The communities secretary’s announcement that a £250 million ‘Weekly Collections Support Scheme’ would be set up to pay for councils to reintroduce weekly bin collections can be seen in both a positive and negative light says David Brownsey-Joyce.
Eric Pickles’ announcement just prior to the Conservative Party Annual Conference can be considered a victory for the poor individuals who feel aggrieved at having to wait two whole weeks to have their household waste removed, I myself am rather lucky in that I still receive a weekly bin collection having had this cut from a twice weekly collection a few months ago.
The question that is going through my head is why is the communities secretary so insistent that a quarter of a billion point initiative be launched at a time when front-loaded cuts of up to 26% of council budgets are coming into affect? Surely there are better ways for councils to use this money.
The scheme itself has two very important criteria; firstly, councils must only use it to reinstate weekly household waste collections, so local authorities cannot apply for funding for other waste or recycling related projects it must purely be for a weekly household waste collection scheme; second, all local authorities applying for funding must sign an agreement to maintain a reintroduced weekly collection for a period of five years.
Putting a contracted timeline on the funding is where this scheme is going to fall down. Forget all the rights and wrongs of the programme itself local authorities have constantly changing needs, if their population goes up or down they need to be able to adjust their resources to compensate; if they receive a fixed amount of funding for a set period of time that is not going to be flexible to their needs.
What if they have a series of housing developments completed during that period? They would need to increase waste routes, requiring more money. This is not a completely unimaginable idea considering the Prime Minister’s announcement about the expansion of the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme where for every new sale under the scheme money would be used to build a new property, with the hopes of creating another 200,000 properties. That would mean a lot more routes.
On the other side of the coin is the possibility of skills drains from areas, lowing populations and possibly increasing levels of benefit claimants, putting more strain on local authority budgets as they collect less council tax, as could be the case Lancashire and East Yorkshire due to the BAE systems cuts, or in Derby with Bombardier cuts.
As it stands the scheme offers no flexibility, once you’re in, you’re in. Local authorities will not be able to gain more nor cut back on services should they require to, we have no way of telling what will happen in the next five years. We could be growing or contracting, anything could happen and to tie into a contract that requires you to provide services when you cannot guarantee having the amount necessary to fund them for entire period is dangerous.
Local authorities should be left to make up their own minds on what their communities need, it should not be left up to government ministers to announce that their way is the right way and that having your waste taken away each week is a “basic right”. There are many rights in this country but having my bins emptied each week is not one of them, that’s a luxury, one that we pay for through our council tax, it is then up to the local authorities to decide how best to use that money.
The money itself is coming from the Department for Communities and Local Government’s own budget, which is rather worrying as that means there will be fewer resources for central government to work with local government and that is how it should be, working together to provide for communities not dictating to each other how things are going to be.