Proposed powers to fine to local authorities if the UK fails to meet EU targets will present a “confusing picture” for waste, a legal expert has claimed.
Under powers outlined in the Localism Bill, a minister could require a local or public authority “to make a payment of an amount determined by the minister in respect of any EU financial sanction imposed on the United Kingdom” and would also allow them to decide the period over which payment is required.
In the context of waste, the powers could mean that local authorities are fined if the country misses European waste reduction targets such as the landfill directive, which already allows fines to be imposed on the UK if recycling targets are not met.
Aaron & Partners LLP associate Claire Petricca-Riding said: “Most local authorities’ waste contracts are usually dealt with on a PFI basis. This would lead to a confusing picture as to who was actually to blame for the local authority not meeting its target – the local authority or the PFI partner?”
“Would it be fair to fine the local authority when the blame lay with the company dealing with the PFI?”
Despite the fact that Secretary of state for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Eric Pickles sponsored the Bill, it would be a member of the Defra ministerial team that took the decision to pass fines to English local authorities.
Petricca-Riding said: “The wording used in the relevant sections is ‘Minister of the Crown’, which would suggest that rather than the Secretary of State for Local Government the charge would fall on whichever minister is in charge of that specific failure. So if a fine was passed down for not meeting targets, it would go to Defra as opposed to DCLG.
She added: “In reality it’s a fairly draconian provision which I would be surprised to see making it through to the Act.”
If the legislation passes into law, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will be required to publish a policy statement which provides information on how the power will be exercised and “amounts determined to which a minister must have regard”.