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Tim Walker

Waste Localism Committee

Waste Localism Committee

WASTE

So, the Localism Committee hasn’t met in almost a year.  You’d kind of expect that this Committee isn’t that engaged with really progressing the local agenda; as demonstrated by Mr Pickles announcing this summer past that he was making £250m available for councils to reintroduce a weekly residual waste collection service.  This doesn’t appear to be very loc-ocentric.  Here we have the Minister responsible for local communities effectively giving a “steer” to councils to adopt an approach generally considered to be regressive.

Then, last autumn, we had DEFRA cancelling PFI credits for seven waste projects, which had been going through procurement for years.  This caused consternation for some of the councils/groupings by raising fears that they would not achieve their targets (more of which later).

Now, Mr Pickles is at it again.  He’s spoken with his colleagues in DEFRA, a consultation paper has been released which proposes amending councils’ powers to penalise householders for contaminating bins, either for putting the wrong items into a recycling bin or for putting recyclables into a landfill/residual waste bin…  The general thrust being that councils should be making it as easy as possible to recycle, as everyone wants to do this and penalising householders for the occasional oversight will not advance this aim.  This reinforces Mr Pickles earlier, and equally loc-ocentric comments, that “it’s a basic right for every English man and woman to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in their bin without having to wait a fortnight for it to be collected”.

All the while, the different administrations strive to outdo each other by setting higher recycling targets for their regions – Scottish and Welsh councils already have to reach a 70% recycling rate over the next decade or so.  Northern Ireland is toying with 60% while England is debating whether to stick with the EU revised Waste Framework Directive target – a mere 50% recycling by 2020.

No matter which jurisdiction you’re based in, these are audacious targets for councils.  Achieving them is dependent upon councils introducing new collection services, waste treatment and disposal facilities, and householders adopting a different approach to managing their wastes.  Change is rarely easy, and the cost of the new facilities will not be cheap but, based upon experience to date, the best performing councils provide a weekly food waste collection service combined with fortnightly collection services composed of (i) a residual waste service (ii) a dry recyclables service (either boxes or bins depending upon the council’s circumstance) and (iii) a charged garden waste collection service.  The materials from these collections are then sent for treatment and/or disposal in a variety of facilities.

Now, we’re in a really interesting place.  We have annually increasing targets, a ticking clock, additional capital and revenue expenditure and reducing options on how we engage with our householders.  The next couple of years will be very telling; can we make transform ourselves into a “recycling society” as the EU and the UK aspire, or will we flounder in the lower ranks of Member State recycling performance as many predict… Time (and councils’ action) will tell!

Tim Walker
Immediate Past President of LGTAG
[email protected]

Age of Austerity

Age of Austerity

Wow, in looking through my LGTAG file I see it has been over a year since my first blog…

And what a year, we are formally in the “Age of Austerity” and much attention been given to how we, in the public sector, can share the pain borne by our mercantile counterparts in order to right the economy. In this regard the Chancellor, Mr Osborne announced measures in June to speed up the repayment of the £150 billion odd of debt previously incurred.

This will have an impact on both local and central government and yet we are being exhorted to ensure that front-line services are not compromised… There will have to be a rebalancing of budgets and priorities between the different tiers and much ink is being, or will be, split on this endeavour later in the year as the next Comprehensive Spending Review emerges.

Personally, I’ve been rather disappointed that so far, the opportunity to improve the UK’s sustainability and, for example, shift taxes away from “goods” to environmental “bads” hasn’t progressed further…but I guess that’s for another day.

Meanwhile our Minister, Mr Pickles, is calling into question jobs such as cheerleading coordinators and waste service communications officers and whether these are, in fact, “non jobs”. At the recent Local Government Association annual conference, he went further and queried whether this title should also apply to Chief Executives… In this latter instance, he believes that more modern administrative arrangements with shared posts across council boundaries, or a more executive-leader style of councillor would be beneficial and more locally productive. I guess there will be some debate on this but nonetheless, while these questions are challenging, we face an inescapable truth – we need to do more with less.

In my area of work, waste management, I know of a potential saving which could yield millions of pounds per region almost immediately. Recycling now costs less than landfilling so, if more people recycled regularly and with lower levels of contamination then we would not spend so much in terms of landfill disposal, the majority of which is tax.

This leads to a significant question, and one that I don’t believe we have managed to frame yet. Much of what we do has been about providing services as “more of the same” or a variation thereof. This, as I see it, has been what many of the debates regarding Total Place, Big Society, have been about; how we can ensure that the current front-line services are not compromised.

But should greater attention be paid by all of us to a more strategic issue? Instead of public rights and how to maintain current service levels, should we be seeking to extend the conversation to consider how we can better highlight personal responsibility and the cause and effect loops we learnt in school? If this was successful, it could foster a clearer understanding of what money is being spent and why and how expenditure on services such as street cleansing could be redirected into other longer-term impactful projects, as well as encourage greater local understanding, engagement and ultimately improved democracy… or perhaps this is what these Government initiatives are seeking to do…

Tim Walker

President

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