25 March 2019 by Steve Eminton

A costs challenge in wake of the Strategy

The decision by a House of Commons committee to look at the cost implications for local authorities of the Resources and Waste Strategy comes as Defra consults on various related topics.

Food waste collections seem to have won the support of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister who gave her views on the topic with remarks that jam could be used even if a top layer had to be removed because of ageing.

However, the topic will get a lot more serious when local authorities start having to roll out food waste collections.

The project will have massive implications for councils and has the potential to become a divisive issue in some parts of the country. Already it appears that Defra has rolled back a little on an apparent early view that anaerobic digestion is the best route for food waste.

Local authority officers have publicly spoken about what they expect to be a desire by their local authority members to make decisions on future services. And, questions are already being asked as to whether money for food waste services will just cover the start-up costs or will it help pay for future waste bills.

Consistent

On an adjacent aspect of the consultation, that of consistent collections and EPR, one senior London officer has said that if money comes into services for packaging waste collections, then it is hard to see council tax being reduced because of the need to spend on other services.

This all poses big questions for the costing of the new services. Those businesses paying for producer responsibility to the extent of 90%+ of packaging recycling – along with residents (and campaign groups) may well be unhappy if they end up simply paying for existing services and the existing funds are effectively used to pay for libraries etc.

Council tax payers could in effect still be paying an amount for waste costs without any deductions to cover the impact of EPR funding. Plus, they will be paying more through the purchase of products as it seems likely that the huge extra EPR costs will have to be passed on to the consumer.

The government has a potential challenge here, especially as it has been on a mission to keep council tax rises under control.

With the difficulties around food waste funding and how costs will be calculated for each individual authority with differing local services, political views and contracts, resolving the four options for the EPR system look more important than ever.

Working out the costs involved and where they will lie looks likely to be a more long-term project than might be achievable during the consultation stage.

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