17 July 2019 by Lucy Pegg

MPs question strategy ‘flexibility’ and funding

Local authorities must be given flexibility in how they meet recycling targets and need a commitment that the government will cover the cost of necessary changes, a government committee has recommended.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) committee has criticised the government’s waste strategy for seeking “to dictate from the centre” rather than allowing local decision makers to plan how to improve recycling rates.

Clive Betts MP, chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government committee

In a letter to the Under-Secretary of State for Local Government, Rishis Sunak MP, the HCLG Committee has agreed that greater consistency is needed in what is collected in order to boost recycling rates.

However, it believes there is a distinction between “what is collected and how it is collected” and says this choice should not be made at a national level.

Funding

The strategy also fails to provide enough detail about how the changes needed to meet its requirements will be funded, according to the letter. The HCLG suggests that central government commit to covering various costs which may fall upon local authorities who are making changes to their recycling systems.

The committee – which is chaired by Labour MP Clive Betts – suggested that private sector contractors should cover the costs of renegotiating contracts which need to be adapted to meet the waste strategy’s aims. However, if this cannot be agreed the government should meet the expenses incurred by councils.

The recommendations also encourage Westminster to cover the costs of new infrastructure, if they are passed on to local authorities through more expensive contracts. The HCLG quote a figure of £20 billion for upgrading the UK’s waste infrastructure to the levels needed.

DRS

It also repeats concerns from local authorities about the financial implications of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and recommend that the government defer the introduction of such a system.

Some local authorities worry that a DRS would remove high quality waste such as aluminium cans and PET bottles from their collections, meaning they can make less money from selling on the materials they collect. Yesterday (July 16) environment minister Michael Gove suggested that the government will move forward with plans for an “all-in” DRS scheme for drinks containers.

Mr Betts, the HCLG chair, claimed the government had taken the wrong approach to meeting its objectives in the waste strategy document.

“In determining how often waste should be collected, the number of recycling bins or what services should be charged for, the government appears to have forgotten that what works in rural areas may not be suitable for cities.”

Clive Betts MP

He said: “In determining how often waste should be collected, the number of recycling bins or what services should be charged for, the government appears to have forgotten that what works in rural areas may not be suitable for cities.

“Equally, the Government must ensure that the funding is there that will allow local authorities to rise to the challenge.

“The Government has indicated it will provide more funding, but they must demonstrate that this will be adequate in the long-term,” Mr Betts added.

He stated that local authorities who were already struggling financially could not be expected to shoulder a further burden without extra resourcing.

Collection challenges

Other findings raised in the committee’s letter include criticism of mandatory free garden waste collections which councils will be expected to provide. The HCLG says that the current system, where users who want a garden waste bin pay for it, work well.

Mr Betts’ committee is also concerned that the minimum four receptacles for waste collection that is mandated in the waste strategy will be challenging in many areas.

However, they do support the government’s plans for an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme – though worries are raised that it may not be a long-term or reliable source of funding for local authorities if producers improve the materials in their packaging.

The HCLG committee rejected the idea of an incineration tax in the short term and encouraged government to legislate on the use of recyclable plastic where there are alternatives available.

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