80 quid well spent
I have a confession to make. I have been the subject of several 'penalty notices'. In Hammersmith and Fulham, in Basildon, in Southwark. I keep the little slips of judgmental paper in a draw at home, like a scrap book of my criminality.
My offence? Dropping cigarette butts on the ground. I am a victim of the vociferous litter-policing that has, according to the Daily Mail, raised local authorities, and the companies they subcontract to, millions over the last year.
But I'm not outraged, or even mildly miffed. In fact, I'm rather pleased by this new trend. I shouldn't drop cigarette butts on the ground. And folk shouldn't litter. It's incredibly selfish to clutter our shared space with our personal detritus, and it's reasonable for councils - those charged with clearing up after us all - to take action to penalise those too lazy or self-involved to make the effort to find a bin.
What's more - I hate paying council tax. I agree with Eric Pickles, that many local authorities expect too much from their residents in exchange for far too little. So alternative ways for councils to make money strike me as attractive - particularly if they are premised on the idea that we take more off people for doing bad things and less from those who don't.
It’s understandable people don't like the idea of being stalked by busy-bodies who are just waiting for a scrap of paper to drift out of their hand. It's a frightening image. But the many London Boroughs that now have brightly-coloured workers with a pad of penalty-notices outside stations can hardly be accused of being surreptitious. If you can't spot a man in an orange high-vis vest - or if you can but somehow still feel entitled to drop your crisp packet wherever you want - then frankly you probably shouldn't be allowed out in the first place.
The £80 I handed over to Hammersmith Council a few months back was money well spent. It cut their costs, reminded me to stop being a prat and gave the very apologetic young man who fined me a job. He even gave me a portable ash-tray in return.