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Confusion reigns on pay-by-weight policy

Labour has bizarrely claimed that it announced 2005 trials of variable charging for household waste last year - despite ruling the system out this February.

The Government has continually refused to consider pay-by-weight schemes, with Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael slamming the door on it just two months ago.

But after a key firm said it knew trials would be run this September, the party performed an astonishing u-turn.

A Labour spokesman told MRW : "This was announced on December 8 last year alongside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (DEFRA) five-year plan."

However, DEFRA insisted its current policy was not to allow variable waste charging. The Labour party has not clarified this situation despite being asked to do so several times.

The confusion started with a revelation from P&L Software Systems, which makes electronic chips allowing the weight of bins to be calculated.

Marketing director Julie Emery-Priest said: "Variable charging is only used for commercial and industrial waste at the moment, but it will be allowed for councils. The Government is going to trial it in September."

And major bin manufacturer Sulo was confident variable charging would become legal that it signed a deal to receive the software from P&L.

P&L managing director Peter Gardner added: "Weigh-as-you-go waste management is the future. I think most people in the industry recognise that."

More than four in five councils questioned for MRW's State of the Nation Report 2005 said they would definitely or maybe use such powers if they were available.

But Michael insisted in February that the Government wanted to give people incentives to recycle rather than forcing them to do so.

Secretary of State for the Environment Margaret Beckett also dismissed variable charging earlier this year.

However, back in October, Environment Minister Elliot Morley did point to the possibility of introducing the policy one day in the future.

He said: "There is a possibility in the long term of restructuring so that Council Tax goes down overall but charges are placed on the weight of waste produced by households."

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