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Bin Discounting?

Bin DiscountingBefore we start this article, we'd like to say we find the bin men and drivers who collect and recycle in Fylde to be one of FBC's great triumphs.

Out in all weathers, they are reliable, efficient, and very hardworking. And whilst we always try to meet what is asked of us, occasionally we might have slipped up. But even if we did occasionally get something wrong, the bin men have always been courteous, helpful, and accommodating.

Only last week we had cause to go out and thank them for dealing with a neighbour's bin (which they lifted bodily out from behind a gate) as the old chap had been taken into hospital the night before. They give a wonderful service, are a fine example what local council staff should be like, and we're very happy to salute them and to say so.

Having said that, a bit of a problem with the administrative arrangements for bins got an interesting airing at the Scrutiny Committee the other night.

Warton and Westby's Cllr Julie Brickles had come across a problem with bins being supplied (or rather not being supplied) for new homes in Warton, and wanted the committee to have a detailed look at some aspects of the service.

The relevant officer explained to the Committee that, when the scheme was set up in 2003, bins and boxes were provided 'free' to everyone, (as were replacements). But then the cost of replacements started to escalate, and the policy was changed.

Nowadays, she said, when a new house is built, if the builder or landlord doesn't supply the bins, it is the responsibility of the tenant or owner to buy, initially, four bins (The council won't supply a single grey bin on its own, you have to get a set of four) and the cost charged for the set is 100.

But this situation is muddied by the fact that some housing developers include the cost of the bins in the purchase price of the house (so it is not seen separately by the householders), whilst other developers don't do this, and people have to pay the Council 100 for their bins.

Furthermore, if the housing was socially subsidised property, then the landlord - usually a Housing Association acting as a Registered Social Landlord - would often provide the bins for their tenants (who must leave them in place for new tenants) if and when they moved.

The officer said that where FBC provided bins to developers or social landlords, they were supplied at a bit of a discount (we think she said 75, but it was difficult to hear).

But according to Cllr Brickles, a resident at 'Meadows View' a new development in Warton had complained to her as his ward councillor, because he didn't have any dustbins - and the Council wanted him to pay 100 for a full set himself.

He had enquired at FBC because his landlord (Progress Housing) told him they didn't supply the bins. He added that that none of the Progress tenants on the development had any bins.

So Cllr Brickles contacted FBC and was told that, following enquiries, the 19 social rented houses had not received bins because a lady at Progress, with whom they only had had a 'verbal contract ' had now moved jobs.

Further contact with Progress quickly solved the problem, and the following morning FBC delivered 19 sets of 4 bins.

Job done, and well done.

The officer told Cllr Brickles of the outcome, and mentioned they had also been asked to provide sets of bins to nine of the 'market value' properties that had been occupied on Meadows View.

But when Cllr Brickles had a look around the development last October she discovered that there were 21 new market value homes (apart from the 19 rented properties) that had been occupied.

She was puzzled that if only 9 of these 21 market value properties had received a set of bins, what were the other 12 properties doing to get rid of their rubbish, and, more especially, what were they doing about recycling?

It prompted her to speculate about what might be happening to recycling throughout Fylde, if this small sample was typical of what might happen regarding what will become a very large number of new houses across the Borough.

Today, Meadow View has 24 of the 'market value' properties occupied, but it is believed that only the 9 of them (as mentioned above) bought a set of bins from FBC, and a check with the developers confirms they did not supply bins either, so it would seem that out of 24 properties occupied there, only 9 bought a set of bins from FBC. At present, it's not clear what's happening to rubbish and recycling from the others.

The more Cllr Brickles investigated, the more it seemed to her that there were irregularities and inconsistencies in what was going on.

And Cllr Brickles isn't one to let irregularities slip past her.

She's the one who spotted that Cllr David Eaves had not been elected Leader of FBC and (quite properly - and despite wholly inappropriate attitudes ranged against her) persisted with that matter until it was bottomed, (and look at all the trouble that caused).

Cllr Brickles has Yorkshire roots, and like a Yorkshire Terrier, when she gets her teeth into a problem, she shakes and shakes and worries it until there is no life left in it.

She's also a very keen recycler, and she spotted that Fylde's current (and active since 2009) recycling and bin provision policy said very clearly that they would not charge people for their first green bins (in order to encourage recycling).

Yet she'd been told by officers that the new bins were being charged out at effectively 25 each (i.e. a set of 4 for 100).

From this, she concluded that Fylde were not working in accordance with their policy of providing free green bins for new property, but were, in all probability - improperly and without authority - charging residents for them. (a nominal 25 as a quarter of a 100 set).

We agree. Fylde's formal policy (which has in place since an individual member Decision by Dim Tim in March 2009) says:

""For avoidance of doubt, the criteria where a charge for the provision of a grey and / or green wheeled bin is applicable are:

  • Wheeled bins reported stolen.
  • Wheeled bins lost.
  • Wheeled bins reported vandalised.
  • Wheeled bins reported damaged (other than by Council operatives and equipment).
  • Additional wheeled bins (where eligible).
  • Wheeled bins for new build properties (except first green bin).
  • Wheeled bins for new occupants of exiting properties.

The criteria where a charge for the provision of a grey or green wheeled bin
would not apply are:

  • Wheeled bins reported damaged by Council Operatives or equipment.
  • First green wheeled bin provided to new build properties

That's a pretty clear statement that the first green bin should be free.

And it's even reproduced in the Officer's report to the Scrutiny Committee last week where she said...

"In order to encourage and promote recycling, recycling containers (green bag and blue/white bags provided at the time the policy was introduced), including the first green wheeled bin to new build properties and bulk recycling containers for multiple occupancy properties, are provided free of charge.

Grey residual waste and additional green wheeled bins along with bulk residual containers for multiple occupancy properties are subject to a charge which includes delivery and removal of the replacement wheeled bin (where applicable)."

So it's pretty much clear. The first green bin is free - to encourage folk to recycle.

But just one page later. the officer's report said....

"Charges for Waste Receptacles 2012 - 2013

Provision of green box (to households still on the original scheme) Free
Provision of blue bag (to households still on the original scheme) Free
Provision of one wheeled bin (grey, green, blue or brown) at a new build property 32.15
Provision of full set of wheeled bins (grey, green, blue and brown) at a new build property 100.00
Provision of lost, stolen, damaged or additional (if eligible) wheeled bin including delivery 32.15
Provision of lost, stolen, damaged or additional (if eligible) grey wheeled bin including delivery 32.15
Provision of lost, stolen or damaged wheeled bins lid or wheels (including delivery and fitting) 12.80
Provision of a bulk bin to multiple-occupancy properties for recycling 420.60
Provision of a bulk bin to multiple-occupancy properties for the collection of residual waste 420.60
Provision of two black sacks per week to properties unsuitable for wheeled bins for the collection of residual waste Free

That's a pretty clear conflict in our view.

The policy says the first green bin is free. The officer knows - or at least ought to know - that, but is, and has been, charging householders either 25 or, more recently 32.15 for them!

The officer also said that developers and landlords paid 75 for a set of four bins. This had been described as a discount earlier in the meeting, but it looked to us as though they were paying for three bins and getting the green one free - just as the policy appeared to say they should be doing.

And that made it worse.

If the policy for free green bins is being applied to developers and landlords, but ignored for residents, then those residents who had been wrongly charged for green bins might be cross enough to claim a refund against FBC for a charge that had been implemented when FBC did not have authority to do so!

There was also an issue about how much people were being charged for the bins anyway.

It seems they cost Fylde between 18 and 19 each but Fylde are charging 25 or 32.15 depending on who gets them and whether they are in a set of four not. This was said to include delivery and 'office admin' at Fylde.

When she spotted these anomalies, Cllr Brickles did exactly the proper thing and asked for the matter to be put on the agenda of a scrutiny committee so it could be, - well, - scrutinised.

We understand she had hoped for a task and finish group to be set up to 'bottom' the issue but that wasn't what happened.

There's an important issue going on here. Since the Scrutiny Meeting, we've done some fairly deep digging into Fylde's previous agenda and minutes and we've come to the view that

  • By virtue of an individual Cabinet Member Decision, a "Policy For The Provision Of Waste Receptacles" was introduced in February 2009. This introduced a charge for initial Grey bins, but crucially and specifically  *not* for initial green bins. It did however introduce a charge for replacement grey bins, and for REPLACEMENT green bins. Green Boxes and Blue Bags continued to be supplied free of charge.
  • In July 2011 FBC's Leader and Cabinet endorsed the recommendations of the Policy Development Scrutiny Committee meeting of 14 July 2011 to change paper and glass recycling (which up to then had used bags and boxes) to brown and blue 240L wheeled bins. Both these bins were specified to be provided free of charge.
  • On 16 November 2011 FBC's Leader and Cabinet reviewed those proposals to change boxes to bins. After considering feedback from a public consultation, Cabinet confirmed the plan. So at this point, Green, Blue and Brown initial bins were to be provided free of charge, funded from capital, as proposed by Scrutiny and resolved by Cabinet.
  • And that was the end of the story so far as policy is concerned, until 30 October 2013 where the Community Focus Scrutiny Committee considered a request from Cllr Brickles to look into anomalies in the supply and charging for recycling bins. The Scrutiny Committee resolved "to undertake a review of the full policy for the provision of waste receptacles and that such a review be undertaken at the next meeting of the committee."

So as far as we can see, the ADOPTED POLICY of the council up to this point was that .......

  • INITIAL BINS FOR NEW PROPERTY: For new property, an initial grey bin was to be charged for, but initial green, blue and brown re-cycling bins would be supplied free of charge.
  • REPLACEMENT AND ADDITIONAL BINS: Replacement grey and green bins were subject to a charge, but, arguably, blue and brown bins were not, because they had not been included in the 2011 policy (because they did not exist at that time). Their forerunners - the bags and boxes - were free as replacements, and the bins had been provided free initially, so in the absence of a policy change, whilst a fair case could be made for charging for replacement or additional bins (in line with *replacement* green ones), it could equally be argued that replacement brown and blue bins should also be free. 

But this is where the water gets really muddy, because without the council considering or debating a change in its policy, at its budget meeting on 4th March 2012, Fylde approved a set of fees and charges which quietly included the following

Provision of Green Box to household still on original recycling scheme Free
Provision of Blue Bag to household still on original recycling scheme Free
Provision of one wheeled bin (grey, green, blue or brown) at new build properties Per Bin Free 32.15
Provision of full set of wheeled bins (grey, green, blue and brown) at a new build property Per Set - 100.00
Provision of lost, stolen, damaged or additional (if eligible) wheeled bin including delivery  Per Bin 31.50 32.15

So these charges slipped in - more or less unnoticed by councillors.

We've checked through all the individual Cabinet member decisions from 2011 (and the Cabinet and Council minutes) and we could find no change to the policy, so we believe it must be that these charges were introduced in conflict with the adopted policy.

So what Cllr Brickles had found, was that a meeting of her Full Council (which is the only body that can approve fees and charges) had approved  charges (without debate and without those changes being pointed out to councillors) that were contrary to the policy introduced by the Cabinet Portfolio Holder - and in at least one case, they had introduced charges for which there appeared to be no policy authority to do so.

From that date onward, it looks as though Fylde's officers relied on that Council decision which had identified charges as an authority to implement them.

This situation appeared to dawn on the officer in the middle of questioning by Cllr Brickles at the Scrutiny Committee.

We watched this delightful 'lightbulb moment'  materialise as the penny dropped.

It appeared that the officer either hadn't previously understood it was happening, or (worse) had been deliberately trying to conceal the practice that was being followed, but had been 'caught out' by the indefatigable Cllr Mrs Brickles.

We're not at all sure Fylde's officers should have implemented the charges that conflicted with the policy set by the Cabinet, but it will no doubt be up to Councillors to sort that corporate conundrum out.

We spotted one other thing as well.

If developers and housing associations are being supplied with bins at a 'discount', we could find no authority to make or apply such a discount, either in policy terms or within the Schedule of Fees and Charges.

Sadly, when these policy conflicts became evident, the Scrutiny Committee decided that financial discretion was the better part of recycling valour, and,  instead of confirming the existing policy of providing free green bins to encourage recycling, (and probably confirming that blue and brown bins should also remain as free as the bags and boxes before them), they decided to recommend to the Cabinet  that the policy of providing green, blue and brown bins free to new homes to encourage recycling should be abandoned, and they should all be charged-for in future.

Did we hear someone at Fylde say there had been no change to front-line services?

We're actually a bit less sure about Cabinet making a decision on this matter, we thought it should be the full Council who set both policy and fees and charges. But we could easily be wrong in this mad, mad, incompetent world of Leader and Cabinet governance at Fylde.

What all of this still hasn't addressed of course is the issue of all the people who have already paid 100 for a set of four initial bins if there was (and a the time of writing, still apparently is) only a policy authority to charge for only the grey one.

There's no issue with grey bins. Since February 2009, they have to be paid for - both as an initial delivery at a new property, and for any replacements (unless damage is admitted by FBC).

But the green ones are a different matter.

Equally, there is the ambiguity of blue and brown bins which are in a policy vacuum because they were introduced after the policy, and the policy has not been updated to specify whether they should be free or not.

We think a good case can be made either way on blue and brown bins, so there may be people who feel they could argue they should not have been charged for such bins - either as initial provision or as replacements.

From what we can see, as far as providing the first set of bins is concerned, we think anyone who was asked to pay for an initial green bin before 4th March 2012 has a pretty good claim for a refund.

We also think anyone who paid the 100 for an initial set of four bins before that date has the same case, and thus might want to have a go at arguing for a 75 refund.

Even people who had paid the 75 for initial green, blue and brown bins after that date and up to now, probably have a case to argue for a refund, albeit it that it is probably a slightly weaker case.

Equally it may be that the discount granted to developers and housing associations (for which we could find no authority) might have to be clawed back if it turns out there was no authority to give it (unless the Council decides to write this off).

There was no interest or enthusiasm from the Scrutiny Committee to look into the issue of what was happening about waste disposal and recycling from new households that didn't appear to have bought a set of bins at all yet.

If Fylde is serious about wanting to keep its recycling stats up, we think this might be something that ought to be looked at in a bit more depth.

Nor was there enthusiasm for looking at how much Fylde was charging relative to the purchase cost of the bins (both Cllr Mrs Brickles and Cllr Armit seemed to think Fylde was actually turning a profit on them)

For her efforts in trying to bring these matters to the attention of the Scrutiny Committee we applaud Cllr Mrs Brickles.

We also applaud the Scrutiny Committee's previous decision "to undertake a review of the full policy for the provision of waste receptacles and that such a review be undertaken at the next meeting of the committee."

But whatever it was that the Scrutiny Committee was doing with this matter, it certainly wasn't ready to look in any detail at what was going on.

We wonder how long it will be before the first  25 refund request for an initial green bin arrives at the Town Hall.

Or indeed the first request for a 75 refund that was paid for all three recycling bins.

Dated:  26 January 2014


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