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Food (waste) for thought from Pickles

Eric Pickles’ has used the media well to promote his campaign to banish alternate weekly bin collections, so it was curious he chose last Friday to publish the Weekly Collection Support Scheme prospectus.

It was well-trailed that a big news story – the hotly-anticipated news on whether now former energy secretary Chris Huhne would face criminal charges – was also slated for that day and was likely to hog the media spotlight.   

So, was the communities secretary attempting to ‘bury’ his announcement on his £250m fund for some reason? Quite possibly.

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Despite ministers’ previous suggestions the fund would only be for councils looking to restore weekly black bag collections, the prospectus clearly states councils will be able to bid for funding for weekly food waste services (see box below for bid criteria).  

The news prompted praise from waste industry, green campaigners and the Local Government Association.

Friends of the Earth praised Pickles for “belatedly seeing sense” while the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management said it was “encouraging the department had listened to the industry”.

Pickles no doubt welcomed praise from such illustrious quarters.

But the salient fact is this: as it stands, councils which operate the fortnightly black bag collections which Pickles is so against, can still do so, and apply for funding from his kitty for a weekly food waste collection.

There is, however, no guarantee that having submitted a bid, councils in this category will be granted the cash. Indeed, it will be an interesting class of bid to keep tabs on.

Despite the fillip of food waste being included, waste chiefs and councils raised further concerns.

CIWM deputy chief executive, Chris Murphy, said: “A number of claims made for the new fund are open to question, including the assertion that it will help to tackle ‘bin blight’ and ‘the proliferation of bins’.

“Frequency has little impact on the number of bins allocated to a household compared to the overall design of the collection service and subsequent treatment options.”

The CIWM said it was also surprised at the absence of any robust reporting, evaluation or monitoring requirements, which “could have provided useful evidence and learning”.

The LGA said it was, “disappointing households in some areas will miss out because government has excluded those councils currently in the process of switching to alternate weekly collections”.  

“This sets a double standard, which arbitrarily penalises local authorities reviewing their waste collection arrangements this year, while offering money to those who have already made the switch” added LGA waste spokesman Clyde Loakes (Lab).

The timetable for councils to submit bids was even raised as a “challenge” by the Department for Communities & Local Government itself.

Addressing a LGA conference, DCLG deputy director for local public service reform, Rosie Seymour, said: “The timetable is both challenging for many and not quick for others who are thinking about their budgets for the next financial year. We recognise that there are tensions within that but this is the best balance that we could reach.”

Councils, who must submit expressions of interest by 16 March, have plenty of food (waste) for thought.  

At a glance: key lines and timetable for the weekly collection support scheme

  • DCLG said the scheme aims to “reverse the shift towards fortnightly rubbish collections”.
  • The scheme is worth up to £250m over the spending review period. This breaks down as £50m in 2012-13, £100m in 2013-14 and £100m in 2014-15
  • Councils should submit a non-binding expression of interest no later than 16 March, outline bids to by 11 May and final bids by the 17 August
  • Final decisions about which bids will receive funding will be made in October.
  • On food waste the prospectus says: “The aim of this scheme is to support local authorities to…add a weekly food waste (or organic waste) service to an existing fortnightly collection of residual household waste, where an authority can credibly demonstrate that this represents the preference of local people. This additional service will reduce the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill.”

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