Terence Blacker: I spy a fly-tipper. And a litter bug ...

Nothing exercises the British more than interference with their rubbish

Related Topics

Some surprisingly positive news has emerged from local government. Across Britain, councils have been reviving the spirit of adventure and self-entertainment which many thought had died in the age of the computer; I-Spy, that game for all the family, is back.

At least 17 councils are encouraging adults and children to play I-spy when it comes to litter, fly-tipping, graffiti, excessive noise and other environmental crimes. Having made a note of the details, they then make a little report to the authorities. With a bit of luck, this amateur sleuthing will bring environmental villains of one kind or another to justice.

The recruitment of citizens as "environment volunteers" has caused a flurry of concern among those who are alarmed – quite rightly – about the erosion of individual liberties. They see the policy as a sneak's charter, the final triumph of the Crimewatch culture. They argue that enrolling children as young as seven to be "Junior Street Champions" will turn them into sanctimonious little Esther Rantzens, forever scolding us for our sins.

Yet, rather to my surprise, I find myself warming to the project.

The idea of getting people involved in the running of their community is eminently sensible. Belatedly, councils have begun to realise it is the alienated who tend to behave badly. A spirit of positive nimbyism is needed: a campaign to show that taking action to make one's backyard a fairer and more pleasant place has greater value, and gives more personal satisfaction, than any amount of pointless, generalised moaning.

The volunteers – 8,442 and rising – are not snoops or grasses. They are people who have woken up to the fact that becoming involved in small-scale community activity is a direct, unfussy way of countering the selfishness of a wider society.

Unfortunately, a good idea has been badly presented. Because we live in a culture hooked on punishment and revenge, the message has been about enforcement and getting others into trouble. The grim spectre of people spying on their neighbour's recycling habits has been invoked – and nothing gets the British more exercised than interference in the way they disperse their rubbish.

It was naïve of Islington Council to give its volunteers the sinister-sounding name of "Eyes for Islington". That "Junior Street Champions" tag for young recruits is even more Orwellian, echoing rather creepily the Junior Anti-Sex League of 1984. It is hardly surprising that critics, and possibly some volunteers themselves, have begun to see the policy as the government encouraging citizens to police their neighbours – the polar opposite of community spirit.

It is not too late for councils to shift the emphasis. The idea that doing something for one's own community is more useful and satisfying than gazing with impotent rage at the bigger picture is not such a stupid one. Those who report litter may even one day do the thing which is commonplace in other countries, but not our own – pick it up.

Encouraging children to be environmental observers is not to corrupt them. It is a long shot but, just possibly, handing out pencils, giving them badges and encouraging them to think of others may help them grow up to be happier, less selfish adults.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

Read Next

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping child abuse taking place right now

Mary Dejevsky
A ‘hugely irritated’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind on his way home from Parliament on Monday  

Before rushing to criticise Malcolm Rifkind, do you know how much being an MP can cost?

Isabel Hardman
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower