Northampton businesses will now have to cough up for the cost of having offensive and racist graffiti removed from their premises.
The new charge has been introduced in a new policy agreed by Northampton Borough Council’s cabinet on January 16, following a review of the new environmental services contract with Veolia that started in June 2018.
Under the previous environmental services contract, all graffiti and fly posting was removed free of charge, regardless of whose property it was on.
But although the new policy retains a free removal service for council property and domestic households that aren’t in housing associations, it will now charge the cost of work plus a 10 per cent administration fee for all other properties.
It also follows a motion from councillors on September 10 that agreed to adopt a formal policy for the removal of graffiti in ‘a quality manner, free of charge on private property’.
The motion was proposed by cabinet member for the environment Councillor Mike Hallam, and received cross-party backing and was seconded by Labour councillor Les Marriott.
But critics are claiming that the new policy to charge businesses appears to go against the very motion that councillors had supported. Back in September, Councillor Marriott said he would back the motion as he had dealt with a local business that had wrongly been charged under the previous contract.
At the time, he said: "This motion is basically affirming that we will do a quality job and at no cost to the victim. That applies to houses as well as businesses. Doing so is the basis of being a good council.”
Councillor Marriott was surprised to be informed by the Local Democracy Reporting Service last month that businesses and commercial properties would now have to pay.
He said: “I don’t think it has been fairly implemented. It was a surprise reading the new graffiti policy.”
Labour leader Councillor Danielle Stone added: “Our understanding was that businesses would be given the same as residents. Motions keep being raised and then when you see the resulting policy the interpretation of it is different.”
But a council spokesman said that the new charge hadn’t been subject to any complaints from ward councillors.
Asked if the wording of the motion was too vague, or whether councillors had been informed if there was the potential for a charge, the spokesman said: “The wording of motions agreed at full council is used as a basis for the development of appropriate and workable council policies.
“These are then taken to cabinet for sign-off – as happened with this policy on Wednesday January 16 – where councillors and members of the public have an opportunity to make representation. There was no representation regarding this policy.”
Speaking at the cabinet meeting on January 16, cabinet member Councillor Hallam had said the policy was ‘a direct result’ of the earlier motion.
He added: “We need to stamp out the racist stuff particularly quickly, and are going over and beyond what our neighbouring authorities are doing.”
Under its Veolia contract, the council employs a contractor to remove graffiti, but the council does ‘not have a duty’ to remove it, it claims in the policy papers.
The new policy categorises graffiti into two priorities. Priority One is offensive graffiti, which is classified as either inciting through a political, racial or religious nature, hate statements, or images that are graphically explicit.
All examples of priority one graffiti will be removed from domestic properties within one working day free for domestic properties, or a chargeable clean within one working day of an indemnity and payment receipt from commercial properties.