Left-wing critics of the Government (such as Friends of the Earth) have rejoiced and right wing critics (such as the Daily Mail) have lamented that there has not been a great radical increase in weekly bin collections under this Government. This is despite the cause being championed by Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary.
But consider the counter-factual. If Mr Pickles had not brought in changes in policy what would have happened to weekly collections? The evidence from Wales is that they would have declined significantly.
Lord Ahmed summarised the Government’s efforts in a Written Answer:
“In March 2012, my Department received initial expressions of interest from 151 lead local authorities, which resulted in bids from 113 local authorities. Some local authorities submitted multiple expressions of interest which were consolidated before final bid stage. The final bids were then assessed in line with the published criteria, and recipients then awarded funding.
A detailed table listing the schemes that are being supported is attached and on my Department’s website.
It may be helpful to the noble Lord to outline what this Government has delivered since 2010:
Safeguarded weekly collections for 6 million households through the Weekly Collection Support Scheme as well as championing innovation and best practice; the answer of 14 May 2014, Official Report, House of Commons 646W, outlined how 14 million households in England have some form of weekly collection of smelly rubbish.
Issued the first ever Whitehall guidance on weekly bin collections, demolishing the myths that fortnightly bin collections are needed to save money or increase recycling. This best practice was directly informed by the Weekly Collections Support Scheme;
Supported over 40 innovative reward schemes to back recycling through the Weekly Collection Support Scheme (as pledged in the Coalition Agreement); the winning bids for a further Recycling Rewards Scheme for 2015-16 will be announced shortly;
Stopped the Audit Commission inspections which marked down councils who do not adopt fortnightly rubbish collections, and rejected the Audit Commission guidance which advocated fortnightly collections (“Waste Management: The Strategic Challenge and Waste Management Quick Guide”);
Abolished the Local Area Agreements and National Indicator 191 imposed by Whitehall which created perverse incentives to downgrade waste collection services;
Scrapped the Whitehall requirement for municipal Annual Efficiency Statements, which allowed a reduction in the frequency of a household rubbish collection service to qualify as a “valid efficiency” and allowed revenue from bin fines to classed as a “cashable efficiency gain”;
Scrapped the imposition of eco-towns which would have had fortnightly bin collections and/or bin taxes as part of the “eco-standards”;
Through the Localism Act, revoked the 2008 legislation that allowed for the imposition of new bin taxes;Issued guidance to stop the imposition of illegal ‘backdoor bin charging’ on households bins;
Stopped funding the ‘Waste Improvement Network’ which told councils to adopt fortnightly collections as best practice;
Challenged the incorrect interpretation by some bodies that European Union directives require fortnightly collections, and resisted the imposition of bin taxes by the European Union;
Removing powers of entry and snooping powers from bin inspectors and scrapped guidance telling councils to rifle through families’ bins;
Changed building regulations and planning guidance to tackle ‘bin blight’, and worked with the NHBC Foundation to produce new best practice guidance for house builders;
Changing the law through the Deregulation Bill to scrap unfair bin fines.
Without our active support, Ministers are clear that weekly collections would have disappeared across England. This Government’s approach can be contrasted with the devolved Labour-led Administration in Wales, where fortnightly bin collections are official policy, and pilots of monthly bin collections are being actively encouraged.”
Is it really fair to suggest that all those changes have made no diffference? It is not. But it is fair to conclude that more needs to be done.
Some would argue that emptying the bins each week should be a basic local amenity and therefore a statutory requirement for local government. Others would say that the principle of localism should apply. That if you don’t want stinking piles of rubbish accumulating for a fortnight (or even a month) then vote for a councillor who will do something about it.
Perhaps the answer is for the Government to give more of a nudge. The claim, from some bureaucrats, that bullying and punishing people is the only way to increase recycling rates has been discredited by the effective use of schemes that provide incentives. That best practice is being promoted. But some councils still regard fortnightly collections as an easy way to save money.
Unlike in Wales, many people in England still have their bins emptied weekly. The challenge remains how to ensure that standard becomes the norm.