What do you pay your council tax for? After plenty of conversations with supporters of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the number one – and often only – answer is: to have my bins collected regularly. We’ve been involved in two big debates recently on this topic. The first was based on our research that showed how many bins residents are expected to sort their waste into. The second was after the publication of the Waste Review back in June, which saw Eric Pickles seemingly lose ground in the battle to restore across the board weekly collections of residual waste. After Eric Pickles said that families shouldn’t have to wait a fortnight to have their left over tikka masala picked up, 13 more councils have actually switched from weekly to fortnightly collections, rather than the other way round.
Another row erupted this weekend. Harry reported yesterday on The Sunday Telegraph’s story of how Rossendale council are getting residents to bring rubbish to a collection point, as opposed to picking it up from people’s doorsteps. This is a huge and unfair imposition placed on taxpayers by the council. After all, collecting rubbish is one of the very reasons councils even exist. That many are now doing this less frequently and are asking residents sort their waste first was already contentious. Now some are not even coming to pick it up from residents’ addresses. Did any of the councils switching to fortnightly collections cut council tax? Will those sorting their rubbish into more containers get a reduction in their bill? Will there be a rebate for Rossendale’s residents? I think we all know the answer to these questions. Other councils should not follow Rossendale's bad example.
Of course councils do more than pick up bins. But many people do not use the majority of their council services. They may not have children in local schools, use local leisure facilities or, thankfully, they may not have the need to use social care services. But one service everyone uses is bin collection. Councils have acquired more and more competencies but many are neglecting their most basic. Bin collection is becoming less regular and less convenient. Spending must be reduced, of course, but there are plenty of other items to cut back on. Our research archive, or Harry’s 100 ways to cut council tax, would be good places to start.
Although councils are not entirely to blame. As ever, there is pressure on them from the EU; the Landfill Directive means that the burden on councils is being passed onto taxpayers. And the supposed benefits of environmental taxes outweigh the social cost that they are trying to correct for. The Institute for Fiscal Studies produced a report on environmental taxes as part of the Mirrlees Review. It says that the taxes imposed on waste disposal outweigh the social costs that they inflict in the first place.
They found that:
“The UK landfill tax was one of the first explicit environmental taxes introduced in this country, initially set at rates reflecting best estimates of the costs involved. However, subsequent large increases in the rate, and the introduction of the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme, appear designed to ensure compliance with EU targets on landfill reduction. These targets look too stringent to be justified by the environmental costs.”
Landfill taxes make it much harder for councils to keep offering weekly collections. Genuine local environmental concerns are not dictating policy, rigid EU targets are. Massive landfill taxes directly hurt local authorities, instead of allowing them to decide the best policies for their residents. This manifests itself in 9-bin councils, and fortnightly collections.
Councillors have said that Eric Pickles is somewhat hypocritical: a localist that wants them to do what he says on waste policy. But as my colleague Chris Daniel recently pointed out, if councillors are truly against central intervention in this area then they should be urging the Government to take on the EU Landfill Directive.