In Minneapolis, you have to do it within 24 hours. In Boston there is a $250 fine if you don’t do it. Most German towns have a statute spelling out exactly how you should do it. What is it? - cleaning snow off the pavements and other areas around your house.
The recent snowy weather has perfectly illustrated a point raised before Christmas in the CIPFA /SOLACE report which looked at ways public services could cope with an economic downturn. One of their suggestions was to redefine the relationship between the citizen and the state or, to put it another way, suggest that certain things are personal responsibilities. The recent icy spell has demonstrated what people feel about this. Various commentators have lambasted public services for not being able to keep roads and pavements clear. They have compared this with other countries that do things so much better. However it is in these comparisons that this definition of what is the state responsibility and what is the individual’s responsibility is best illustrated. Writing in The Times, one correspondent suggested that, “In Finland when it snows we simply change the tyres on our cars and off we go”. What he didn’t say was that the council brought around a set of new snow tyres so they could get to work. Furthermore, in Finland nobody would dream of going out in the winter without warm clothing, hot drink, a spade and various other accoutrements in their car. Here if one gets stuck, it is somehow the responsibility of the local authority.
This debate has been further played out in the pages of the York local paper, The Press. Two camps have been debating the tricky issue of clearing the pavements. On the one hand there are a group of people who suggest that the responsibility for the pavement outside your house is, and has always been, the responsibility of the householder. They suggest that in the past it was quite normal for people to clear the bit of path outside their house and to pop round and help out a neighbour. They suggest this is a good thing and that the council cannot be expected to do everything.
The second camp says that all pavements, roads and for that matter most other things, are the responsibility of the council and it is a clear scandal that every inch of the pavement, pathway and road has not been gritted and cleared on each occasion that it has snowed. For them the killer argument is, “I pay my council tax and that’s what I pay my council tax for, to have my roads cleared”. Of course it is not what they pay their council tax for but the idea that taxes are somehow direct payments for services received has considerable traction.
This debate is more important than simply one about icing. Was there ever a golden age where people were more community minded, more likely to see things as their responsibility and not expect the state to do everything? It would come as an astonishment to any citizen of a Scandinavian country that somehow bad weather and our response to it is purely a state responsibility and not an individual one. As 2010 progresses I suspect there will be many more debates concerning that which the state ought to provide and that which we ought to do for ourselves. But the early cold snap illustrates the point well.
|Winter Gritting et al.
Good article on responsibilities about snow clearing responsibilities. But who will get the debate into the national media? A job for the LGA?
By Michel Pepper on 08/01/2010 @ 14:43:39 | Country: England, Great Britain
|A Winters Tale
How I do agree with the comment about personal responsibility in bad weather. It's not just in Europe, but seemingly across the world that those countries that experience bad weather regularly plays a clear responsibility on the citizen to clear the snow in front of their house. I know for a fact that in Canada this is an obligation in law. If, as happens, someone is unable because of age or infirmity to clear the snow in front of their house then the neighbours rally round to do it for them. This seems to me to be an encouragement to greater community involvement as well as a practical way of providing greater public safety. I have heard it said that the reason why people don't clear the snow in front of their houses in the UK is that they fear that it will give some form of legal liability if somebody slips because they have given, in effect, an undertaking that the footpath is safe. If that is the fear, then it is "healthy and safety" gone mad.
By Roger Latham on 08/01/2010 @ 15:22:29 | Country: UK
|What role for councillors?
I've blogged on this very topic.
By Dan Drillsma-milgrom on 08/01/2010 @ 17:21:15 | Country: UK
|Corrections on Finland.
Hi David, a commenter on my blog pointed me at this post via the Guardian website. I'm afraid to tell you your points about Finland simply aren't true. In a decade in Finland, I've never heard about local councils having anything to do with winter tyres - the only vaguely comparable story I can think of is that some local authorities provided a service to put small metal studs into the shoes of elderly citizens to lower the risk of them slipping on icy pavements (and hence stress on healthcare services). The idea that everyone has hots drinks and shovel in their car is also simply not true. I do carry a shovel in mine because my hobbies take me down remote country roads, but I've helped others out who were stuck without such implements. You must have winter tyres here by law, but when there is a sudden snowfall (and not necessarily that much snow) you still get traffic chaos and accidents. This issue came up on my blog because I was actually writing about how British journalists incorrectly seem to think that everything works perfectly here when it's just not true. See: http://lightfromthenorth.blogspot.com/2010/01/finland-doesnt-work.html I hope these clarifications are helpful.
Toby in Helsinki.
By Toby Archer on 14/01/2010 @ 11:55:25 | Country: Finland
|Radio 4 this morning
I assume your blog post prompted your appearance on Radio 4's Today programme this morning. I'm not a politician nor a local government employee, just an ordinary citizen. I was very impressed with what you said (and the way you said it) and would ask that you repeat it all at any opportunity. This should include giving the answer "I'm not sure" when appropriate. Many thanks, Richard.
By Richard Gibson on 09/02/2010 @ 09:49:11 | Country: UK
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