Conservative controlled Harrow Council has been criticised over a plan to recruit 2,000 "Neighbourhood Champions" to report instances of such problems as graffiti and fly-tipping. They might also report more serious crimes and any such information the Council would pass on to the police. Councillors spend a lot of time reporting graffiti and fly tipping doing so is very open as the "broken windows theory" has been proved right. But councillors don't visit every street in their wards every day.
Encouraging volunteers to help seems to me eminently sensible. They won't be paid although the Council is setting aside £100,000 to run the scheme. Of course they could report such problems already without being made Neighbourhood Champions but Neighbourhood Watch schemes have shown that people sometimes respond to encouragement to keep a look out. My only criticism is that the Council's own staff or those of their contractors – such as road sweepers, Parks staff, etc – should already be reporting these matters rather than leaving it to councillors or "Neighbourhood Champions."
We shall wait and see how effective it is in practice. But do those who take part deserve to be compared to the Stasi? Do the community spirited citizens of Harrow, doing their bit. equate to those using terror to sustain an evil totalitarian regime? Tim Montgomerie wrote about "inappropriate comparisons." I think that is putting it midly in this case.
Cllr Susan Hall, the Deputy Leader and Portfolio holder for Environment and Community Safety in Harrow, has responded to her critics on the Daily Mail website comments on their report by saying:
"Can I offer your readers a few words of reassurance re the suggestion that Harrow Council is "enlisting 2,000 resident spies." This scheme is nothing to do with Orwellian visions of big brother, but is all about our residents having a hotline to tell us about things they want us – the council and the police – to do. We anticipate the vast majority of calls we receive about the Neighbourhood Champions will be on issues like litter and graffiti – that is the whole thrust of the scheme. The private lives of our residents are just that, private, and this scheme is nothing to do with prying or encouraging tittle tattle. If we were to receive calls on any other area of concern, we would make a common sense assessment of the information we receive and pass it to the police or relevant agency on merit."