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Government white paper outlines plans to decentralise public services

The Government has outlined key principles for its approach to public service reform, including increasing competition and devolving service provision to the lowest appropriate level, although figures in the waste industry remain sceptical.

The Open Public Serviceswhite paper highlights waste collection operations as a service “often provided by independent or voluntary and community sector organisations” and sets out five “key principles” for further reform.

These include:

  • Increasing choice
  • Opening service to a range of providers
  • Ensuring accountability to taxpayers
  • Decentralising power to the lowest appropriate level
  • Ensuring fair access to public services

The white paper highlights the role of Localism Bill powers, including the community right to challenge and the use of local referenda in public service reform – powers which could see local community groups bidding for, and operating, waste collection services, or allowing local residents to veto controversial decisions.

However, Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee chair Joy Blizzard told MRW that devolving power to local level must be approached “very carefully”.

Blizzard said: “Local councils have done a very good job in the past of making sure we mould the schemes we have to suit the myriad of housing types and people. Where would the buck stop for responsibilities for targets, fines, landfill tax? We always walk this difficult path in waste, between providing an easy to use service, but also changing behaviour at the same time. Are we going to end up with schemes that don’t deliver on the climate change or tonnage we’ve got to deal with?

“We’ve got to be very careful about making these broad statements that any kind of group at community level is somehow representative. There’s a fine line between a group that claims to be representative of a community and a single interest group that wants to push its own agenda through.”

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