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Right to Challenge legislation poses “questions for local authorities about risk and liability”

Right to Challenge proposals that could allow community groups to take ownership of waste collections pose questions for local authorities “about the risk and liability that they are prepared to accept when services are delivered differently”, an MP scrutinising the legislation has warned.

During a Localism Bill committee session, Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander warned that community waste collections could pose problems for local authorities, following her experience with the attempted ownership of flat composting and recycling services for a large estate in Deptford, south London.

She said: “Taking out part of the service would set a precedent, so compost and recycling services run by community organisations could operate on every single estate. What would that do to the residual service that the council must provide for the collection and composting of waste, and what would be the effect on any economies of scale?

 “There are questions for local authorities about the risk and liability that they are prepared to accept when services are delivered differently. I am not saying that such problems cannot not be overcome, but we should recognise that there is a whole raft of legislation that makes it incredibly difficult for community organisations – the grassroots organisations that the Government want to come forward – to deliver services.”

Environmental Services Association (ESA) director of policy Matthew Farrow also warned that regulation of community groups would be an issue, he said: “ESA’s Members currently provide efficient waste management services on behalf of local authorities, delivering value for money for local taxpayers and complying with increasingly rigorous environmental regulation.”

It’s unclear whether community groups would be looking to make use of the Bill’s powers in this field, but if they were, it is vital that they are held to the same exacting environmental and health and safety standards that ESA Members are.”

Despite the concerns, the prospects of community ownership of waste collections have been welcomed by Sita UK external affairs director Gev Eduljee.

He said: “[Community groups] complement mainstream waste collection by working alongside larger collection firms which have the ability to operate at scale. They play a valuable role in helping to increase re-use, refurbishment and recycling rates, particularly by targeting material streams that do not always receive the attention they deserve, such as textiles and furniture.”

The proposals were also welcomed by decentralisation minister Greg Clark, who said he was “in favour” of such services “playing a greater role in our national life”.

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