The Scrutiny Support Officer submitted a covering report to provide the Panel with background information in relation to the new scrutiny topic of dog fouling, agreed as part of the Panels work programme at its meeting on 11 June 2012.
It had been intended that P Robertson, Environmental Protection Manager, would be in attendance at the meeting to provide detailed information on various aspects of the topic, but unfortunately he was unable to attend due to illness. Therefore, A Mace, Operations Manager Area Care, G Robinson, Area Care and K Larkin, Environmental Protection Officer, were in attendance at the meeting to assist with providing an overview of the subject.
A Mace, Operations Manager, Area Care, provided Members with a copy of figures showing area trends for dog fouling across the town for 2010 and 2011/12. Despite public perception indicating that dog fouling had worsened, the most recent figures for fouling, as at January 2013, showed that there had been a slight decrease overall, for areas surveyed, from 3.7% to 3.1%. The percentage figures were based on the BVPI scoring system whereby the inspection team carried out inspections of randomly selected areas right across the town on a twice yearly basis.
It was highlighted that a slight increase had been noted in dog fouling in alley-gated areas as some irresponsible owners let dogs out into the alley. The Operations Manager stated that he would obtain information for the Panel in relation to the numbers of reports made by members of the public to the Contact Centre (recorded on the CRM system) in relation to dog fouling. Comparative information would be provided from the 2011, 2012 and the year to date.
Reference was made to Dog Control Orders and it was confirmed that Middlesbrough currently had three Dog Control Order areas - all Council owned cemeteries and crematorium, Central Gardens (around Mima), and Albert Park. Failure to remove dog dirt was an offence in all of these designated areas, but Dog Control Orders were used to enforce other offences as well. However, it was understood that the Government had recently announced plans to potentially scrap the introduction of new Dog Control Orders and further information and clarification was awaited. Members were advised that it was an offence for any person in charge of a dog to fail to clean up dog waste from designated land under the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996.
The Scrutiny Support Officer circulated several articles extracted from the BBCs news website whilst researching the topic, illustrating various approaches taken to dog fouling by several authorities in the UK, including:-
Private security firms being employed to enforce against dog fouling.
Potential introduction of DNA testing for dogs.
Introduction of dog fouling smartphone app.
The Panel was advised of the Green Dog Walker Scheme which was being piloted at Hemlington Lake as part of a drive to reduce dog fouling in that area. The scheme was launched in June 2012 and it was hoped that it would be extended to other areas of the town if successful. The scheme was run by local Councillors and volunteers and was intended to be an informal approach to changing attitudes about dog fouling. The idea had originated in Falkirk, Scotland where the scheme had been in operation for several years and was now spreading to other areas.
Participants in the scheme signed a pledge to always clean up after their dog and to encourage other dog walkers to do the same. Participants were asked to wear a green dog walker armband when walking their dog and to also carry extra bags and poop scoops for distribution to other dog walkers if requested. A number of dog walkers had already signed up to the scheme.
During discussion, the following issues were raised:-
The Panel questioned what the current position was with regards to staffing levels and how that had been affected by budget reductions.
In terms of Area Care, the Operations Manager advised that Area Care had lost 37 employees, including two managers, since 2010, through voluntary and compulsory redundancies. The service currently employed a totally of 106 staff. The impact on service delivery was that the service made every attempt to maintain service standards, however, the streets were not quite as clean as they were one year ago.
In terms of Community Protection, the number of dog wardens had reduced from two to one and the vacant post was now covered on a rota basis by three enforcement officers and the animal licensing officer.
In response to a query, Members were advised that there had been very few fines issued over the last few years as the Council no longer had a zero tolerance policy to dog fouling. If an enforcement officer observed a dog owner not to clean up after their dog, they would be afforded the opportunity of doing so, however, a fine would be issued on the second occasion, in line with current policy.
It was confirmed that there was a mechanism to report dog fouling on the Councils website and via the Councils Facebook page, in addition to reporting by telephone through the Councils Contact Centre.
In relation to stray dogs, the Panel was advised that there had been a slight increase in the number of stray dogs in the town last year, however, the current years figures were slightly reduced from last year. It was also reported that the Council no longer had the capacity to take possession of surrendered dogs and would refer owners to animal charities.
The Chair thanked the officers for attending and for the information provided.
AGREED as follows:-
1. That information regarding the number of complaints received via the CRM system in relation to dog fouling, be circulated to Panel Members.
2. That the Environmental Protection Manager be invited to a future Panel meeting, when able to attend, to provide further information regarding the current scrutiny topic.