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Council spending cuts threaten work of community reuse groups

The much-heralded reuse sector could shrink by 10% in the next 12 months, a senior figure has warned.

Craig Anderson, chief executive of Furniture Reuse Network, the membership body, said cuts in council spending with reuse bodies could cause serious damage.

He warned that if reuse bodies went out of business, it would hit the living standards of people in poverty, cost councils time and money,and add to the waste burden.

WRAP has made promoting the benefits of reuse a major theme for the next year after publishing research quantifying the activity’s benefits.

It found that British households saved £1bn per year buying reused items, and that one million sofas were reused per annum. It said the environmental benefits of reusing one tonne of sofas were the same as those from recycling one tonne of plastics.

But Anderson said local government cuts threatened the existence of many of the organisations that provided reuse services in the UK.

“We know some councils are cutting back grants to community groups by up to 75% in 2012/13,” he said. “They call it a grant but I would liken it to a contract – the reuse organisation is paid a sum of money to supply a number of families with goods.”

FRN has about 300 membership bodies, which have deals to collect waste items such as sofas and fridges from householders and give them to those in need. The council funding cuts are having a severe impact on its members.

Anderson said his membership could be 10% smaller within a year if the cuts were not arrested.

To prevent this, he called on councils to make room for reuse bodies at recycling centres, and to subcontract reuse firms for bulky waste collections.

Matthew Campbell of the St Vincent de Paul Society, which has 16 furniture reuse projects, says there is a lack of political support, centrally or locally, for the charity and reuse sector.

“Both provide essential support to people in the deepest poverty levels and least equipped to deal with that,” he said.

“In our Leeds project alone, we deal with some 40,000 hours of community service orders and have some 50 volunteers [long-term unemployed people] who work along with our staff to provide support for the most deprived in the community.”

Andrew Craig, policy officer at the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, said councils were under severe pressure to cut spending: “They are between a rock and a hard place with three years of unprecedented cuts, and are forced to look at what services to maintain.”

Craig conceded that the pure waste management benefits of funding community reuse were slight. Almost as much value could be salvaged by recycling the material, he said, while reuse contracts often took up a lot of management time.

But he added: “LARAC would always encourage members to enter into relationships with the community sector because of the holistic benefits and because reuse is near the top of the waste management hierarchy.”

Craig said, ultimately, it was up to individual councils to take a strategic view of where to implement budget cuts required by central Government. And not all local authorities are reducing their use of reuse groups.

Warwickshire County Council is including reuse shops for community groups in two household waste recycling centres currently being built.

Group manager of waste management Glenn Fleet said: “We won’t cut back on reuse because we see the long-term benefits. It takes waste out of the waste stream, provides training to volunteers and gives furniture to people who need it.”

He added that reuse bodies were rewarded for work in the community with reuse credits, which were cheaper for the authority than paying landfill tax.

Publicising the body’s reuse report, WRAP chief executive Dr Liz Goodwin said: “The research findings are staggering. Current levels of reuse create financial savings to households of around £1bn and reduce CO2 equivalent emissions by one million tonnes.”

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