Councils ‘don’t need waste lessons from ministers’

6 January 2011

By Caelia Quinault 

Councils do not need lessons from government ministers about the vital importance of regular waste and recycling collections, the Local Government Association has said.

The organisation - which represents 422 local authorities across England and Wales - has written to council leaders attacking a letter sent by local government minister Bob Neill on Tuesday (January 4) regarding bin collections.

 

We know none of you need any lessons from government ministers about the vital importance of regular waste and recycling collections

 Cllr Clyde Loakes, LGA 

Mr Neill had claimed there was a "potentially unhealthy backlog of waste is piling up on many streets" and suggested there was a level of complacency and "a failure to address the seriousness of the issue" (see letsrecycle.com story) He also attacked fortnightly bin collections.

Outraged by this, Cllr Clyde Loakes, vice chairman of the LGA environment board, stressed that LGA members took "a very different view" and "regret that he has written in the way he has".

Writing in the letter, he said: "We know none of you need any lessons from government ministers about the vital importance of regular waste and recycling collections, and the legitimate high level of public expectations about this vital council service."

Cllr Loakes said that crews had responded "magnificently" to the worst pre-Christmas weather for decades, often working on weekends and bank holidays "when I am pretty sure ministers and the other armchair critics were not".

Small number 

He added that, at worst, problems had only been reported in around 20 out of over 350 collection authorities, and here it was often only in a small number of very local areas, not across the whole of the authority.

He wrote: "Regrettably, ministers have chosen to present the issue as one affecting the whole sector, and which is not generally being taken seriously enough by it".

Alternate weekly collections are also not linked to the alleged difficulties, Cllr Loakes pointed out. He said that a clear majority of those authorities affected provided weekly collections of residual waste.

He stressed that collection methods should be decided locally and that there was "spectacular evidence" that AWC had produced massive improvements in recycling, while cutting costs at the same time. He added that it was "completely wrong" to suggest householders were unhappy with the method.

Summarising, he wrote: "We are urging ministers strongly to ensure that future public comments on this issue are evidence based on constructive dialogue with the sector. Meanwhile we will continue to argue the sector's position with government through the current review of waste policy, which is being led by Caroline Spelman, and which we welcome."

Cllr Loakes' comments echo criticism of Mr Neill voiced yesterday by the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (see letsrecycle.com story).

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Colleague

WASTE COLLECTION
I am writing to you on behalf of the Local Government Association and its Environment Board about Bob Neill's letter of yesterday about waste collection. I wanted to assure you that we are making it very clear, directly and through our media work, that we take a very different view of councils' performance on waste in recent days, and regret that he has written in the way he has.

We know none of you need any lessons from government ministers about the vital importance of regular waste and recycling collections, and the legitimate high level of public expectations about this vital council service. We also know from the information many of your councils have helpfully sent us, that across the country councils and the hard-working crews who do the work have responded magnificently to the worst pre-Christmas weather seen in many places for decades; and, as every year, have planned carefully for the Christmas period when there is such a spike up in household waste. This has involved, in very many places, crews working on weekends and bank holidays, when I am pretty sure Ministers and the other armchair critics were not.

The reports have, at worst, indicated problems in around 20 out of over 350 collection authorities, and many of those appear to be issues affecting a small number of very local areas, not the whole of the authority. The proper response to an issue of this kind from a localist government would be to encourage those concerned about it to address themselves to the local politicians who are responsible. Or, if they must get involved, talk to the councils where they have clear evidence there is a problem. Regrettably, Ministers instead have chosen to present the issue as one affecting the whole sector, and which is not generally being taken seriously enough by it.

Nor do we agree the alleged difficulties are linked with alternate weekly collection. In fact, a clear majority of the authorities where difficulties have been reported operate conventional weekly collections of residual waste - not that we are suggesting a link either way. Both the LGA and the Government have a clear stated policy that collection methods should be decided locally on the basis of evidence and legitimate political judgement about what works, and what is acceptable to residents. But councils who have adopted alternate weekly collections produce often spectacular evidence that it has produced massive improvements in recycling, and ensures limited resources get spent to the maximum possible on vital local services, not landfill tax - just as others have achieved similar outcomes through other well thought through local approaches. Local opinion research shows clearly that claims that householders are unhappy with new approaches are completely wrong.

We are urging Ministers strongly to ensure that future public comments on this issue are evidence based and based on constructive dialogue with the sector. Meanwhile we will continue to argue the sector's position with Government through the current review of waste policy, which is being led by Caroline Spelman, and which we welcome. This should be the mechanism through which a sensible and evidence-based national framework for council decision-making on waste as a local service should be agreed. We are very grateful for the magnificent advice professionals from your councils are making to evidencing and arguing our positions; and Gary Porter, my Board colleagues and I would urge you to contact us at any time with your concerns and ideas.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Clyde Loakes
Vice Chair, Environment and Housing Programme Board

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