Opinion: Floccinaucinihilipilification

“For most people, the only visible service that they get from the council is the removal of refuse” – Eric Pickles, Daily Mail, 30th September

Floccinaucinihilipilification – the action or habit of estimating something as worthless, Oxford English Dictionary

This may or not be the longest word in the English language, but today is a rare chance to use it. It sums up Eric Pickles after his eccentric comment today about council services .

The honourable people who empty our bins every week or every fortnight have hundreds of thousands of colleagues working alongside them in their councils: 1.7 million according to the LGA – yet they are invisible according to Pickles.

One wonders what kind of world Pickles’s people inhabit. Do they not register their children at birth or send them to school? Do they not bury their dead? Do they never use a public toilet? Do they fly over the pavements and roads? Do they never look at a tree or stroll in the park? And one assumes they have their own personal fire engine?

“All the Council does for me is empty my bins” is not a new remark. It’s ignorant, but in a disingenuous way. You wouldn’t catch people in need saying it – many of them depend on council services, such as housing support and social services, and respect them. Rather, it’s the type of dismissive comment made by the comfortably-off person who resents paying for public services and affects not to notice them.

This is bad enough from the Daily Mailers of this world, but it’s offensive coming from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He is after all, responsible for local government and should know better than to encourage them. This casual denial of his army of council workers reduce his credibility. He is not fit for the job.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Simon McGrath 1st Oct '11 - 5:33pm

    Pickles comment was spot on. For many people this is the most visible service and more to the point the one where the can most easily see how well the council performs. It is very simple – households produce rubbish, do the council remove it in a timely manner and without making anyone who disobeys their many rules feel like criminals.

    If a council can’t pass this extremely simple test then council tax payees are limpet to form an unfavourable view of the other services they provide.

  • Not true Simon: The pavements, trees and roads we can see outside our houses and flats 24 hours a day for seven days a week are the most visible service. And more to the point, Pickles said the ‘the only visible service’ wheras you said ‘the most visible service’. These two statements are worlds apart.

  • Harry, in a sense Simon, and Eric Pickles are right. If the council prunes the trees outside my house, I guess they do it when I’m out at work. They can’t take credit for the trees being planted, as they’ve been there for at least a hundred years now and so predate the council’s existence. The roads only ever seem to be dug up by BT and the water companies. I do on the other hand see my bin emptied as it’s done very noisily at about 8 on a Friday morning.

  • Old Codger Chris 1st Oct '11 - 9:31pm

    The crucial word is “visible”. Many people who have no children (and there have never been so many single person households as today) or who send their children to fee paying schools, are only aware of the council when their bins are emptied or when they are held up by council roadworks.

    For those living in the shire counties even the local authority school and the fire brigade are not run by the “local” council – and even the most unimportant seeming streets may be “County’s” responsibilty. As for public toilets – where are they?!

    But I do agree that Pickles isn’t fit for office, for several reasons.

  • Ed Maxfield 1st Oct '11 - 9:43pm

    I hesitate to disagree with my own local councillor but Pickles could be the best thing that has happened to local government for years. He is intent on challenging the status quo and forcing local government to justify what it does and the way it does it.

    Liberal Democrats should welcome that even if we dont agree entirely with his prescription. Better to engage with him and set out how local government should become a flexible, responsive, organic party of local communities rather than defend the Blairite model which had all but reduced local government to uniform, inward looking ‘local delivery units’ for centrally defined services.

    Good word though. I definitely plan to work it into a conversation in the office on Monday.

  • Parasite, just quickly, where I am a councillor, it is the council which is frequently seen keeping our road network in an excellent condition, and many trees are newly planted (though less probably in future than in recent years). And the new street lights are great too…

    So it is a good natured debate where we can probably find examples all around (I know less about where you live for instance). But Mr Pickles on the other hand was determined to use the generalising and absolute ‘only visible service’ in ‘most councils’ which is not challenging the status quo so much as denigrating councils universally. Hence this article.

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