Councils discover competition – for others

Today we hear from local government that some schools and shops with a monopoly are over charging for school uniforms. Councils are told to require three solutions – access to competing shops, second hand markets and offers of school insiginia and badges at sensible prices so people can turn lower priced clothes into uniform. Great ideas!

So why can’t Councils apply this logic to some of their own services, where the monopoly service can be both expensive and not of the quality we want. I look forward to the day when I can choose from a range of car parking providers using Council land for car parks who compete on price and service, and to being able to select a refuse disposal service that meets my needs at a sensible price. I am going to have a long wait.


  1. Stephen Hillcoat
    August 21, 2009

    Rather strangely – and for once – I agree with John Redwood!

  2. Brian Tomkinson
    August 21, 2009

    You most certainly are going to have a long wait so dream on. Having said that, since most councils are run by the Conservatives what does that tell us about your party’s attitude to providing real value for money services?

    1. Man in a Shed
      August 22, 2009

      Its a small point, but councils are run by the local civil servants (especially the chief executive) and directed by councillors.

      The effectiveness of the political control depends on how the local councillors can deal with their local Sir Humphrey’s ( almost all of whom can be assumed to be stateist sympathisers ).

      Combine that with the massive control central government exerts and you have to wonder about political control.

      Still there are some outstanding Conservative councils in London who seem to have won their way through this difficulty.

      1. Brian Tomkinson
        August 22, 2009

        If councils are run by the local civil servants I wonder why we are paying councillors and wasting our time in voting for them.

        1. Man in a Shed
          August 23, 2009

          Of course most councillors aren’t paid but given allowances ( though that’s changed with some taking more cabinet type roles ).

          The real money goes to the chief executives ….

  3. Frugal Dougal
    August 21, 2009

    I suspect there are several answers to your question. One is that councils are bad at enforcing their own rules, because not all councillors know the rules of their own councils. I recommend the latest blog by Richard Normington, Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge City, for an enlightening example of this:

  4. Bretters
    August 21, 2009

    You may be aware of the Personalisation Initiative for Adults Social Care which is doing precisely this for social services. It is taking the choice of services and providers out of the hands of the Council and giving it to citizens. West Sussex County Council are a leading player in this fundamental change and are expecting to make considerable savings in public spending whilst maintaining or improving services delivered at the same time.

  5. Yarnesfromhorsham
    August 21, 2009

    Ok its bad very bad but to compare/clarify the projected deficit of £600m with the actual of £8b – was the b/f “investment” of £2.9m included in the projections. If it was then it is bad but if not its still not good. Its always helpful to get all the info dont you think.

  6. Mark M
    August 21, 2009

    But if councils introduce competition for rubbish collection, councillors won’t be able to accept all the lovely kickbacks and hospitality provided by their monopoly provider.

    I’m so cynical, for one so young

  7. Mark Parker
    August 21, 2009

    I’d like to make it illegal for LAs to derive income from any source except council tax and central govt grant. Once deprived of the opportunity to grow their empires by selling us use of what we already own we should see much greater realism about the projects they undertake and magically find many schemes such as parking can be adminstered much more cheaply.

  8. Demetrius
    August 21, 2009

    My council has introduced a complicated set of recycling rules and extra bins. Most of the bins now are no longer emptied and have yellow tags applied, but nobody is told exactly why. So every night now we have incinerators and bonfires in the gardens around sending lots of toxic smoke and particulates into the air. Other more responsible neighbours take big plastic bags to open spaces and leave them. One chap with a small pick up truck and short of money, will make the rubbish disappear for a modest cash consideration. He is very conscientious. Apparently, he always dumps it somewhere in another local authority.

    1. alan jutson
      August 21, 2009


      Exactly, no one thinks these things through do they.

      Gordons land fill tax means that a 6 yard skip costs £160 plus vat to hire in this area.

      Guess what the cowboy builders do, same as your man with the pick up, dump it (fly tipping). The Council then have to clear it up at huge expense, guess who pays.

      Responsible builders who play by the rules are then at another competitive disadvantage because they include for this skip hire cost in their quotations.

      Just out of interest if you are a builder and do carry any form of waste at all, even a bit of wood, a few broken bricks or some empty paint cans in your own vehicle, you need to have a toxic waste licence. You can be “fined” if caught without one.

      1. alan jutson
        August 21, 2009

        Almost forgot.


        If taking my own garden rubbish to Bracknell tip in my pick up, I am refused, take same rubbish in my wifes car, accepted, same rubbish, same people, same journey, same garden, same containers, but no it really does depend upon how you transport it there.

        Easier to load and unload a pick up so would spend less time causing a traffic jam in the tip, but no, better to mess up my wifes car and cause a traffic jam whilst i unload small bits at a time.

        Tried explaining that it is personal rubbish, that I am a local Council tax payer, that it is sorted for recycling, that is is in a council labeled bag, but no, its considered trade waste so I need to pay.

  9. Brian E.
    August 21, 2009

    Regrettably, it seems that most councillors are dominated by their permanent officials. Talking to a local councillor recently I asked why the local council had done certain things, and seemed that most of their actions are governed by the need to avoid any liability either in terms of Health & Safety, Data protection, Race relations, an EU directive, or the possibility of a legal challenge over some service.
    It seems that officials have convinced the councillors that they could be personally liable if they ignored the professional advice of their officers and thus things proceed more or less along the lines that the officials want, virtually ignoring any views of the council to the contrary.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      August 22, 2009

      “It seems that officials have convinced the councillors that they could be personally liable if they ignored the professional advice of their officers”

      If only…

  10. Mike Stallard
    August 21, 2009

    In our town (Wisbech) we have a monopolistic Secondary Education system. Just 25% of pupils leave with five GCSE’s.
    But – hey! – the leaving Prom was really cool!
    That, not uniforms, is the real scandal.
    Today, I was taking a book back to the Library, which was once the local girls’ secondary modern. I walked round the building wondering whether, in an ideal world, it could be used as a Michael Gove Swedish Academy.
    I wonder if there is any chance that Michael Gove is the person who will have the clout and the motivation and the bottle to help us open up a school for people who want an element of choice in their children’s education?
    It will be an uphill struggle as Toby Young wrote in his piece in last week’s Spectator .

    1. Stuart Fairney
      August 22, 2009

      Maybe it’s the “old duffer” in me talkin’ but these imported Yankie cultural tradtions (trick or treat, the prom etc) really annoy the hell out of me.

      I would just make the point that if Michael Gove could staff the academies with some imported Swedish female teachers then you may see parental involvement in the schools rocket ( or should that be male parental involvement?)

      1. Mike Stallard
        August 22, 2009


  11. Chris H
    August 22, 2009

    Our family is well past the school uniform stage of life now; but I don’t understand why schools don’t make more effort to encourage the sale of clean and tidy second-hand uniforms. We went through three private schools with our son, and each one had an active second-hand uniform sales system, run by the schools’ “Friends” groups. They were always well supported and we were able to find new “homes” for our son’s blazers and jumpers as he outgrew them. These groups also sold a vast variety of second-hand sports clothes….again, things like rugby shorts, t shirts, sweaters, track-suits…..all quite expensive when new and all in demand from parents who were eager to save money while ensuring they could carry on paying the school fees. Private-school parents are the most miserly out of the whole lot (we certainly were)…..the people most regularly in the queues were the most well-off!

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