In Gateshead each ward has a local community fund which can be spent on local projects, as long as it does not leave the council with an on-going revenue cost. The fund is not vast, about £40,000 per ward. In my ward, my two colleagues - Councillors John McClurey and Marilynn Ord - and I have put in requests for various schemes. One was to have daffodil bulbs planted on the grass verges leading into the village of Sunniside. This would create an attractive and (in theory) cost effective display on one of the main roads in the borough.
We were horrified therefore when the quote for the scheme came back at 80p per bulb plus a significant cost to plant them. When I first saw the quote, I asked the officers for a breakdown of the costs and an explanation as to why it was so high. The answer came back that there was a very high specification on the bulbs. I was wondering if the bulbs were due to arrive gold plated.
I then went on to the internet to look at some of the gardening websites I visit regularly and found bulbs on sale at 4p each, one twentieth of the price. By a remarkable coincidence, John phoned at the same time to say he was doing the same internet seach - and by a further coincidence we both happened to be looking at the same time at the same website. We reached the same conclusion - the costs of this were far beyond what was reasonable. We agreed to pull the plug on the plans.
Maybe we were influenced by the Big Society or just had a general compulsion to be community spirited but we decided to buy and plant some bulbs ourselves. Actually, to be honest, John bought the bulbs - a large sack of them for £40. We then put out a request to constituents for locations where people would like to see the bulbs planted.
Last week, John and I were joined by a green-fingered constituent and together we planted hundreds of bulbs around Sunniside and had some left over which John has given to Front Street School where the kids will be planting them.
So, the council came up with a quote of £2,000 to plant bulbs. We did it for £40.
Above: me planting daffodil bulbs. Below, John doing the same.