An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

What bins tell us about the future of localism

with one comment

I’m not snooty about waste management. When it comes to council services it is probably the most visible to the average punter, and councils screw up bin collections at their electoral peril. A decent rubbish collection service is good for the environment, good for the local area, and good for an area’s quality of life.

That said, as with yesterday’s bizarre council procurement showdown, what is it about bins that means that every council that plans to vary its collection frequency hits the front page? According to this morning’s Telegraph:

The Government is to announce a deal under which councils will be offered financial incentives to collect household rubbish every week.

A similar plan using government grants was successfully introduced to encourage local authorities to freeze council tax this year.

The policy is expected to be announced as the centrepiece of a review of waste policy being conducted by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).

A source close to the review said the funding plans for councils to restore weekly bin collections – estimated to be about £100 million a year – had been agreed and the scheme will be unveiled within the next fortnight.

More than half of councils are thought to have abandoned weekly bin collections over the past few years, depriving more than 18 million people of the service.

I’m not sure whether fortnightly collections are a good idea or not. I’d rather leave that to the professionals. I do suspect that with different recycling, garden and food waste collections becoming increasingly common then speaking of the ‘weekly bin collection’ is becoming less relevant. But if residents value the service and the resources can be found to pay for it, then who am I to say different?

But forget all that for a moment and look at how the ‘deal’ is going to work. A (presumably) small specific grant that is contingent on councils behaving in particular way as mandated by central government. The council tax freeze, whilst undoubtedly popular, worked in exactly the same way, and was an early indication that Pickles-Shapps ‘guided localism’ is a lot less about allowing the development of distinctive local democratic agendas and a lot more about creating local government that behaves in a way dictated by them.

When Conservative council leaders (and a fair few Labour ones) used to bemoan Labour centralism under the previous government, they would talk of the ringfenced funding, the heavy-handed central guidance and the lack of independence for councils. It seems like we’ve still got all that, but without the funding increases that softened the blow. I’m not sure that is going to work in the long term. Who’d want to be part of a system like that?

(Photo by Flickr user Leo Reynolds.)


Written by samelliot

May 30, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Environment, Localism

One Response

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  1. […] face vastly reduced budgets, an overmighty CLG bullying councils to adhere to tabloid tropes like weekly bin collections, and a general populace that is predisposed to believing councils to be wasteful, meddling and […]

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