Hiding behind Exaggeration


Is exaggeration hiding the debate?

Do you know what I hate more than anything in the whole world, that there is not a single thing in the world which I wouldn’t do to get rid of it?

Exaggeration.

Exaggeration is at the heart of many unnecessary arguments, and is the thing which skews correct and useful information into something which bears little or no relation to anything that can be used to formulate an informed and valid opinion. And when one person or group gets a reputation for exaggeration, it is assumed that most things they then say is exaggerated, which can in turn lessen its impact hugely.

This point came to mind when reading a recent press release from Unison, which you should be able to find amongst other places at the Lancashire Unison website. In it they bring up a number of duties which the government is aiming to scrap, and explore the possible levels of anarchy which would then be possible. A few of my personal favourites include:

Environmental Protection Act 1990, Section 89

Councils currently have to keep land and highways clear of litter. Would litter start to pile up on our streets?

Public Health Act 1936

Councils have to provide mortuaries. Would removing this duty see bodies pile up in the street?

Licensing Act 2003 Section 18

Requires local authorities to have a system for regulating premises licenses, including issuing licenses. Would we see strip clubs set up on any corner?

I’m no political expert, but I’m pretty sure I am able to offer three answers to these questions: No, No and No. Just because something could be done doesn’t mean it should or would be done. I could decide to apply for every credit card and loan offer which comes through my door this week, quit my job and take the cash to set up a new life in the heart of the rainforest: my family however may have other ideas.

Likewise, just because these changes mean that theoretically the council would have no requirement to clean up the litter on the streets in no way means that they would necessarily take advantage of this. Councillors wouldn’t let it happen, officers wouldn’t let it happen and I’m certain that local people wouldn’t let it happen.

There is also the argument we have explored before about whether telling someone they have to do something actually makes any difference at all as to whether or not they do it. Telling authorities that they must sort out dead bodies makes not a jot of difference to whether they do so; it’s simply one of the services that needs providing and one they will provide as best they can.

All of this unfortunately takes away focus from some of the other issues that Unison raises in their press release around some things which may indeed be worth discussing. The potential abolition of the Freedom of Information Act; the requirement to adopt a multi-agency approach when dealing with young offenders; the licensing of taxis; all of these are issues which are worth debating and highlighting. How many of these will really be ignored without a duty in place? How many of these will detrimentally impact on the lives of local people or the work of the Council?

These proposals need to be highlighted, but by including the above examples the risk is run that whoever does so will be accused of crying wolf, and genuine concerns will be more easily swept aside. By simply focussing on things which are more difficult to argue rather than those with a simple response the debate can be held in the right place.

So for the millionth time, stop exaggerating!

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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