The press today is full of stories about Josephine Rooney, a Derby pensioner who decided to go to prison rather than pay her council tax. She argues that because Derby City Council isn’t fulfilling its obligations to her street she won’t pay her tax until they do. Sounds fair enough, but knowing a bit about her I thought it was worth fleshing out the story a bit.
Josephine Rooney is quite right when she says that her street is neglected. Hartington Street in Derby is a beautiful street, with some very attractive buildings and as a result of its architectural importance has been a conservation area for some years. This picture gives you some idea of how it once looked. But despite this it has an appalling reputation in Derby. It is a notorious redlight district, it is home to numerous drug dealers and the majority of the large attractive houses have now been converted in to tatty bedsits where the average length of stay for a resident is a matter of months. When I lived in Derby, one of my friends lived on the street. The condition of the building she lived in was appalling, there would often be rubbish dumped outside and in the yard, and if you’d dropped her off at home in your car you would always make sure that she’d managed to let herself in to the building before driving off in case something untoward happened. Josephine Rooney is one of a number of residents, but the key one, who has been campaigning for years to get something done about the street. I couldn’t tell you about all the initiatives that have happened on that street over the years, but given how bad the street looks now and how people were saying that “something must be done” when I moved to Derby in 1999 it is hardly surprising that Josephine Rooney has reached the end of her patience.
It is difficult for councils to defend themselves against accusations from an individual when the criticism of that person is political. What I mean is this. It is Derby City Council that took Josephine Rooney to court, just as it should do when someone doesn’t pay their council tax, but to defend itself against the accusations from Josephine Rooney that the council doesn’t care it ends up wading in to political territory. But despite this, the council has to defend itself and I think the most salient part of Derby City Council’s statement on the issue is this:
Local councillors have set up a residents group for the area but, despite a personal invitation to join the group from Council Leader Chris Williamson, Miss Rooney has refused to work with us in tackling the anti-social behaviour.
That I’m afraid is also my experience of Josephine Rooney. When I was a Liberal Democrat councillor in Derby, Josephine Rooney got in touch with the Liberal Democrats about the problems on her street. We tried to be helpful and encourage her to stand up for the street as her comments on Hartington Street were very valid. As a member of the council’s Conservation Area Advisory Committee there were often issues relating to the street coming up, and so I got to know Josephine and spoke up for the street a number of times. In fact the Lib Dems were sufficiently impressed with her and her with us that she agreed to be the Lib Dem candidate in Arboretum ward that covers her street in the 2002 elections. She ended up appearing on one leaflet as our candidate, but then she disappeared, didn’t turn up to meetings and became increasingly uncooperative with the party. There wasn’t anything that prompted this about turn on her part, but when you read the comments from Derby City Council it sounds as though part of her problem is that she isn’t as cooperative as you would imagine from the plaudits that she has received. In 2003 she stood as an Independent in Arboretum Ward and in 2004 she stood as a UKIP candidate in Abbey Ward. Neither time did she come anywhere near being elected. I find the UKIP candidature particularly interesting as they seem to be picking up a few of these council tax rebels, such as Sylvia Hardy in Derby who has been quoted as saying that she wouldn’t pay her council tax even if she could as she didn’t agree with money being spent on Europe. It makes you wonder if there is another motivation to these protests.
Hartington Street in Derby is a real issue and as a result of that money has been spent there by the council. But it is no doubt true that it hasn’t been as effective as it could be. But the biggest problem is the way the street has become so dominated by run-down rented properties that landlords don’t care about. The street needs a proper investment programme that will change some properties back in to large family homes again (not as unlikely an option as it might sound) and refurbish some properties as upmarket apartments. This will then help bring other properties up to a decent standard. This cannot be done by the council alone although it is probably true that the council (no doubt under all of the recent political affiliations it has had recently – Labour, Lib Dem/Tory and now Labour/Tory) hasn’t done enough for the area. But that doesn’t mean that Josephine Rooney is right to be held up as a martyr to the cause.
Josephine Rooney has a habit of getting the backs up of those people who do want to try and achieve something. She doesn’t cooperate with the council when given the opportunity. Yes she does care, but is slating the council and witholding your tax the best solution. The council can’t do it on their own and they have made some efforts. She needs to stop playing the martyr by withholding her council tax and lobby for real effective action from everyone who can make a difference and not just target the council. She will have the sympathy of right-wing tabloids but ultimately it will achieve nothing.
THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON “ANDERS HANSON’S BLOG” BUT WAS MOVED TO THIS WEBSITE WHEN THAT SITE WAS REPLACED