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Austerity throws 'huge doubt' over recycling targets

Increasing doubt has been cast over the UK’s ability to reach its 50% recycling target by 2020 as councils warn that austerity is forcing them to do “less with less”.

The industry has been called on to submit evidence to a select committee inquiry into the impact of a 40% reduction in council funding since 2011.

Further cuts will now cause councils to cut back on services after previously trying to find efficiency savings, according to the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (Larac).

Larac chair Andrew Bird told CIWM’s ‘Resourcing The Future’ conference that his employer, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, faced an additional 38% budget cut by 2020.

“We continue to live in the era of austerity. Budgets are reducing and costs are rising. The time has come where things will stop happening. The days are gone of doing more with less or even doing the same with less. We will be doing less with less.

“I think it is hugely doubtful now the UK will meet its EU household recycling target of 50%.”

Bird added that he expected more councils to reduce the frequency of their residual waste collections but said this was to save money rather than drive more recycling.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) chair Mary Creagh also spoke at the conference. The Labour MP called for more contributions to a Sustainability and HM Treasury inquiry which is considering the effect of 2011 public spending cuts on the country’s ability to meet recycling targets.

“Certain PFI contracts didn’t happen, certain investments didn’t take place. What the resulting impact has been on your sector of the economy.

“I know many of the companies here today have submitted evidence to that enquiry. If you haven’t please do give us your thoughts on that.

“Our system means that cuts of 40% which have never been tried in post-war history are now being done as a massive experiment on your sector and on local government as a whole.

“Andrew [Bird’s] message that ‘we are going to be doing less with less’ is something that I don’t think people in the country really understand.”

She said such cuts to local government were “ludicrous” in comparison to the US, where she said such proposals would be blocked in Congress.

It was easier for the government to cut funding for councils and flooding because they had longer term impacts than other sectors, she said.

“We’ve seen cuts to things that have had long-term benefits and that’s why we’re doing this treasury inquiry,” she said.

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