In June an incident of offensive graffiti at POSK in King Street prompted strong condemnation. But the wider problem often gets less attention. Graffiti – often threatening, obscene, racist or homophobic – is all too widespread.
The present Council service regarding this is very limited. I’m told:
“The Graffiti Action Team removes graffiti from the public highway and parks and open spaces. They do not usually remove graffiti from private or housing land. If there is graffiti on private land then the Council would contact the owner or person responsible for the land and request they make provision for removal of the graffiti. This would usually be completed by a private contractor. On occasions it is necessary to serve a legal notice on the property owner to ensure removal is completed. “
I would like to see the Council offer a free graffiti removal service for all property – business, residential, housing association, council housing, privately owned homes, shops, offices, TfL. It would seem quite likely that the cost of the extra work involved in graffiti removal would be partly offset by reduced admin costs. The availability of this service should be publicised on the Council’s website – with information of how to report it including an email address and a phone number.
The idea of serving a court order for someone who has already had the distress of obscene or racist graffiti painted on their home to get it removed would effectively mean punishing the victim twice. With the Council’s chemicals and jet sprays it would be pretty easy to remove it for them – but it might be quite expensive or physically challenging for an elderly or vulnerable person to manage it for themselves.
In practice enforcement action is not taken. Lesley Gates the Council’s Waste Contract Manager tells me:
“No graffiti removal notices have been served by the Council in the last 12 months.”
However 20 people were written asking them to arrange to have graffiti removed. Rather than flaffing in a jobsworth manner checking whose responsibility removal is we should just get on with cleaning it away.
The Council’s graffiti removal budget is currently £199,000 a year for highways and parks. Rather inefficiently there is a different service for council estates and the costs “not monitored separately.”
Let us accept that providing a free service for all property would probably require an increased budget even after improvements in efficiency. If the Council is serious about wishing to defeat hate crime it is spending that should be given a priority.
After all the Council spent £38,556 on a Unity Rally in July – not including the cost of staff time. Westfield chipped in £10,000 but that is still left a substantial sum for an event where only a couple of hundred people turned up. It would have been cheaper to give each of them lunch at the River Cafe.
The idea of the Rally was to send out a message that the overwhelming majority of people in the borough – Conservatives/Labour whether they voted Leave or Remain in the EU referendum – condemn bigotry. That was a positive theme. You can read Cllr Joe Carlebach’s speech here.
But wouldn’t a more cost effective way of delivering the same message be for the Council to provide a free, comprehensive and rapid service to remove message of hate sprayed on any building in the borough?