To consider the report of the Director Net Zero Exeter & City Management.
The Chair invited Councillor Vizard to make a brief introduction as he had submitted a proforma request to the Scrutiny Programme Board for a review to be undertaken on the graffiti service. The Board referred the request to this Committee.
Councillor Vizard spoke and advised that Councillor Oliver, had made the original suggestion at Customer Focus Scrutiny Committee but it was also thought appropriate to discuss the matter here. He welcomed the detailed report.
The Operations Manager (Parks and Green Spaces) referred to the challenging financial constraints faced by the Council, following Covid -19, which had resulted in the Graffiti Service being paused for nine months to enable budgetary savings to be made. The removal of the service, barring the cleaning of offensive material, quickly showed that the level of graffiti and tagging extended beyond the contained levels seen prior to the suspension, and had a particular impact on neighbourhoods. Complaints went up significantly in line with the increasing graffiti levels. The service was reinstated in April 2021 and demand for graffiti removal has remained high, with an excess of over 1,130 reports made via the Council’s on line reporting portal. This discretionary service only had the capacity within the available budget for one full time graffiti operative.
Exeter City Council has looked to support the continuation of the free service to residents by working with other organisations and landlords and securing external grant funding. In terms of looking to the future, the community element of the ‘Save the Streets Project’ will look at prevention measures within the city and include further opportunities for mural art, and engagement with external organisations including utilities companies, and the community to identify where such measures would be the most effective.
A Member suggested there must be good examples of quality public art around the city and that could include graffiti, the ‘quirky bird’ art which appeared during lockdown was a good example of sponsored public art. Whilst, initiatives such as graffiti walls were unlikely to offer an outlet for the greater nuisance of tagging, which fostered an unacceptable downgrading of neighbourhoods and created negative anti-social consequences, he did appreciate that some opportunity to enable these perpetrators to release their creative energy might have an effect.
The Operations Manager (Public and Green Spaces) made the following responses –
· Exeter City Council does not routinely keep a profile or database of those who carry out graffiti or tagging. However, a database and photographic record of all tags that are removed is kept. This information on the Council’s Firmstep reporting system can be shared with the Police, and used towards any investigation and subsequent prosecution. A request would be made to Exeter Community Partnership to enquire if they maintained a similar database or could establish a database.
· grant funding was part of Devon County Council’s ward funding and there was scope for further funding throughout the city whenever necessary.
· residents could still telephone and report graffiti on utility boxes or structures that had no identifying marks.
· a suggestion to work with schools, the College or University to explore the detrimental effects of graffiti on the community was noted, as was an exhibition of graffiti art to foster a better attitude from people seeking some recognition. The service was at the early stages of liaising with partner agencies, and whilst there was always scope for doing such activity in the future, currently the service was primarily focusing on removal processes.
Councillor Atkinson proposed that a request be made to the Exeter Community Partnership for any information held by the Police on taggers, and if a profile or database could be created. This was seconded by Councillor Vizard, put to the vote and was agreed unanimously.
Councillor Vizard thanked officers for the report and suggested the introduction of direct reporting to other agencies, at any time in the future, might take some of the onus off the City Council. He welcomed the Member’s suggestion of a ‘tagging database’, to show a pattern or network of the individuals who were responsible for this.
The Strategic Scrutiny Committee noted the report and request to be made to the Exeter Community Partnership for the collation of a database of any information held by the Police on taggers.