The potential for national government fines over waste management and recycling to be passed on to local authorities is now the subject of a consultation paper issued by the department for communities and local government.
In recent years local authorities have been warned on a number of occasions that primarily if they failed to meet landfill diversion targets, they could be fined millions of pounds. The fine would most probably have been passed on by national UK government to local authorities, if the EU was to fine the UK.
The Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme had been the main element in the governments armour to ensure councils met their landfill targets to help the UK avoid any fines. But with most waste authorities meeting their LATS targets, concerns reduced and the scheme is in the process of being scrapped. Alongside the meeting of targets, residual waste volumes have fallen and landfilling of municipal waste is down by several percentage points.
Now, the DCLG has opened a consultation on the issue which is based on a proposed policy statement for Part 2 of the Localism Act 2011.
The department said: The Localism Act provides a substantial and lasting shift in power away from central government and towards local people. The Government has given public authorities more powers and freedoms to conduct their business and deliver services to the public. This includes a major reduction in the ‘oversight’ role of central government. Public authorities must, therefore, accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions or omissions.
DCLG continued: Part 2 of the Localism Act is about incentivising public authorities to comply with European law, in order to avoid any financial sanctions in the first place. The proposed policy statement sets out a fair, proportionate and reasonable approach for the use of Part 2. The statement has been developed with the Local Government Association and the Greater London Authority. The UK has never to date been fined for an infraction, and we hope that it never will.
According to the consultation, costs would only be incurred by those public authorities that had responsibility to comply, had demonstrably caused or contributed to the financial sanction, and had previously been designated under section 52 of the Localism Act for the infraction case in question. The expectation is that, through the use of the provisions in the Act to incentivise compliance by public authorities, the risk of financial sanctions being allocated to the UK (and therefore the risk to public authorities) will be significantly reduced.
Speaking in response to the consultation, Cllor Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: We’ve come a long way since the government first proposed that ministers could force local authorities and taxpayers to pay EU fines of around 1 billion for missing European targets on recycling and air pollution. The LGA and GLA were pleased to have stopped this in its tracks and convinced government to rethink its policy.
“Now that a consultation on this issue has opened, we will be pushing for assurances that this fair process is upheld, so that any move to require contributions from councils must go through the toughest of scrutiny by Parliament. An independent advisory panel, including representatives from local government, should advise and recommend on the authority’s culpability and their ability to pay. Councils remain keen to work with the Government to avoid these fines occurring in the first instance.