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Rubbish Charges

Rubbish ChargesA year ago, in 'Doing the Business' we said that Government Ministers were wondering about having 'variable charging' for household waste disposal. They were evaluating the idea of introducing a charge for each bag of non-recycled rubbish put out by a household.

We noted there were microchips in Fylde's bins ready to weigh the contents of each household, offering the prospect of charging each household by weight not recycled, as well as fines for putting the wrong rubbish out on the wrong day or in the wrong place, or too early, or not recycling enough.

We said that you could go further, and use fines with dog fouling, litter, noise and letting your garden get untidy.

We asked "What better way than to subcontract that service to a business that is neither elected nor democratically accountable, and is at arms length from the politicians who can wash their hands of your problem as they rake in the cash from fine income and the like."

We drew attention to a quote from the blog of Wesham's Politburo member Councillor Simon Renwick which said:

"Environmental Crime
A shift in Council policy I'm hoping to pursue is to change the name of our dog wardens and environmental enforcement officers to Environmental Crime Officers. This change, coupled with extra resources and an extra employee or two will send out the message that, dropping litter, fly tipping, fly posting and dog fouling is a crime that won't be tolerated. For too long this and other councils have been sending out the wrong message and until we get tough by fining and prosecuting people, it will continue to happen......."

Well three things have happened recently to move each of these matters a step further forward.

First, Fylde's Politburo Cabinet has just voted to scrap all its dog control byelaws.

You might ask why.

The answer is they had to - so they could introduce the same controls in the format of 'Dog Control Orders'

The difference is that with Byelaws you have to prosecute offenders through the courts - Control Orders mean you can issue a fixed-penalty notice and on the spot fine without all that messy court business.

That way, you can bypass the proper legal system, and you might even be able to make a profit.

We have a fundamental disagreement with justice dispensed like this.

It is wrong to have the same person be policeman, judge, jury and court clerk taking payment. We deplore the principle behind so called 'on the spot fines' (and things like asbos - see 'Asbo or Anarchy').

That said, apart from making our readers think, (and hopefully making them wonder how long it will be before fixed penalty notices like these are issued for theft, mugging, rape and so on), we recognise our opinion is just that, an opinion.

Second, Councillor Renwick has just put out what we think is an unusual press release. It says he is calling for "Fylde's policy on bin chips to be removed". Before going on to suggest that the microchips could be used to charge people for the rubbish they throw away.

He told the LSA Express "People are worried about the use of these chips to charge per pound of rubbish and I feel that concern is justified" He went on to say he had asked Cllr Tim Ashton to bring a report to Fylde's Cabinet to make a decision not to implement their use in this way.

Regulars will note that Cllrs Ashton and Renwick are the ones who did the double act on closing the pools not long ago. Now we appear to have another instance of interplay between them.

We all know, of course, that a County Council election contest is on the way, and Cllr Renwick is standing for Kirkham, and presumably Cllr Ashton is standing for Lytham again, so it will be in their interests to be able to say in election addresses that they persuaded FBC not to have the bin chips or 'pay as you throw' schemes.

But you might like to look a little deeper into what's going on here.

This week, the Government (through its Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs) signalled its intention to encourage councils to hand over its waste collection and management services to 'joint waste authorities'

So if you know the Government is up to this, and you know the Commissar - who we all know is hell bent on farming out everything Fylde does to other people - will be keen to push everything off to one of these joint waste authorities at the first available opportunity, then its a pretty safe bet to say Fylde won't be using bin chips or pay as you throw schemes anytime soon.

So the downside risks to announcing that Fylde won't introduce them are pretty small.

But Cllrs Renwick and Ashton aren't the only ones with potential benefits in this tale.

A national paper made a lot of capital out of the joint waste authority story this week as well.

Although there was some scaremongering in their version of events, they illustrated some very frightening implications.

For example, it shows that where the Government wants (or is required) to introduce a deeply unpopular policy through Local Government, (such as the bin chips), - and where people rebel in significant numbers, voting out councils that implement the Government's policy, they will simply find a way to by-pass the electorate.

We saw it with the 'EU Constitution' and we're seeing it now with Regional Government (which is going on silently behind the scenes).

The real underlying point of this 'joint waste authority' story is Government's intention to neutralise electoral resistance.

They're about to introduce a QUANGO we can't vote out, but which will take over emptying the bins and waste disposal, and will have the power to issue on the spot fines to us.

The national paper implied they would have tax raising powers as well, but that's not the case. The will not have the power to issue a direct precept. Instead they will require Councils to continue to raise funds for their activities.

Some of the 'benefits' that Government sees in them are "... that they will have corporate body status. This allows them to employ their own staff and enter into contracts in their own right (on behalf of member authorities), thus removing the need for one constituent authority to act as an 'administering' or 'contracting' authority and taking responsibility for all the liabilities and legal risks associated with that."

"They will be statutory bodies, recognised by the Secretary of State, and can only be dissolved in limited circumstances thus giving them a structural stability that will appeal to the waste management industry and potential investors. "

Government also plans that joint waste authorities will take on the statutory reporting requirements associated with the waste function/s they discharge. Thus local authority boundaries will not need to be respected when delivering waste management services, for the purposes of data collection and reporting, thus providing opportunities for efficiencies.

In English, what all this means is that participating councils will nominate one or two councillors onto a Board to run waste collection and disposal, with power to set their own rules and requirements about how the service is provided.

And there's no way you can vote their plans down or the people off the Board, or go back to the way we were.

But you will have to pay for them.

As the paper said, this would be the first instance in modern times where we would have taxation without representation, and no way to change unpopular decisions.

Which, of course is why Government is doing it in the first place.

So, what's to be done?

Well, Government has just launched a public consultation on draft Regulations and guidance regarding proposals for joint waste authorities. It asks for views on what proposals for joint waste authorities should seek to achieve; the key issues of how joint waste authorities will work; and criteria for assessment of proposals.

Responses should be received no later than Monday 9 June 2008 and should be sent to: LAWFG@defra.gsi.gov.uk

If, like us, you are appalled at this idea to subvert yet more of our democratic control, you could do worse than write and tell them what you think about the idea.

Twelve months ago we said
"What better way than to subcontract that service to a business that is neither elected nor democratically accountable, and is at arms length from the politicians who can wash their hands of your problem as they rake in the cash from fine income and the like."

You heard it first on counterbalance

Dated:  24 March 2008


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