I have sat for long enough and read the reports, seen the pictures, headlines, Tweets, Facebook updates and had conversations with my own team and colleagues.
Paul Rabbitts, MLA FRSA, Chair- The Parks Management Forum
I have spoken at length with colleagues across the country who are managing parks in Manchester, Nottingham, Rugby, Salford, Merseyside, Bournemouth, Newcastle, in fact UK wide.
Litter, mountains of the stuff, tonnes of it, is being dropped and dumped in our parks and green spaces.
In Rugby's parks, there are 10 tonnes of extra litter being removed from their parks per day. Similar in Salford's Parks where tonnes of rubbish have almost double compared to last year. We see reports of people 'shitting' in McDonald's burger boxes and leaving then in parks and on beaches for council staff to remove. Thousands of gas canisters of Nitrous Oxide appearing in parks and these are not even illegal. Reports that the Met Police can no longer control our streets, let alone parks.
So, is this a symptom just of coming out of lockdown? Is it a change in societal behaviour? Is it partly a result of austerity? Fewer police officers and parks staff? Or that pubs and clubs, bars, cinemas are all still closed? What makes a human being think it is acceptable to take a dump in a McDonald's throwaway Big Mac box and leave it for some poor soul to remove? Matthew Wright on TV called them 'pigs' and was condemned by many for saying such a thing. But pigs would not even behave like this. They are worse than pigs. It is feral behaviour with no limits. These people do not care. Parks staff have been spat at and abused.
I took a call from a Guardian reporter who was doing a feature on litter in parks and wanted my views as Chair of the Parks Management Forum. Chaos, it's chaos out there, and parks teams are struggling to cope with it after years of austerity and parks maintenance budgets stripped to the bone.
Many proffer solutions: better signage, CCTV, Fixed Penalty Notices, councils need to do a better job (please, really??), the police need to take action, more bins.
So why are we experiencing such behaviour and what is the answer? We live in a society that is now largely divisive, confrontational, with leaders that have spouted bile and hatred, from Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump, stirring up society, pulling communities apart. If we don't respect our leaders, then we become dysfunctional, out of control, without any boundaries as to what is acceptable. Bad behaviour breeds bad behaviour. And behaviour has been shocking, at times disgusting.
Society is protected by our public services and public services have been stripped bare. Local authorities, already struggling, now have to cope with the aftermath of Covid-19. We rely on our public services for our basic needs - healthcare, safety, protection, wellbeing, cleanliness, housing, social care to providing recreational facilities that support all these. Yet these have been decimated so when we start to lose control, the spiral of decline increases. So the answers?
- We need to focus on communities, and communities need a robust public sector to support and engage with them. Public services are the fabric of our society.
- We need strong leadership at all levels - in our communities, in our town halls, in our Government, in our schools and colleges and examples of strong leadership must be at the highest level - New Zealand anyone? Jacinda is an inspiration.
- We need to set examples, and we need to make sure there is a deterrent for such behaviour, stiff fines for littering, and I mean stiff, and we need law enforcement that can deliver such deterrents.
- We need to focus on the things that matter - our health, our wellbeing, our communities and start relying on people power rather than accepting the bad behaviour of others as acceptable because it isn't. This has to come from Government.
- We need to fix society and it has to come from within and we need to do it now.
This is no easy fix in the current climate, but we can certainly start with strong leadership and setting better examples for all.