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Extra cash to councils to encourage weekly bin collections

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has found £250m to drive local authorities towards weekly collections of waste bins.

The announcement was made in a political statement ahead of the Conservative Party Conference.

The funding, available from April 2012, will be used to guarantee to “retain or reinstate weekly collections of waste for five years, which demonstrate how to increase recycling rates or provide other environmental benefits, such as reducing fly-tipping and litter and or improved value for money”.

Pickles said: “The last Labour Government ruthlessly forced councils into axing bin collections. Their policies of bin taxes, bin fines and bin cuts hammered hardworking households and fuelled fly-tipping.

“Weekly rubbish collections are the most visible of all frontline services and I believe every household in England has a basic right to have their rubbish collected every week. Our fund will help councils deliver weekly collections and in the process make it easier for families to go green and improve the local environment.”

Local authorities will have to bid for the money, individually or in groups and should include the private sector where this increases value for money.

A statement from the Conservative Party said that the money would encourage weekly collections and “innovative solutions” to waste management, such as:

  • Reward Schemes. Recyclebank, the incentive scheme implemented in Windsor and Maidenhead, has been cited as an example of this. According to the Conservatives “this shows you can have weekly collections and increase recycling”.
  • Innovative Technologies – such as Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) facilities. The Conservatives believe this avoids the need for multiple bin systems and, what the Government named “bin blight”, such as Newcastle-under-Lyme’s nine recycling boxes, bags and bins. According to the Government, Bournemouth Borough Council has achieved a recycling rate of 64% alongside its weekly residual collection following waste treatment through an MBT facility.
  • Joint working and better procurement - The Conservatives report that the median collection cost of a fortnightly collection is actually slightly higher than those of a weekly collection, apparently due to some councils being on “very inefficient or poorly negotiated contracts”.
  • Other measures could include providing a weekly organic waste collection service instead of a fortnightly collection, so food waste is collected weekly; or resident-friendly waste prevention

Defra secretary Caroline Spelman: “Hard pressed families across the country pay their council taxes and local authorities should be looking to deliver the kinds of frontline services that they want. This new fund will help councils whose residents want their rubbish collected more frequently to reinstate weekly bin rounds for smelly waste, while also seeking new and innovative ways to increase recycling and look after the environment. 

“Conservative councils are already leading the way, with really successful schemes like Windsor and Maidenhead’s weekly Recyclebank system, which has seen the amount recycled soar by 35 per cent since its launch.”

The news follows the commitment made in the Government’s Waste Review, which pledged: “The Government will be working with local councils to increase the frequency and quality of rubbish collections and make it easier to recycle, and to tackle measures which encourage councils specifically to cut the scope of collections… The Government understands that the public have a reasonable expectation that household waste collections services should be weekly, particularly for smelly waste”.

Labour MP shadow communities and local government secretary Caroline Flint said the move by Pickles was a “desperate attempt” to “save face” after he failed to honour his promise to introduce weekly bin collection. She noted that the announcement came on the eve of the Conservative party conference.

Flint added: “Because of the cuts he has imposed, a number of councils have stopped weekly collections since the last election - including Tory councils such as David Cameron’s local West Oxfordshire District Council.

“When Eric Pickles insists that there is no alternative to councils cutting spending by 28%, people will rightly wonder where he has suddenly found an extra £250million. This is a policy for one week in Manchester - not a solution for the future of waste and recycling.”

The Environmental Services Association, the trade association representing the UK’s waste management and secondary resources industry, took exception to a comment from Mr Pickles on BBC radio.

“ESA strongly refutes Mr Pickles’s criticism made on the Today programme that private waste management companies offer poor value for money for their local authority customers. Mr Pickles doesn’t mention the fact that English local authorities only spend around 2% of their annual budget on waste collections, which is the equivalent of around £1.50 per household per week.

“ESA thinks most council tax payers would agree that this offers exceptional value for money. When contracts are let out to the private sector they go through a highly competitive tender process resulting in extremely good value for money for local authorities. Almost half of collections are currently done in-house by local authorities and reversing the trend for bringing collection contracts in-house would improve competition and could reduce costs in the longer term.”

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