Pickles threatens to cut council funding

Eric Pickles Daily Mail column

The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, has told councils to go back to weekly collections of waste, or see their central government funding cut.

The £250 million Weekly Collection Support Scheme (WCSS), nicknamed the ‘Pickles fund’ after the secretary, was set up by the DCLG to provide local authorities (LAs) with the money to return to weekly waste collections, which Pickles calls a ‘basic right’.

Local authorities were asked to submit bids for a piece of the funding by May of this year and an announcement on successful bids was originally expected in October but had been delayed for unspecified reasons.

The delay has unsettled the waste industry, with waste associations and the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) expressing their respective ‘concern’ and ‘disappointment’ at the delay.

‘Municipal bin bullies’

Writing in the Daily Mail this week, Pickles said that unless councils offer a weekly collection service, they could have their central government funding cut.

‘I’m making it absolutely clear that it’s wholly unreasonable to expect government grants to go, in the long term, to councils that are operating fortnightly bin collections’, Pickles said.

‘That support is designed to provide weekly collections on the grounds of public health. This is a basic service that people expect.’

Pickles added that although this will not be enforced immediately as he recognised that ‘councils have contracts that they may be bound into for some time’, he said that councils should be in ‘no doubt that we will change the way this funding works’.

Highlighting his belief that there is ‘nothing more essential than regular rubbish and recycling collections’, Pickles said that ‘it’s a fundamental right for every Englishman and woman to be able to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in their bin without having to wait two weeks for it to be collected’.

Saying that Labour politicians and Whitehall ‘pen-pushers cajoled and bullied councils into cutting collections’ and 'bin quango, WRAP, told councils to make the cuts after local elections to avoid democratic opposition', Pickles went on to call those in support of alternate weekly collections (AWCs) ‘industry bin barons who smell the whiff of easy money’ and ‘municipal bin bullies’.

‘The usual suspects have been out in force to say we can’t have weekly bins’, wrote Pickles. ‘They want you to believe the fortnightly collection is the only way. In reality, it was their failure to negotiate decent contracts that lead to unnecessary expense. Weekly collections can actually be cheaper. So this scheme has bagged the Labour myth that fortnightly rubbish collections are needed to increase recycling or save money.’

According to Pickles, the weekly bin collection in England would have ‘gone for good by the end of this Parliament’ and suggested that the WCSS would see more than 6 million households across England receive a weekly collection.

Concluding that he shall now be working with Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson to ‘spread best practice on weekly collections, change dyed-in-the-wool attitudes and challenge shoddy and shady municipal practices’ he shall also be asking ‘why councils can’t provide a weekly collection in return for their central government funding’.

In support of AWCs

Pickles’s scheme has met with criticism from LAs and MPs alike, who believe it to be throwing money at an apparent non-issue. Icaro Consulting’s 2011 report 'Attitudes to Waste and Recycling in Great Britain', found that the top 10 performing recycling councils in the country currently operate either AWC (alternate weekly collection) with weekly recyclables collection or AWC with a weekly food collection. The report also concluded that 74 per cent of households with AWC were satisfied with their current setup (compared to 83 per cent with a weekly collection).

In response to Pickles' threat, Joy Blizzard, Chair of the Local Authority Recycling Board said: "The way in which waste is collected is surely one of the most obvious services where localism (one of Mr Pickles' key policies) should, and in most cases does reign. LARAC's view has always been that councils are best placed to decide how services are run in their own areas."

The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA), the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and the Resource Association have also released a joint statement, saying: “It’s deeply disappointing to see Mr Pickles threatening councils with a centralised system and dictating how they should be collecting waste and resources. This approach doesn’t fit at all with the principle of localism for waste services.
“Councils remain able to deliver collection services in line with local requirements. This could include the collection of residual waste one week and recycling the next, or weekly food waste collections alongside fortnightly dry recyclable collections and the evidence that this increases recycling and reduces operational costs is well established. Furthermore, public satisfaction with these services is as high if not higher in most cases as it was under weekly waste collection. As food waste collections are also increasingly introduced, the benefits in terms of waste reduction and energy generation through AD are becoming apparent to local residents.
“English local councils in partnership with waste and resources companies and reprocessors of materials are addressing the government’s stated desire for green growth by capturing valuable resources for economic benefit and doing this on an increasingly effective scale. Doing so is popular with their communities and hugely beneficial for local taxpayers. The threat to withhold government grants and to dictate local service provision is hugely unhelpful both to them and their industry partners. The UK needs a Secretary of State who can provide a framework which gives businesses and local authorities the stability to work together and plan effectively, and achieves the greatest possible value from our resources.”

Further concerns were raised by industry when the scheme was first announced last September, as the fund demands that LAs must commit to weekly collections for a minimum of five years, despite the fact that funding would only be available for three, meaning that eventually the cost of the increased collections would come from the councils’ own budgets.

The DCLG is expected to announce 85 councils that have received funding under the WCSS later today; it is understood that only one application was for a return to weekly collection of residual waste.

Read Eric Pickles’ article in the Daily Mail.