Once upon a time, the road sweeper was a person with a brush and a cart. This was in the days when it was not considered a bad thing to hold a brush and before accountants counted the cost of everything without ever learning their value.

Now I am not saying that road sweeper is necessarily a job to aspire to. It lacks the Western criteria of high value, good education. But one thing the road sweeper ensured, is that the roads and pavements were swept clean and looked after. They took responsibility because it was their patch.

Then someone came along and pointed out that a mechanised road sweeper could do the work of many men and women. Rejoice! Not only that, but it was a machine, so unlikely to get sick or to decide suddenly it had had enough of working and would give up. No need even to consider its pension. OK so it would break down from time to time, but hey, stick that on the service bill.

To begin with things were good, the sweeper could cover a lot more ground. OK, so it couldn’t quite get in all the nooks and crannies, but the remaining road sweepers could do that, pick up the pieces where the machine laid off.

And then the accountant had another good idea. Let’s not bother with the nooks and crannies and save a bit of money and nobody will notice. For a while that too was ok as we really din’t look into the fine detail of the cleaning, things were good. The machines might wear out the roads and drains a bit more but we have plenty of money for new roads,so things will be fine.

Now the councils have no money anymore and cleaning has gone right to the bottom of the list. The machines don’t call and, a bit like not bothering with the maintenance on your own house, everything is slowly deteriorating. You begin to wonder if it will ever return. It is partly a political thing. Which is more important, the NHS or road sweeping? We know what we would reply. But never cleaning, never maintaining, that is a recipe for disaster. Leaves fall every autumn; we get storms from time to time. If nothing is swept and maintained, you get flooding in areas where there is no need to have a flood.

What you have to lament is the passing of any sense of public responsibility on the part of government and local government. There is a place for the man or woman with a brush, so simple, so thorough; still necessary.