OPINION: Paul Taylor, chief executive of FCC Environment, looks ahead to the forthcoming local government elections and the impact these could have on waste services and national policy.
The local elections on 2 May will see 8,374 seats contested in England, and 460 seats in Northern Ireland. As with any local election mid-way through a parliamentary cycle, this gives the main political parties a flavour of public opinion, and acts as a test exercise ahead of the next General Election – which could now be imminent.
Given the current political uncertainty and the chaos that has surrounded the Brexit negotiation process, these elections come during unprecedented times, and, as a result, are hugely unpredictable. In fact, recent polling from ComRes has put the Conservative and Labour Parties neck and neck, with both polling on 32%. This makes their combined predicted vote share 64% – the lowest recorded since polls in early 2015.
This perhaps highlights the UK public’s disillusionment with the political establishment given that we have still not left the EU and are now facing European Elections later in May, despite Brexit originally being scheduled for 29 March. In short, they favour no one, and may well stay away from the polls, leaving this year’s local elections with particularly low turnout.
Of course, it is still likely that Theresa May and the Conservatives will lose seats on 2 May, partly due to disgruntlement over the handling of Brexit, but also because sitting governments very often take a hit during mid-term elections.
Crucially, though, whilst uncertainty around the local election results continues, this also means uncertainty at a local level. This is because the results could have significant implications at a local level, and on local services such as waste management.
A change in local authority control may lead to changes in public service management and, more broadly, a bad result for Theresa May could mean progress on the development of UK waste policy and capacity planning is stalled. This is particularly worrying given our mounting residual waste problem – we need to get on with the job of fixing our waste system as soon as possible.
And the fundamental importance of local issues is why, in reality, local elections do often come down to issues such as bin collections, rather than being a mere reflection of national politics. We know that waste management is a key priority for people when it comes to local issues. In fact, recent FCC Environment and YouGov polling of 2,000 UK adults showed that recycling and rubbish services follow only social services, emergency services and education in people’s priority lists for council spending.
Whatever the outcome, we look forward to working with local authorities following the elections to get on with the issues that have the most tangible impact on the everyday lives of voters. This means the efficient management of local services to help the UK government in its efforts to drive down residual waste, standardise waste collections, and tackle consumer confusion.