back to article Software dev-turned-councillor launches rubbish* chatbot

A local politician has launched his own chatbot, in what El Reg can only imagine is a bid to one-up health secretary Matt Hancock. Software developer Mike Rouse, who was elected to Redditch Borough Council in May by the skin of his teeth, winning by just one vote, is aiming to clean up the streets using his bot. Or, more …

  1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    buzzword

    So what he's achieved , is the equivalent of an html form with the heading:

    "Fill in where you live and which bin was not collected , or where you saw a fly tip , and any other details , then press send"

    We're still a fair way off "Robbie the robot". Or wintermute.

    1. deive

      Re: buzzword

      Yeah... but it's <sarcasm>ON A MOBILE!!!!!</sarcasm>

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: buzzword

      Meh, snip all you like, but the sad fact is - lots of people evidently prefer to communicate that way. Not me, but then I'm not lots of people. It's not groundbreaking, but it's useful.

  2. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Trollface

    No room left for doubts

    However, Rouse's decision to use Facebook, rather than setting up his own app, as the MP for West Suffolk did, is perhaps a canny move, given the privacy concerns the Matt Hancock app raised when it launched.

    Yes. With Matt Hancock's app you might have had privacy concerns, with Facebook Messenger you know you've got privacy concerns.

    1. el kabong

      With facebook you get way more than that, you get absolute privacy nightmares

      100% guaranteed

      facebook's vast collection of malpractices go way beyond what one could reasonably call "privacy concerns."

  3. LucreLout Silver badge

    FFS

    The chatbot, which works via Facebook Messenger, will also address the scourge of local authorities across the UK – fly-tipping.

    Fly-tipping is a problem created entirely by the local councils. Simply restore weekly bin collections, and allow unlimited trips to the council tip, and fly-tipping will go away again. Yes, I understand some people have concerns over environmentalism, but if its first dumped in the street / nearby field, then taken to the council tip anyway, what is really being achieved?

    Scandinavia makes use of small scale local incineration of things that can't be recycled, leading to very cheap communal central heating and very low levels of landfill. Maybe, I dunno, try doing something constructive or 'new' about the problems rather than wasting time with a farcebook app most of your voters can't make use of?

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: FFS

      "Fly-tipping is a problem created entirely by the local councils."

      Fly tipping is a problem caused by ignorant self serving idiots who don't give a toss where their rubbish ends up and who cannot be bothered to deal with it because its too much effort for them. Councils don't drop litter, councils don't fly tip. Councils however do pick up the cost of dealing with this selfish minority act which we all then share the burden of.

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: FFS

        Councils however do pick up the cost of dealing with this selfish minority act [fly tipping] which we all then share the burden of.

        Not if it's on private land, which it usually is round here. Then the landowner has to pay for the lot.

      2. A.P. Veening

        Re: FFS

        "Fly tipping is a problem caused by ignorant self serving idiots who don't give a toss where their rubbish ends up and who cannot be bothered to deal with it because its too much effort for them."

        You just described about 99% off all council members.

        1. Martin Summers Silver badge

          Re: FFS

          "You just described about 99% off all council members."

          Makes for a nice popularist soundbite come back which no doubt would get you a lot of up votes. It is however not accurate to that extent at all and all walks of life suffer this not just the political world. So many people think of just themselves rather than the greater good. Councils and politicians have nothing to do with that.

          1. really_adf

            Re: FFS

            So many people think of just themselves rather than the greater good. Councils and politicians have nothing to do with that.

            I disagree. Yes, of course, there are selfish people other than politicians, and not all politicians are selfish, but it seems to me that selfish politicians are especially unhelpful because they are in a position to benefit society but their selfishness often means they do not.

            In short: the impact of politician's selfishness is disproportionate.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: FFS

            "So many people think of just themselves rather than the greater good. Councils and politicians have nothing to do with that."

            The reality is that you right. In theory, anyone running for elected office is supposed or expected to be thinking of the great good. Quite a few start out that way, fewer can keep it up.

      3. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        Re: FFS

        And in the real world, the solution is to make the legal solution preferable to the illegal one.

        As it's virtually impossible to track down fly tippers to give them massive fines, doing it illegally doesn't have a deterrence.

        Therefore the only reasonable solution is for councils to stop acting like it is their job to make their residents lives harder.

      4. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: FFS

        Fly tipping is a problem caused by ignorant self serving idiots who don't give a toss where their rubbish ends up and who cannot be bothered to deal with it because its too much effort for them.

        No, fly tipping is a problem implemented by self serving idiots, but it is a problem created by the council.

        Councils don't drop litter, councils don't fly tip.

        Councils decied unilaterally to cut back on garbage collection and access to the rubbish dump. They do so knowing that it increases instances of fly tipping. Its a choice they've made.

        Councils however do pick up the cost of dealing with this selfish minority act which we all then share the burden of.

        Which neatly brings us back to why councils should stop encouraging the fly tipping in the first place and simply reinstate the services we're all still paying for but no longer receive. Weekly rubbish collections and open access to the tip / recycling centre.

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: FFS

          @ LucreLout

          "Which neatly brings us back to why councils should stop encouraging the fly tipping in the first place and simply reinstate the services we're all still paying for but no longer receive."

          The problem is we are not paying for the service. We want our rubbish taken away and we pay for that happily. Unfortunately the protest groups have won and now we must split our rubbish into varying coloured bins of shrinking capacity so they can be shipped to a country for recycling (except they find it too expensive so bury it there) and we get a crappy lower level of service.

          So to get a decent level of service we either need to pay more for the protest groups desired service or revert bin collection back to what we had. Considering how much people complain about the number of bins (justifiably), the shrinking of bins and not enough collections I think reverting to what worked would be better.

        2. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: FFS

          Not if it's on private land, which it usually is round here. Then the landowner has to pay for the lot.

          Or quietly move it from his land to the pavement, making it a council problem.

        3. IsJustabloke Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: FFS

          "Which neatly brings us back to why councils should stop encouraging the fly tipping in the first place and simply reinstate the services we're all still paying for but no longer receive. Weekly rubbish collections and open access to the tip / recycling centre."

          The vast majority of fly tipping is by individuals claiming to be "commercial enterprises" (at least round my way it is and everyone knows exactly who's responsible for the "do as you likey") that offer cheap clearance to ordinary people, the reason it's cheap is because they don't pay commercial rates for disposal at the local tip.

          The problem would go away (as with a lot of issues) if people were willing to pay the going rate and were always asking to see the carriers licence but they're not (mostly) and as long as that is the case no amount of "local council doing this or that" will make any kind of difference.

          I don't know where you live but there is no restricted access to the tip round my way (beyond normal business hours) and they operate 12 hours a day / 7 days a week. I'm actually spoilt for choice there are 3 state of the art recycling centers with easy reach of me.

          I still get weekly bin collections, alternative weeks are for different types of rubbish but there is a weekly collection.

          So really your argument really doesn't stand examination and simply saying "local council deal with it!" is a bloody stupid argument in the first place because we all pay for the services supplied by our local council.

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: FFS

      "Fly-tipping is a problem created entirely by the local councils. Simply restore weekly bin collections, and allow unlimited trips to the council tip, and fly-tipping will go away again."

      No it won't. Council policies can make the situation better or worse, but a lot of fly tipping is either commercial waste or domestic waste that can't be processed by the council anyway (such as the boats El Reg is so fond of - good luck taking one of those to your local skip). Not collecting bins as often or making it less convenient to get to the skip can lead to an increase in people dumping the odd couple of bin bags at the side of the road, but the big piles of rubble and things like sofas are all due to selfish bastards not wanting to pay to dispose of things properly. Absent a magic money fairy offering to pay everyone's normal business expenses, there's absolutely nothing councils can do about that.

    3. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Fly-tipping is a problem created entirely by the local councils

      >Fly-tipping is a problem created entirely by the local councils. Simply restore weekly bin collections, and allow unlimited trips to the council tip, and fly-tipping will go away again. Yes, I understand some people have concerns over environmentalism, but if its first dumped in the street / nearby field, then taken to the council tip anyway, what is really being achieved?

      FT is caused by councils in the same way illegal heroin use is caused by laws making heroin illegal. Sure, if you could throw all the stuff you wanted away for free it might be substantially reduced - it won't be eliminated because people are lazy - but that stuff is expensive. In a world where councils face cuts, they will have to reduce some services which used to be free.

      Scandinavia has far higher tax levels, vastly reduced population density and a different culture than the UK.

      Don't see the problem with this use of messenger. Our council has an online tool for this which looks like it was made in 1999 by an untrained graduate and probably cost £10k (and the rest) to do the same thing, worse.

      1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        Re: Fly-tipping is a problem created entirely by the local councils

        No, to use a drugs analogy, this is equivalent to the councils refusing to allow needle exchanges in order to combat HIV. People are going to inject heroin. Using dirty needles spreads HIV.

        Therefore, of the two choices: allow needle exchanges to prevent HIV or moan about HIV, which do you think would be most effective?

        Currently ( with fly tipping ) we're stuck with option B.

        1. Buzzby
          Unhappy

          FFS

          Central government started all this by forcing Councils to charge for non domestic waste. Rather than pay to tip waste flytipping was created instead.

      2. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: Fly-tipping is a problem created entirely by the local councils

        @JDX, you'll also find that in Scandinavia, people grow up with a sense of civic duty and responsibility. There you won't find people bitching about having to separate their recycling, or having to recycle, full-stop. It's just... there. You just... do it. You don't want to annoy your neighbours by being the odd one out.

        Germany and the Netherlands are almost a halfway house between the British "we want everything for free because we've paid our £100/month in council tax, how dare you charge us extra" and the Scandinavian "we know we're taxed to high heaven but we still do our civic duty by pre-sorting and doing half of the work ourselves" - The Dutch and the Germans love bitching about how much they pay for this and how things must be just so.

        I'm glad our local district council has a quick and easy "Report your non-emptied bin" option on their site, it saves time. You usually get an email back saying "we'll have Biffa come round again tomorrow, please leave the bin out". :-)

    4. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: FFS

      LucreLout and those opposed to their statements about fly tipping make good arguments on both sides.

      Out here in the Shire, our local county council ran a consultation about the local recycling centres (and tips) because they had to start cutting costs and they felt that social services were not to be touched, so others (like waste management) had to take the hit. The choices were 'we keep the centres open 3 days a week' or 'we'll pay to use the centres'. The former was voted down for precisely the reason LucreLout stated: "If you shut the centres for four days a week, fly tipping will go through the roof". So, the council opted for the other option... now we have to pay to get rid of 'non-household rubbish'. Those with vans get to apply for an e-permit, which gives them access once a month. Those with rental vans are SOL unless the rental is for 3 days.

      So, unscrupulous commercial operators, who were able to get away with dumping 'non-household' waste (i.e. DIY/building waste, which the council is *not* obliged to process) at the local recycling centre now happily go and fly tip, or, if they're close to the border to another county/district, drive across and dump it there if they can (but the councils there are also now doing the same kind of registered vehicle schemes as they do here). Those who don't own vehicles got screwed. Those who used to just walk over with a bag of recyclable/household stuff they wanted to get rid of got screwed (because of 'elf-'n-safety). Where does that end up? The unscrupulous ones fly tip or shove their stuff into the council rubbish bins on the road-side. The honest ones will grind their teeth and pay the £26 charge from the council to take it away, or beg their friends to help them out with a sedan (which is fine to go to the centre with).

      Ironically, all this tightening up and cost cutting has led to our county-wide recycling proportion dropping from 72% (one of the highest in the country) to 56%.

    5. TonyJ Silver badge

      Re: FFS

      "...Fly-tipping is a problem created entirely by the local councils. Simply restore weekly bin collections, and allow unlimited trips to the council tip, .."

      Couldn't agree more. Also stop banning "commercial vehicles" or "businesses" from using them.

      Did you folks know that Curry's / PCW will accept any electrical items at any store for free recycling? You don't need to have bought it from them or anything new from them, even:

      https://www.currys.co.uk/gbuk/recycle-1042-theme.html#free-recycling

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fly-tipping is a problem created entirely by the local councils

      I beg to differ, it's a problem created by the government with their (their?) "austerity measures", which have been choking council-funding since, let me think... must have been soon after the financial crises of AD 2008/9. Same with any public services (remember the "ring-fencing", peddled in the follow-up). Fencing rings, gone too. Cause somebody's gotta pay, and if you squeeze... the squeeze goes down to street level, be it council bins emptied once every fortnight rather than per week, folk on the street, who can't expect police to bother to turn up at crime scene (not enough resources), or patients at the GP who advise you to go to the local pharmacy for advise in case of "minor issues" instead of seeing your gp. Etc.

      Of course as a root cause, I would blame the banksters, but then, what good would it make? I can't even suggest to (...) them, because that's classed as terrorism these days.

      1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        Re: Fly-tipping is a problem created entirely by the local councils

        I'd very much like it if El Reg would make a banned word list comprising of the following:

        Banksters

        Microshaft

  4. iron Silver badge
    FAIL

    "decision to use Facebook, rather than setting up his own app... is perhaps a canny move, given the privacy concerns the Matt Hancock app raised"

    Not only is using Facebook a privacy disaster of biblical proportions but it excludes any constituents who do not use Facebook. Not very inclusive Mr Rouse.

  5. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    The chatbot, which works via Facebook Messenger

    Up to this point it sounded good, but there's no way I'm getting a Farcebook account just to complain to the council. That's a cure worse than the problem.

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: there's no way I'm getting a Farcebook account just to complain to the council

      Think of it as a Junk Account.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shadow IT at its worst

    The Redditch Borough Council website, like most others, already has all this functionality without needing a Facebook account (http://www.redditchbc.gov.uk/my-place/bins-and-recycling.aspx. The site offers many more services, plus it is the gateway into the council. He would have been better off just including a link to the web site where householders can notify the council of missing bins and there will be a business process behind it.

    Inevitably this will now result in him either spending far too much time monitoring the chatbot, performing a half-assed integration with the web site or suddenly calling the Director of Place to let him know that Mrs smith missed her bin collection last March and what is he going to do about it.

    If he does capture any personally identifiable information on his facebook page he will need to register as a data controller.

    I imagine some stressed PM in Redditch is currently finding that his workload has unexpectedly increased as he now has to come up with a secure,GDPR compliant resolution to this issue and a 'back door' process to support it, Ironically this will almost certainly be by generating emails to the Customer Service Centre so an agent can re-key the data into the CRM system rather than the resident requiring the service doing it directly on the website. But hey if it makes him feel good its worth all the wasted resources, it's not like local government is cash and resource constrained.

    AC as I provide consultancy to local government and come across this kind of issue far too often.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Facebook...

    The biggest fly-tipper on the internet.

  8. Alister Silver badge
    Joke

    What kind of animal does this?

    Um, Badgers, maybe? They are quite fastidious about keeping clean, so they might want a washing machine...

  9. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

    First past the post. #collection

    How do you educate, you just educate. Auto FAQ rank. #_memex

  10. frank ly Silver badge

    At the next local election ....

    .... I'll be voting for Max Headroom.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: At the next local election ....

      .... I'll be voting for Max Headroom.

      M-m-m-max H-h-h-headr-r-r-room-room-room

  11. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Wot? No more "Skippy McSkipface with a fresh captain's log on the seat in an open field/cul-de-sac/somebody's front yard" news then?

  12. MJI Silver badge

    Oh great

    I can get onto them about fly tipping down local BOATs

    But then have to use FaecesBook

    "Not far from the road"

    "Who put all this s**t in the way!?!?!"

    Reverse, turn around and drive all the way back. And yes I have decided if I catch a fly tipper in the act I will ram their vehicle into the ditch and drive off.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Oh great

      - What's the postcode?

      + Doesn't have one, it's "un-named road", 150m from the junction with "un-named road" that runs between the Bxxx and the Byyyy". Grid reference NZxxxx xxxx.

      - I don't recognise that postcode.

      I had an almost identical conversation with the polis trying to direct them to a car smash at the top of the moors 15 miles from the nearest phone signal.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Oh great

        Been there done that with a found burnt out car, ended up putting phone down with "forget it".

        Oh and my lttle lane runs parallel to my commute so if sunny a nice drive, unless blocked by fly tippers. Perhaps if caught by a bunch of green laners they can burn the tipped stuff, the pickup/van and the tippers.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    can I speak to a police-bot please?

    cause I want to report a crime guv, but I'm not a victim.... and you can't do that, Dave, using their online system. What? Nah, never mind, nice botting to you, chatty...

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