It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark, and a pleasure to follow Robbie Moore. I congratulate Saqib Bhatti on securing this important debate. It is nice to see my hon. Friend Mrs Hamilton in her place.
In the past year, more than 5,500 reports of fly-tipping were submitted by people across Barnsley—almost double the number from the year before. Fly-tipping does not just ruin local communities; it can be hazardous and toxic and can feed into serious organised crime. Thanks to the efforts of Barnsley Council, its #EverybodyThink campaign and local residents, fly-tipping has decreased in recent months. However, if we are to tackle this issue at its root, more must be done at a national level to support local authorities.
Barnsley’s council budget has been devastated by some of the largest cuts in the country; it has been subject to cuts of 40% since 2010. Although the council is already stretched, the removal of fly-tipped waste is costing it nearly £200,000 a year. It might sound good for the Government to speak of transferring power to councils to deal with problems such as fly-tipping, but that is futile if, in reality, councils are left without the resources to provide proper solutions. I ask the Minister what the Government are doing to ensure local authorities get all the support they need.
For private landowners who fall victim to fly-tipping, funding the proper disposal of waste can be really expensive; if it was not, the waste would likely not have been dumped in the first place. This can lead landowners to resort to poor methods of disposal—such as setting fire to or burying rubbish—which can cause damage to local habitats and local people’s health.
To prevent that, the Government might look at encouraging other areas to replicate the successful pilot carried out by the Hertfordshire police and crime commissioner. His annual fund of £20,000 supports private landowners with paying for the removal of fly-tipping, using funds from the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. That allows waste to be processed properly for the benefit of the whole community. I also echo the calls that have been made in the debate for tougher enforcement.
The problem with fly-tipping is that it can easily snowball. The more people see it, the easier it is to believe that it is acceptable behaviour and the less incentive there is to maintain cleanliness. To stop this problem from spiralling, we need to make proper disposal as easy as possible and offending as difficult as possible. That could start with ensuring that houses in multiple occupancy have enough wheelie bin space for all who live there. It could also mean placing obligations on those who sell large household items to offer or direct to services that dispose of old fridges, mattresses and the like when customers buy new ones.
Education is crucial. People should be fully informed about how everything in their house should be thrown away, as well as how to check for a proper waste carrier licence; that would prevent unsuspecting households from funding illegitimate services run by criminals. We are all familiar with what a driver’s licence or a registered taxi looks like, so there is no reason why we cannot be taught to recognise a waste carrier licence. In that vein, steps should be taken to strengthen the process for obtaining a waste carrier licence, so that background checks are carried out in more cases and licences are less easily replicated. If we make offending hard, dealing with waste through simple, proper disposal will not feel like such a burden for businesses or homes.
Fly-tipping is a blight on communities such as Barnsley but, fortunately, solving it is in everyone’s best interests. There are lots of local groups across Barnsley who work hard, mainly with volunteers, to keep Barnsley tidy and clean. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to them all, because we all lose when the hard-earned money that we pay in taxes goes towards removing dumped rubbish. We all lose when habitats are lost and our environment becomes dirty, and we all lose when criminals are allowed to run riot in our towns. With the right support from Government and the right changes across the country, there is no reason why we cannot put an end to this terrible practice; we need to do so.