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Councils deliver on core waste tasks

Who’d be a “bin baron” or “town hall bureaucrat”? The phrases were devised by communities secretary Eric Pickles last year to claim that council officers and waste management companies operate a cosy ‘cartel’.

His ministerial sidekick, Brandon Lewis, repeated them this week when responding to an Audit Commission (AC) report that English councils could have saved a huge £464m in 2013 if those spending the most had brought down their expenditure to the average. But the report seems a rather simplistic statistical approach.

In fact, councils have coped with significant spending cuts already - and delivered them. That pressure has undoubtedly affected waste officers’ attempts to save on their budgets and, in response, for their contractors to deliver efficiencies.

The AC says that £46m has indeed been cut in the past four years and recognises - please note, Messrs Pickles and Lewis - that “councils know their population and their needs and require the freedom to choose the approach to waste management most suited to them”.

The AC reports that four-fifths of the cash goes on collection and disposal and “only” a fifth focuses on higher levels of the waste hierarchy.

It calls on councils to do more to exercise their power to influence and encourage residents to recycle. This is certainly right in the sense that communications budgets should be preserved.

But it is the councils’ core task to collect and dispose. It is for others, public and private, to lead us to a regime where minimisation is key.

There are some terrific examples of best practice generally in the shortlist for this year’s National Recycling Awards, whittled down from a record number of entries.

Our grateful thanks go to the superb judges.

Make sure you don’t miss out on another great celebration by joining us at the awards in London on 3 July.

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