Pandemic sees councils spend £173m more on waste

Local authorities in England spent £173 million more than planned in the 2020/21 financial year on waste collection and disposal, a report published today (19 October) has found.

This means councils spent more on waste collection than any other neighbourhood service during the pandemic.

The report from the Institute for Government and the Charted Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) analyses the performance of local authority services in England, noting that some services are “backlogged” due to a lack of spending during the pandemic.

Rob Whiteman, chief executive of CIPFA, said: “The timing of this Performance Tracker is significant. Together with our colleagues at the IfG, we have provided a clear view of the impact the pandemic has had on public services to inform the Treasury’s 2021 spending review”.

Waste was the only neighbourhood service to see a rise during the pandemic

 

Waste collection

While there was limited extra spending on ‘neighbourhood services’ overall, the CIPFA report notes that local authorities in England spent £173 million more on waste collection and disposal in the 2020/21 financial year, “equivalent to 5.4% of how much local authorities had planned to spend in 2020/21”.

Household waste volumes rose over the pandemic

This was put down to higher household waste volumes while people worked from home, and changes in shopping habits.

The report added that higher spending on waste collection reflects more activity and higher costs of delivery due to the need for social distancing and more staff.

Extra spending on other neighbourhood services, such as libraries and road maintenance, plummeted in 2020/21 due to compulsory closures and the halt to all non-essential works.

Residents, however, were more satisfied with waste collections services over the pandemic than any other neighbourhood service, the report said.

The report explained: “As with road maintenance, higher spending on waste collection reflects more activity and higher costs of delivery due to the need for social distancing and more staff. Local authorities collected more household waste and recycling because of home-working and changes in shopping habits during the pandemic.”

Unprecedented volume

During the pandemic, the waste sector saw the volume and composition of household waste shift to unprecedented levels.

Some local authorities saw a 30% increase in dry recycling volume, with more plastic and glass in particular collected from households (see letsrecycle.com story).

The waste sector also had a “key worker” status, meaning that services were deemed essential and were able to continue.

Many councils also had to roll out additional measures and hire agency staff to ensure waste was collected, all of which added to costs.

‘Rapid change’

Graham Atkins, institute for government association and the report’s lead author said: “The pandemic also prompted rapid change in the way many services were delivered and highlighted the gulf between the range and quality of data available in different services.

“No government can make good spending decisions without understanding how its choices affect the performance of services and impact on people’s lives. The government must collect more evidence on how changes adopted during the pandemic have affected service users, and departments should be given the funding needed to continue to monitor how public services perform as the pandemic eases.”

Useful links

Performance Tracker 2021 

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