Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Shovel your own streets . . .

The Conservative Party endorses the Idea of the Big Society. Briefly speaking, this is the view that citizens should become more reliant on (and helpful to) each other and less reliant on the state to satisfy various needs and wants. We are all in it together and should lend a helping hand where we can rather than wait for the state to do it for us.

Of course, there is much that is attractive about this view, but also much that is problematic. One attractive feature is we should all be encouraged to assist others where we can, all things considered. The problems include the major worry that certain services should not be left to the beneficience and good will of other (just in case these services are not honoured).

Enter the major snowstorm that has covered the UK. Many councils eventually cleared the major roads, but few (if any) cleared "minor" roads -- or, in other words, the roads where most people live. My own street and surrounding areas do not appear to have had any gritters or snow ploughs to clear the snow and ice despite more than a week of daily snow fall. My walk home continues upon icy sidewalks where no one has shovelled.

There are reasons why snow removal has been such a problem in the UK. One reason is that the snow rarely stays for long. Most snow storms leave only a dusting or 1-2" which begins to melt the next day. Why have expensive equipment for something so temporary? A second reason is that you may become liable for another's injury if your snow removal contributed to it. Thus, you may be on safer legal grounds against claims from persons walking past your property if you did not shovel the snow (because you would not be liable for any injuries on your property because of a fall).

One sign of the Big Society IN PRACTICE would be citizens digging each other out. As someone from Connecticut, I find it incredible how so little snow causes so much chaos.

It appears that the government has heard my anguish. We now have the Transport Secretary agreeing that citizens should help dig each other out. (Details here.) However, his plans go much further than American norms. It is common in the US to find sidewalks shovelled within 48 hours. Often this may be in keeping with local laws. The Transport Secretary wants us to help remove snow from our properties and neighbours in need but also our streets! Apparently, if you have trouble getting out of your property, then the problem is that you have failed to use your shovel to dig sufficient amounts of snow from your front door to a main road. Welcome to the Big Society. (I'd rather leave for a Small Island myself . . .)

Some say the attitude here is of the "stiff upper lip": better to "get on with things" than "whinge" about them. Perhaps. Nevertheless, I am at a loss as to why there is not greater pressure on councils to clear snow from all streets and public walkways, not just the main postal routes.

We shall see if the Big Society can deliver, although has any Tory MP or supporter shovelled their sidewalk or part of their street? If not, then perhaps we can do without the Big Society after all . . . .

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