The last Labour Government had a policy of actively pushing fortnightly bin collections and hitting hard-working families with new bin charges. Their ‘Household Waste Prevention Policy Side Research Programme’ advocated “collection limitations in terms of rubbish bin size or the interval between collections”, and sought to “nationalise this policy among local authorities”. Cutting weekly rubbish collections was not a locally-led initiative, but an explicit Whitehall mission pursued with the zeal of a convert.
Legislation in 2005 allowed the introduction of bin fines for minor breaches of complex and confusing bin rules; further legislation in 2008 watered down councils’ legal duties to collect rubbish. Guidance issued in 2005 advised town halls that councillors should be bullied to stop them opposing the axing of collections or proposing to restore weekly collections. It also recommended that cutting collections should be done after local elections – to avoid the nuisance of democratic opposition. The Government funded the covert imposition of “bin brother” microchips into families’ bins. The 2009 Pre-Budget Report made clear that a further wave of bin cuts were being planned. In short, the “Town Hall Talibin” doubled council tax and halved bin collections.
We disagree. This Government believes that households deserve a frequent and comprehensive rubbish and recycling service in return for the £122 a month in council tax that a typical household pays (Band D), especially given the typical refuse collection service only costs councils £6 to £7 per month to provide.
What we’ve done
We have taken a series of steps to help households:
· Issued the first ever Whitehall guidance on weekly bin collections, demolishing the myths that fortnightly bin collections are needed to save money or increase recycling;
· Stopped the Audit Commission inspections which marked down councils who do not adopt fortnightly rubbish collections, and rejected the Audit Commission guidance which advocated fortnightly collections (Waste Management: The Strategic Challenge and Waste Management Quick Guide).
· Abolished the Local Area Agreements and National Indicator 191 imposed by Whitehall which created perverse incentives to downgrade waste collection services;
· Scrapped the Whitehall requirement for municipal Annual Efficiency Statements, which allowed a reduction in the frequency of a household rubbish collection service to qualify as a “valid efficiency” and allowed revenue from bin fines to classed as a “cashable efficiency gain”;
· Scrapped the imposition of eco-towns which would have had fortnightly bin collections and/or bin taxes as part of the “eco-standards”;
· Safeguarded weekly collections for 6 million households through the Weekly Collection Support Scheme as well as championing innovation and best practice;
· Supported over 40 innovative reward schemes to back recycling through the Weekly Collection Support Scheme (as pledged in the Coalition Agreement);
· Through the Localism Act, revoked the 2008 legislation that allowed for the imposition of new bin taxes;
· Issued guidance to stop the imposition of illegal ‘backdoor bin charging’ on households bins;
· Stopped funding the ‘Waste Improvement Network’ which told councils to adopt fortnightly collections as best practice;
· Challenged the incorrect interpretation by some bodies that European Union directives require fortnightly collections, and resisted the imposition of bin taxes by the European Union;
· Removing powers of entry and snooping powers from “Binquisition” inspectors and scrapped guidance telling councils to rifle through families’ bins;
· Changing building regulations to tackle ‘bin blight’; and
· Changing the law through the Deregulation Bill to scrap unfair bin fines.
In short, this has been a fundamentally different approach from the Labour Government: we are working with families to help them go green, but believe in proper, regular and comprehensive collections for taxpaying households.
The configuration of services is complex. The attached tables, based on available estimates from WRAP, provide the most detailed information held on the breakdown of refuse and recycling collections of ‘smelly’ rubbish across councils in England.
This shows that 14 million households in England have some form of weekly collection of smelly rubbish. Had the Government not taken the actions it had, weekly collections would have disappeared in England by 2015. This simple assertion can be illustrated by the extinction of weekly collections in most of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have devolved Administrations and policies of supporting fortnightly bin collections. Indeed, in Wales, the Labour-led Welsh Government now has a policy of supporting monthly bin collections (Welsh Government, Municipal Sector Plan Part 1, March 2011 and Welsh Government, Cabinet decision, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, Additional Funding for Zero Waste Gurnos, February 2012).
We have stopped the rot, but there is more to do to support weekly bin collections. Many town hall jobsworths, over-zealous NGOs and vested interests in the waste industry remain blindly obsessed with restricting bin collections as a perverse policy goal in itself, and this is reflected in the figures in the table above. Indeed, even Keep Britain Tidy – which one would think would want regular rubbish collections to keep the streets clean – has been taken over by a NGO (Waste Watch) which campaigns for fortnightly bin collections. Bin collections are not viewed as a public service – but as a policy tool to deliver other arbitrary policy goals.
More to do
One option which should be considered is a minimum service standard – for example, the Household Waste Recycling Act 2003 already lays down minimum service requirements for recycling, and indeed, the Public Health Act 1875 introduced a duty on local authorities to collect rubbish; this duty was enhanced by the Public Health Act 1936 obliging them to collect household waste weekly which existed until 1974.
Moving forward, we are open to representations on how best to support frequent and comprehensive rubbish and recycling service; stand up for taxpayers’ interests from arbitrary state charges and taxes; and protect the local environment, public health and local amenity from the nuisance of stinking rubbish.