on-Trent City Council never fail to frighten/amaze, and after a bit of head-scratching they’ve come up with yet another way to reward themselves. An extra day off at Xmas again (nope, that was so 2007…), a big slap up meal at residents’ expense (been there, done that!) – so what’s this year’s understated way of satiating their desperate need for a bit of undeserved back-slapping? Cue, the WOW! Awards…
A website, some design work, a few certificates, a presentation event – it might not be megabucks, but is it really necessary to dream these things up when staff have shuffled along just fine without them? It’s the time and effort involved, diverting employees from their proper task of serving the city of Stoke onto the adult equivalent of a gold star and a round of applause from the rest of the class. How do other authorities cope without such accolades? Why do taxpayers have to shell out to pander to the egos of supposed professionals?
Put frankly, it’s less WOW! And more WHAT?!
Birmingham City Council are certainly being hauled over the coals by the Birmingham Post this week. Yesterday, the paper revealed that BCC’s Business Transformation Project is looking at a £10m shortfall on its projected savings, and now in today’s edition we read that council chiefs have spent £1.4m of taxpayers’ money entertaining corporate guests at the city’s football grounds, and – strangest of all – their very own director of communications has lambasted the city’s PR strategy.
This bizarre front-page splash has Debra Davis’ comments as taken from a staff consultation paper where she appears to denigrate the very communications approach she is responsible for, claiming that there’s:
- No joined-up, consistent strategic planning of communications based on evidence and market research
- No systematic control of campaigns
- No overall framework for monitoring, measuring and reporting on the effectiveness of council communications
This is adjoined to some promise of a “new, dynamic and radically different” way of doings things. Great. But hang on a second – hasn’t Debra Davis been in her role as communications director for almost three years now? Why hasn’t she implemented these changes before now? Why has it only on the 20th October 2009 that the public are discovering that the council “does not know” how much it spends on communications or whether it delivers value for money?
One thing is for sure, this revelation is a public relations disaster…but then Debra Davis is no stranger to putting her foot in it.
Readers of the Sunday Mercury may recognise the name of Birmingham City Council’s “queen of spin” who famously blew £1,000 of expenses at a luxury hotel in one day in her native Canada, as well as using taxpayers’ money for fund five star trips there, and to attend a string of “networking events” at home in Birmingham. It appears, however, that the extortionate bills Ms Davis clocked up have done little to actually assist her or the city council, and shockingly she feels comfortable enough to fire-off criticism at her own department.
Back in December 2007, the TPA revealed that Birmingham City Council spent over £10m on publicity in the year 06/07 – the biggest spend in the country, and yet former regeneration chief Clive Dutton famously claimed that Birmingham was “anonymous” in London and on his recent departure, recommended outsourcing strategic communications to a “top notch” private agency.
However PR progresses at the council, there can be little doubt that Debra Davis has utterly failed to run a tight ship and promote Birmingham properly with the many millions of our pounds she’s handed. Worse still, days like today only serve to show that her actions and words can actually be pretty damaging to the reputation of the authority. Even so, she still commands a salary of £100,000 and isn’t shy of pulling out her expenses card.
It’s usually good to hear someone being honest and practical about pointing out the reality of inefficiencies in local government, but there’s something quite worrying about the fact a director can quite happily pan their own department without holding themselves accountable or fearing a dismissal or any disciplinary.
If, after three years, the division you run is inadequate, ineffective and burning cash, then you’re inadequate, ineffective and burning cash and if even you recognise that – even more, if only you recognise that – then do have the decency to stand down.
Pretty dismal news for the NHS in the West Midlands, as standards in local hospitals ‘deteriorate dramatically’ according to the front page of today’s Birmingham Post.
The paper reveals that annual performance ratings by the national watchdog the Care Quality Commission appear to show that whilst financial management is improving, the standard of actual care has plummeted at 18 of the 43 trusts.
Four trusts – namely Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust (lampooned in the press this year for the number of needless patient deaths in under their care), Dudley Group of Hospitals (who recently granted their execs a bumper pay rise after acquiring Foundation status), Worcestershire Mental Health Partnership Trust and Coventry & Warwickshire Partnership Trust for Mental Health – were all classed as ‘weak’ for quality of care.
The article quotes Julie bailey, founder of a campaign group ‘Cure the NHS’ who were founded following the Mid Staffordshire debacle, who lays the blame at the door of health chiefs:
“Putting finances over patient care was what happened at Stafford Hospital and instead of being a warning shot, it is still happening across the country.
I get calls and letters from people nationwide seeing a huge deterioration in care but more focus on finances”.
It’s true. Dudley for one was rated ‘excellent’ on money matters, but whilst it’s impressive that many of these trusts have their houses in order when it comes to public funds, isn’t it slightly missing the point if what results is substandard care? At the end of the day, isn’t this what our tax money is supposed to provide? It’s seems oxymoronic to say that the cash is being dealt with properly if it’s not serving it’s very purpose and yet at the same time, going to fund some pretty impressive salaries for directors and executive management?
Just because every penny is accounted for, certainly doesn’t seem to mean that it’s been spent efficiently, and after many years of increased investment it’s quite shocking to read a report that says the hospitals we rely upon are worsening.
West Midlands Ambulance Service was another casualty, sliding from ‘excellent’ to ‘fair’ in just six months. The vital services we pay for and depend are becoming more likely to let us down.
If, as shadow health secretary Andrew Langsley says, these Trusts have been prioritising cutting budgets over the provision of patient care, then it’s pretty clear the wrong choices are being made, and our highly paid NHS chiefs are failing to sweep away the many layers of bureaucracy that strangle the cash flow to the frontline with truly worrying consequences.
As the Express & Star reports the findings of KPMG auditors who urge Sandwell Council to consider mothballing, decommissioning or even demolishing the site if it gets too costly, we must ask the obvious question – is this the beginning of the end for The Public nightmare?
(Oh, and as if that prospect wasn’t bad enough, the cost of the project has risen by yet another £5m).
So this disastrous venture has now hit £49m over budget (according to a reliable source, that’s the equivalent of around 6 brand new primary schools) and KPMG are warning Sandwell Council that the £1.1m set aside to run the building for the next three years just isn’t enough. The report will go before the council’s audit commission next Tuesday and today’s newspaper cites some disturbing passages, including where the local authority are told that it’s vital to “consider alternative uses and their operational and financial impact, and this should include the consequences of mothballing the building if it becomes too costly”.
And hold onto your hats, it gets worse as they’re further warn that, “if not alternative use is viable for this building (it should) consider the costs of decommissioning and demolishing the building”.
Even Sandwell Council’s blindly faithful regeneration chief Bob Badham seems a little rattled: “In all projects you have to bear in mind what would happen if it didn’t work. Decommissioning and demolition has been something we have had to consider in the past. It has been rejected on business grounds. It is not a cost-free option by any means”.
Oh it’s been considered in the past has it? First we’ve heard…
He does sign-off with the familiar “we are confident this project will work”, but how could anyone be ‘confident’ with a financial shortfall, more borrowing and the prospect of demolition rearing its head?
After so long, and so much money, local residents don’t deserve such spin. They deserve some honestly (go on, throw your hands up and admit what a catastrophe this monolith has been!), a frank apology and some accountability from all those involved. It’s quite astonishing that after all this time and so many errors Sylvia King’s head has been the only one to roll.
We won’t see this building demolished, we can be confident of that much. The public bodies involved have proven (£49m later) that they’re far too proud and pigheaded to admit defeat and will dip further and further into a pretty empty public purse to keep it going. We can also be confident that this is going to cost us all even more money – if KPMG say £1.1m per year isn’t enough, then the chances are it isn’t enough, will we see the total bill reach £80m over the next couple of years? It seems likely given this project’s track record. But one thing we absolutely cannot be confident of is that this project will work – The Public gallery that is, and it all rests on a dynamic, innovative and therefore unprecedented review of this building and some realistic goals with regards to what it can be used for, if it can be sold off and how taxpayers can be relieved of this long-running burden.
A woeful oversight and miscommunication between Wolverhampton City Council and the Health and Safety Executive is likely to see taxpayers picking up the tab for costly court proceedings.
A WMTPA supporter spotted a story in the Express & Star that reveals how a £40million student village in the city was given planning permission by the authority despite it’s location – right next to a builders merchants (sited there for many years) who store propane gas cylinders and tanks.
Carver’s builders’ merchants has had Hazardous Substances Consent for more than 15years, and though the new 25-storey Victoria Halls falls directly within the ‘blast zone’, local government officials still recommended the project for approval.
Oh dear. The HSE has now launched court action against the city council according to the newspaper article, which cannot be good news for developers, students or – of course – us taxpayers.
Wolverhampton University has allowed students to move into the 750-room building regardless of health and safety fears, as publically funded lawyers crawl all over the paperwork.
This is potentially hugely disruptive, not to mention damaging to the reputation of the city, and we have to wonder just how such a monumental omission came about. No doubt we can look forward to this rumbling on for a good long while yet, with minimal accountability from the council and spiralling costs.
When supporter Russell Booth heard of local protests against bonuses for Staffordshire Moorlands Council officers, he went along to join the crowds and represent the TPA on this prominent local issue.
Armed with a homemade TaxPayers’ Alliance banner, he took to the streets along with more than 50 others to try to prevent 22 council executives receiving hefty bonuses that could be as much as 15% of their annual salary and – obviously – paid for by taxpayers. Unfortunately demonstrators were banned from the chamber and proposals were rubber stamped regardless of this unusual level of public resistance.
Russell made his opposition quite clear, telling a local paper, "It is outrageous that bonuses have ever been considered in the present climate”.
So congratulations Russell! It’s great to see some real grassroots action! We may not have had a favourable result on this occasion, but it’s only by persevering and keeping up the pressure that we can hope to see real change within the political system.
It was Margaret Mead who said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Keep up the good work!
If any readers would like to take some grassroots action themselves – be it leafleting, petitioning, protesting on a particular issue or generally spreading the word – then do get in touch with me: [email protected]. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!
When the Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Trust was awarded Foundation status it must have brought a smile to the twelve managers who, contrary to the national trend, have enjoyed a salary increase of over 30% as a result.
According to the Express & Star the combined salaries of a dozen managers at Black Country hospitals jumped by £110,000 over night, with some salaries increasing by as much as £20,000.
The paper revealed that between April and September 2008 to total wage bill stood at £295,000, but by the period between October 2008 and March 2009 it’d jumped to £405,000.
One councillor, Steve Waltho, who sits on the Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust denounced these excessive rises:
“In all honesty I think senior directors in public organisations are very much overpaid,” he said. “Senior consultants are there on the front line saving lives and if anything these directors should be paid on a par with them and no more.”
And who can argue with that? This is yet another example of an inappropriate and disproportionate pay rise at the expense of taxpayers, many of whom are still suffering the effects of recession.
They may shout about ‘extra responsibilities’ or talk about ‘significant changes’ in the role until the cows come home, but as businesses all over the country are forced to downsize and managers across the spectrum are having to shoulder a heavier workload for less pay, I doubt such excuses will prompt much sympathy.
The main difference in the director’s role (that one Chief Executive uses to justify his hefty pay rise) seems to be their personal responsibility to taxpayers for decisions made by the Trust, so it’s with some irony that we’re essentially having to pay extra in order to hold these executives accountable in the spirit of fairness and transparency.
Sandwell Council have reached new levels of patronising, creating a cartoon family to teach us plebs how to save money – and all without a shade of irony!
If you were one of the minds behind The Simpsons, you might initially feel a little put-out by the unashamed rip-off that is "The Savewells", but you’d have nothing to fear because this bizarre and elaborate way of communicating with Sandwell residents is really far from funny.
The Savewells – bemusing as they are – actually give us some insight, indeed a rare glimpse at the strange approach this council so often take, preferring to completely circumnavigate the task in hand rather than just tell us straight.
Basically it seems that Sandwell had some handy-hints to pass on; some fair enough, some excruciatingly obvious, some pretty costly (paradoxically) and some entirely unworkable. Brain-storming session over, they then had decide on a way of sharing these pearls of wisdom.
Now how you get from that particular problem, to inventing a cartoon family is something the rest of us might never understand, and should probably be an interview question for prospective Sandwell Council employees. But that’s what we’ve got, an entire family, each inert member with their own webpage on the main local authority site, complete with an utterly needless and entirely unamusing backstory, presumably so we meatheads feel as though we ‘know’ them.
We’re told that Steve – the dad – works at a DIY store and is hoping for a promotion to assistant manager. Great. Trouble is, whichever frustrated creative at Sandwell Council evacuated this purposeless information from their mind didn’t quite realise that a) Who cares? This isn’t a real person, or even a real cartoon, and b) Very few people are likely to feel an affinity with characters who exist only to preach at us about how we should live our lives according to the bible of local government.
If you know how to tie your shoelaces, then most of the information on these web pages will seem already seem pretty obvious, but here are a few gems:
Steve (Dad) - At work I remember to switch my computer monitor and printer off.
Sandra (Mum) – When the weather is nice I don’t use the tumble dryer. I hang the clothes on the line in the garden. They smell so much fresher.
Grandpa Stan – I remember to switch lights off when I leave the room.
Sam (Son) – Dad has stopped driving me to school. I now walk with my friends or catch the bus. It only takes 5 minutes!
Susie (Daughter) – I’ve been telling mum and dad what they can recycle. We have been learning at school. (a nod to Eco Girl?!)
Scraps the Dog – They all take it in turns to take me on walks. Helps keep them fit and me happy!
All characters plug the fact that Sandwell will send energy advisors around to your home, and any member of the public who cares to email in a money saving/eco-friendly tip gets a free eco-bag complete with an energy saving lightbulb – what more could a heart desire? And yes, we’re paying for this.
If anyone would like to suggest that this council should lead by example – perhaps starting by refraining from burning time, energy and money creating this sort of patronising burble – then the address is [email protected].
Cllr Gavin Webb of Stoke-on-Trent City Council was shot down in flames by his colleagues when he dared to propose that it could be a useful exercise for the TPA to go through the books (free-of-charge!) and suggest where fat might be trimmed. Undeterred by their frosty reception, he continues to push for transparency at the local authority, most recently sending this email to his fellow elected members:
Dear Fellow Councillors
You may recall that since my election in 2007 and on several occasions at past full council meetings I have publicly called for a complete breakdown of the City Council budget so that councillors and members of the public are able to look through it in order to decide areas to cut, improve and indeed stop providing altogether.
My requests have unfortunately been derided by many Members, and indeed, the information I requested has not been forthcoming from our current Resources portfolio holder Councillor Kieran Clarke (who at the full council meeting on 26 February claimed that such information would be difficult to provide), and by his predecessor, Councillor Mike Tappin. You may recall that at this meeting I voted against the Medium Term Financial Strategy and the Corporate Plan as I believed them both to illustrate how the council was doing too much, and that this was perpetuating the nanny state that restricted citizens doing things for themselves.
It is therefore no secret that I believe councillors should have been cutting back on the size of the council, how much it spends, and how much it does for people. It is no secret that I believe that residents should have less reliance on the ‘authorities’ to provide services for them and that they should be doing more for themselves. Unfortunately, many fellow councillors since 2007 have frankly mocked such views.
It appears now that my mindset is now the prevailing paradigm. Indeed it is interesting to note some of the quotes by senior bureaucrats highlighted at the beginning the recent MTFS presentation to council members where . . “Our public debt is hitting Armaggedon levels” (Steve Bundred, Chief Executive Audit Office); “Bloodbath in public finances” (CIPD June 2009); “Councils have a £4bn deficit” (LGA August 2009); and the quote that particularly struck me as being at least two years too late . . . “We are talking about double digit percentage drops. I think possibly 30 or 40% of current resources . . . we are talking about stopping doing things and maybe a rebalancing of those things we expect a private citizen to do and what we expect the public sector to do” (Roger Lathan, CIPFA President March 2009).
When I have given warnings such as these at scrutiny, at full council, and indeed privately with many of you, I’m afraid I haven’t been filled with confidence that fellow council members have the backbone to exercise the cuts needed to bring the public finances back into good order, and in the process, really re-empower residents to have greater control over their own lives and, working with their neighbours, their communities.
Yesterday, I met with Paul Simpson, Director of Central Services to discuss the issue pertaining to the City Council’s budget. It is clear that much needs to be done.
During the meeting I requested, once again, a full breakdown of the City Council’s budget and Paul Simpson has agreed that though it will require a little time to collate it in a format that is clear and understandable, that this is possible. However, he would prefer that if such information was being released that it was available to all members of the council, hence my reason for emailing you.
Would you like a full breakdown of the City Council budget? I don’t mean just headings of specific sections of the council which have been presented to scrutiny in the past by officers, I mean the minutiae right down to how much is being spent on cleaning up dog muck and mowing grass verges – things that perhaps local residents should be more in charge of tackling and owning.
I have also requested in the past, and once again I requested it yesterday at the meeting, that I would also like this information to also be published on the City Council website, stoke.gov.uk, in order that the public is able to see where money is being spent. Of course, this would require there being some differentiation between services paid for using monies raised locally, and those that are paid for using monies obtained by the council from Central Government or some non-elected Quango. There is an opportunity to engage with taxpayers over where their money is to be spent (or not as the case may be). It is after all taxpayers’ money, not the Council’s.
I think we can all agree that it is best if all the facts and figures are presented to us in order that we are all – including the taxpayer – able to make an informed contribution to the debate on where savings must be made. If you agree with having all the facts and figures, please ‘Reply To All’ as Paul Simpson has been copied into this email.
All the best
Gavin Webb, Libertarian Party Councillor for Stoke and Trent Vale
You can read his full blog post on the matter here.
Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that Stoke is one of the worst local offenders for profligate spending and taking questionable decisions with taxpayers cash, so we can only hope that Gavin's worthwhile campaigning starts to erode the brick wall of obstinacy that stands between elected members and the prospect of reviewing how the council runs.
We all know that our councils enjoy nothing more than using our money to polish their public image every once in a while, but this week Staffordshire County Council and Birmingham City Council have had to deal with the public backlash…
No, this isn’t a doodle, this is the £7,000 squiggle that taxpayers in Staffordshire are complaining about. Not entirely sure how you would break down that cost but it’s pretty amazing what meaning you can project onto a meaningless loop-the-loop when you have some costs to justify and some residents to impress. It’s supposed to be a Staffordshire knot, but differs in the fact it doesn’t look much like one according to locals.
The council’s press officer clearly had The Beginner's Guide to Blagging to hand when he came up with the following:
"The logo aims to reflect the county council as a modern organisation, here to serve the people of Staffordshire. It also underlines a unified sense of pride in Staffordshire and its heritage." (The Sentinel)
Pride?? Where do you get that from? Perhaps we’re looking at it the wrong way up…
Meanwhile the opposition to Birmingham City Council’s new £2.8m website has formed into something of a guerilla movement as a local web aficionado fashions his own alternative site with information ‘scraped’ from the original. He’s now inviting the rest of us to rebel and assist him as he develops a cheaper, more useable alternative (Birmingham Mail).
It’s not the prettiest thing in the world at the moment, but this must be massively embarrassing for the council who let the drum roll for their own project build for a little too long before revealing what we’re led to believe is a pretty substandard facility.
And the problem certainly isn’t going away, as enthusiastic volunteers involved with BCC DIY are even holding a special day at Moseley Exchange where they’ll brainstorm for ideas for how to build their community-generated version.
No/low costs, higher public approval rate, more bespoke – couldn’t this have been done to start with?
Sandwell Council have been at it again, this time spending thousands on super-hero themed plays about recycling that have cost the taxpayer almost £30,000 in the past three years (Express & Star).
Rather than leaving the teaching to teachers, the Black Country authority have employed the services of ‘Eco-girl’ and the ‘Recycling Rapping Robot’ for no fewer than 130 sessions, whilst neighbouring Walsall Council felt that 18 sessions were more than adequate.
Julia Bridgett, the waste disposal manager at Sandwell Council, clearly thinks that there’s no such thing as too much intensive rap-based garbage fun, adding that, “The Recycler show leaves workbooks for the pupils themed on the show”.
Excellent. The trouble is, 12,000 kids in the Borough have had the pleasure of this particular show, so is
it really eco-friendly to be running off so many workbooks for children who are presumably being taught that gratuitously felling trees is something to be avoided? There appears to be a glaring contradiction there…
In their enthusiasm to come across as the most right-on eco-council on the block, some may argue that Sandwell could be dedicating rather too much time, energy and resources to the green agenda whilst all the time their school system generally props up the rest of the country with historically poor rankings from the Audit Commission.
And as Cllr Tony Ward points out:
“I think it’s a bit of a gimmick. We seem to be getting away from the basics of teaching and I can’t see why we need to spend this much on actors dressing up as superheroes to tell children why they should recycle.
“They should just do this in the classroom.”
At the end of the day, if such theatricals were the most effective way of educating children on any given subject, then why not just do that with every subject – heck, do away with schools entirely?! But on a serious note, between this and ‘Gipsy Awareness Month’, Sandwell are in real danger of diverting the curriculum away from important mainstays and spending too much time on faddy, politically correct missions, and though this may look good and tick a few boxes, ultimately it’s the children who lose out.
This isn’t about objecting to kids learning about recycling, it’s about acknowledging that children are exposed to lots of environmental information as it stands (most already know more than their parents!), and the classroom is an effective a place as any to reinforce the central messages. Many of us will recall visits from Theatre-In-Education companies whilst we were in school – it was a great opportunity for the teachers to put their feet up for the afternoon and for the kids to declare a ‘play day’, but ultimately it didn’t constitute a solid lesson and certainly Sandwell should beware of relying too heavily on these outside ‘experts’ and put a little more faith in their teachers and the long-time fundamentals of the classroom.