Over the past few weeks I, like every other County Councillor, have been inundated with complaints about the state of grass verges.
On Thursday I had a meeting with senior officers at County Hall to discuss why, during May and early June, grass verge cutting had gone so badly wrong. My meeting was enlightening but also gave me a degree of confidence that lessons have been learned and measures will be put in place where these are at all practicable.
We all know that due to budgetary restrictions Leicestershire County Council have reduced the number of grass verge cuts from 8/9 to 5 per year. This measure has been introduced a part of the government's austerity agenda and was largely supported through a wide reaching public consultation exercise which the County Council undertook last year.
What local residents may be unaware of however is that from April this year the County Council has brought it's grass cuttings operation back in house following a long term contract with a private operator.
Officers confirmed to me that this has led to some teething troubles, particularly around North West Leicestershire where complaints stand at approximately double the next most affected district.
As part of moving the grass cutting operation in house new industrial scale 'flail' machines have been purchased as part of an invest to save programme. Officers have informed me there have been a number of issues with the settings on these machines. In effect a combination of cutting height and stipulated speed have caused a great deal of 'springback' (where the mower effectively flattens but does not cut). Investigations are being carried out to identify the optimum height and speed to accommodate the cutting timetable here in Leicestershire.
I am informed that North West Leicestershire has been particularly badly affected by staff ill-health absence. This has resulted in alternative staff being shipped in from other areas to cover. Clearly staff who do not know the area are uncertain about which parts of green space should be cut and this leads to a slowing down of the mowing process, effectively a vicious circle.
It is undoubtedly the case that many local residents will be unhappy about the reduction in frequency of cuts, sadly, there is very little I can do about this.
As I have been informed in North West Leicestershire there have been problems over and above grass cutting frequency, which is possibly understandable as a result new significant set of processes. I am hopeful and reassured that these will not reoccur.
As services are reduced much of the job of a councillor (even an opposition one) is explaining about why things are happening. Clearly the vast majority of residents would prefer to see more regularly grass verge cutting, the reality says that that isn't possible.
I shall, as ever, try to keep you informed with what is happening at County Hall.