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Green Bins Charge - 2017

Green Bins Charge 2017In our last article about green bins, we brought readers up to date on what happened over the summer with Fylde's plan to introduce a new charge for collecting green bins taking the garden waste away.

We also looked at what was happening in other Lancashire Councils, and gave some stats about the national picture.

We concluded that if LCC actually did what everyone was expecting, and stop the support funding that has encouraged district councils like Fylde to undertake a 'green waste' collection, then Fylde would have to get the money from somewhere if it planned to continue. And we had some sympathy with the Council's plight in this matter.

There was another of Fylde's Operational Management Committee meetings (on 13 September 2016) to consider Fylde's approach to this problem, and we went along to prepare a report for our readers.

But writing this report produced a genuine shock for us (and we're not easily shocked).

Some of our readers may not believe this, but we actually looked forward to writing it - because we thought it would be one of those rare instances where we could write a positive article to explain about the difficult decision that Fylde had to take regarding the need to charge for green waste collection.

Making such a charge would be unpopular, and it was going to cost most of the people in Fylde an extra £30 or so a year, but we thought FBC were doing it in the right way, in an open and transparent manner, and setting out all the details, so everyone could see the problem, and that a sensible solution was being applied, even if it was 'unpleasant medicine'.

Sadly, the deeper we looked into this matter, the more we became disillusioned and disappointed.

SYNOPSIS

As usual, we begin with a quick Background, and links to our earlier stories. Then, unusually, we go Retrospective. We'd written for first part of the article before we found a problem with it, and we thought readers should see what we were going to say.

We look at the First part of the officer's report setting out how and why the matter needs to be decided and the factors affecting the decision.

Next we look at the options she presented. Option1 No green waste collection at all. Then Option 2 which was seasonal collection of green waste, and finally Option3, the all year chargeable service.

Then we give Our own take on the officer's two main reports on this matter. The first in March, and the most recent in September. The March one seem fine, but we find a serious problem hidden in the September one, where It all starts to go wrong.

Then we report what happened at the Operational Management Committee Meeting as the officer Introduced the report, followed by our report on the Councillors debate on the matter.

We make a short, but potentially very important, detour  to look at what has reportedly happened at Blackpool - which (if the reported figures are correct) is likely to upset a few folk, before Returning to the Debate at Fylde.

We then give Our own reaction to what is being planned, and we estimate the total number of green bins that are sitting in gardens in Fylde to come up with what we believe is the best estimate on which the take-up rate ought to be calculated.

Compared with the numbers put to the September Committee, there's a very big difference in the potential income.

And finally we suggest some overarching principles that FBC should consider adopting before they get too carried away with becoming a profitable business rather than a council.

 BACKGROUND

In 'Green Bin Bill' back in March 2016, we broke the news that Fylde was considering introducing a subscription payment for green waste collection from 1 August 2016.

Then in 'Green Bin Bills Deferred in Fylde' (April 2016) we reported the decision to charge had been reconsidered and postponed. But we didn't think Fylde was staging a retreat from the idea, it was more likely a tactical withdrawal to re-group the arguments for it and be better prepared for next time.

We said it was also a very good idea to delay and see how Councils that had started charging were going on.

But we thought it inevitable that some form of subscription service would be in place in Fylde - either from April 2017 or, (because LCC were paying Fylde to do it until march 2018) if Fylde displayed greater integrity, from April 2018.

Then in 'Green Bins: Interim Update' in September 2016, we reported that Fylde heard more about subscriptions for green waste collections. We also looked at some of the pros and cons, and what was happening in the rest of Lancashire and nationally, and took a look at our closest neighbour - Blackpool.

We concluded that article by saying that we understood that services had to be paid for, and that if the green waste collection service was to continue, someone has to meet that cost (if LCC will no longer do so), and so we recognised that a decision had to be made about how that money would be found.

Whenever a change like this is implemented, there are always be winners and losers, so we said it was crucially important that accurate information was published in as open and transparent a way as possible, so that everyone affected could see the decision was properly thought out and fair.

What we were unclear about at the time was whether Fylde's *aim* in making the charge was intended just to cover the cost of the service (which we're happy about), or whether it was to be subsidised from overall taxation (which we think is also acceptable), or whether it will generate a surplus that Fylde will use to offset spending elsewhere (which we do not agree with at all).

So, we surmised, if Fylde had to find the money (every year), it has only six main options:

  • Find a way of cutting the service costs and / or generating income to replace the shortfall
  • Stop doing other things that cost £763,000 a year and divert the money to the green bin service
  • Stop collecting green waste altogether and save the cost
  • Collect it for part of the year - or less frequently
  • Collect it and charge it to the Council Tax by splitting the cost over all Fylde households (i.e. increase Fylde's Council Band D Tax by an average in the region of £20 per household per year)
  • Collect it and charge only those people who use the service. (Because about 10% of Fylde's flats, 'sheltered' and some other forms of housing don't have gardens at all)

These were the options that we thought Fylde's officers needed to prepare to answer questions about on at the meeting on 13th September.

 RETROSPECTIVE PREFACE TO THE 13 SEPT MEETING

When we began this article we *were* going to say we were impressed with the officer concerned.

We had actually planned (and drafted) the opening paragraphs of this part of our article to say

"The first point we'd like to make is that with a couple of quite minor exceptions, we thought it was a excellent report, and one of the best we've seen at Fylde for some time. It had to cover a wide range of possibilities and explain the pros and cons of each, and why some had been pretty straightforward to disregard.

Her report was clear and well written. It presents most of the information needed by the committee in a logical and cogent way that gives transparency to the decision taking process, and enough of the proper pros and cons from which members of the committee could form views and preferences.

We've said before that we have a lot of time for this officer, and once again we have cause to commend her work."

Our next sentence was to have been:

"Readers who would like to see the whole report can follow this link to the officer's full report." (And they still can)

We were then going to provide a summary her report, together with our own take on what the report and its implications were.

But that's where the problem arose.

And sadly, we're now struggling to support the view we had hoped and expected to express.

As we worked through the detail in the report, we reached the saddening conclusion that one of its principal foundations is - at best - less than competent, and at worst, it is in the same realms of confidence trickery that Fylde's discredited 'Equitable Taxation' scheme sought to introduce - as we will explain.

 THE FIRST PART OF THE OFFICER'S REPORT

The first part of the officer report seems straightforward - so we'll go with that to begin.

Readers will remember that if the green waste service is to continue, LCC's decision not to continue its support funding will produce a recurring shortfall of £763,000 per annum for FBC from 1 April 2018 onwards when the payments stop.

The officer report began by referring to the Joint LCC / District Council Service Review which has been going on to see what savings might be possible for District Councils like Fylde (e.g. sharing services within one contract, or a single massive Lancashire-wide collection contract that might generate cost savings, and other options).

Altogether, 33 different options were modelled for each District Council, and ranked in order of which delivered the most savings

For Fylde, the best option from this exercise was to move to a 3 weekly cycle of collections (with grey bins on week 1, green bins on week 2 and recycling on week 3).

But although this was the most cost-effective change identified in the study, it was said that it would only deliver annual savings of £50,000 (and there would be a one-off cost of £172,000 for container purchases and other implementation costs.)

So the best operational change that could be found by the expert consultants would only have saved 7% of the income Fylde would lose.

It was a non-starter of an option.

This result also suggests (unsurprisingly to those of us who have the benefit of it) that Fylde's waste collection service is well run and has little room to generate any savings.

Fylde's excellent recycling staff in action

One point her report sought to argue was that this loss of income was ".... in addition to other central budget cuts and grant changes affecting the Authority resulting in a current forecast short fall of over £1.5 million from 2018/19 onwards. It is this income that has facilitated the three stream waste collection service including green waste, it is not mainstream council budgets that have funded the collection of green waste over the last 12 years."

We thought that was moving a bit out of her territory and into the province of the Finance officer, but this was a relatively was a small matter. The implied point being made is that it is not the Council Tax that has been paying for it. (And of course, recycling does not operate at a profit) so it's not Fylde's fault it is in trouble in the future.

We didn't see the logic of this argument. As far as we know, none of the funding from Government is hypothecated to recycling. It (almost) all goes into one big spending pot with the Council Tax we pay, and all Fylde's services are met from that. However, it doesn't seem a very important niggle, so we're glossing over it here.

As we had showed in 'Green Bins Update' the report also said that several other Councils in Lancashire were now charging for green waste, and the officer's report updated the list to say that Lancaster and Blackburn councils have now decided they will introduce a charge from next year.

She then looked at charges and participation rates.

These showed fees elsewhere ranging from £19.20 to £70.80 (average £35) per bin per year.

We noted that the national website we referred to in our previous article had showed a range from £17 to £96, so there is similarity with her reported figures.

She also said the participation rates she had seen elsewhere (i.e. the proportion of households that choose to subscribe to the service) ranged from as little as 3% to over 80%.

The report also explained that experience elsewhere showed there was an initial reluctance to subscribe, but over 2 or 3 years the number subscribing gradually increased, then remained steady.

She said if Fylde implemented it now, she did not expect optimal take up here to occur until 2019/20, and that would be after the payments from LCC that currently support the service have ended.

That, of course, is a key 'get out of jail' card to be played if you want to take money from taxpayers at the same time as you're getting money for the same service from the County Council.

She said her officers had considered several broad options and gave some key factors for each

 1. NO GREEN WASTE COLLECTION SERVICE AT ALL

The effects of this were mostly negative and would result in:

  • public dissatisfaction and loss of service reputation;
  • lower recycling rates
  • increased waste in grey bins
  • additional demands on the grey bin rounds with more trips for disposal required,
  • increased journeys to and from the tip with more time to complete the rounds, leading to increased costs for grey rounds.
  • possibly increased fly tipping
  • increased use of the LCC Household Waste Recycling Centre to dispose of green waste.

She noted that whilst some of these risks are common to a chargeable service, she thought they would have a greater impact if there was no green waste service at all, and she noted that in the past, LCC have suggested they may consider passing on a charge if green waste is not dealt with at the kerbside in the first instance.

Offset against these disadvantages would be savings in the region of £460,000 a year from vehicles and labour if there was no green waste service, (it would not be possible to remove all the overhead charges that are spread over the whole of the collection service).

She concluded by noting that Blackpool originally said they were stopping green waste collection but changed their mind after a public outcry and decided to introduce (and are now operating) a chargeable service.

She also noted that green waste collected at the kerbside makes up about 45% of Fylde's overall recycling rate. And if it were not collected, Fylde would definitely not be able to meet its 2020 recycling target. (This is an EU target which has been adopted by England - but at present, it is unclear what the government will do about recycling in a post-Brexit world. If the regulations stay in place, failing to meet the target may result in fines being levied on failing councils).

 2. SEASONAL COLLECTION OF GREEN WASTE

 2a (MARCH-OCTOBER), WITHOUT CHARGE

  • there would be financial savings on labour and the running cost of the vehicles but these would be significantly lower than the no service option because only four months would have no service
  • less than (an estimated) £80,000 a year would be saved
  • for 8 months of the year there would also be the capital outlay and fixed costs, and 3 vehicles would remain parked up in the yard for part of the year.
  • there would also be logistical and operational challenges including a heavy reliance on seasonal agency workers
  • dissatisfaction for those residents with leafy and larger gardens who have a second peak in November's leaf fall when the service would not be available.

 2b (MARCH–OCTOBER) BUT CHARGEABLE

  • same as above but the income would contribute to the operational cost of service delivery.
  • there are about 20,000 green bins regularly collected, so assuming a 50% uptake rate and a charge of £30 per bin income in the region of £300,000. would arise
  • people may not be happy paying £30 for a seasonal service, when neighbouring authorities are charging a similar fee for a 50 week service.

 3   A 50 WEEK CHARGEABLE SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE

This is clearly the officer's preferred option. The report said:

  • it has been adopted by other Councils who have already implemented a charge locally
  • it offers the simplest logistical method of delivery with no seasonal or employee implications.
  • it provides a year round service whilst still making a significant contribution towards the shortfall
  • it is thought to have more administrative, financial and officer time involved to operating (process charges etc)
  • the uptake levels have a big impact on how much revenue it generates

The officer's report notes how critical the percentage uptake will be and how difficult it will be to predict with accuracy. That said, it suggests that in Fylde it would be reasonable to assume a good uptake, particularly if the scheme is launched at the height of the growing season.

It also notes Wyre's introduction of a chargeable green waste collection service has achieved a take-up of over 80% (and this rate has been achieved in its first year of introduction) and if this was achieved in Fylde, her report indicates that the contribution towards mitigating the financial impact of the loss of the cost sharing payments from LCC would be £450,000.

The report gave quite detailed plans for a PR campaign to persuade Fylde residents to subscribe to the scheme (leaflets, press releases, social media, website, posters, vehicle signage etc, plus press release and early communications to explain rationale for the change / charge, pre-launch publicity and an information pack to explain how it all worked and so on).

So when it does happen, our readers will see the scheme promoted in a very positive way (even though they're being asked to pay for something they already receive within what they pay as Council Tax), so you can probably expect to see advertising blurb that talks about it only costing 60p a week or so to have your green bin emptied, and promotional literature that encourages home composting of green waste - that sort of thing.

We noted that the reported income of £450,000 (if, like Wyre, we have an 80% take-up) was quite close to the cost of providing the service, so - at first sight - all appeared well.

There were a few things the report did not address that it probably should have done.

For example, it didn't estimate or quantify the set-up and ongoing costs of changing to a charged service (billing, additional admin etc), nor did it use experience elsewhere to attempt to estimate or quantify the likely impact (in both extra cost and reduced recycling) of the expected increase in green waste that would be put in grey bins.

Nor did it identify the number of addresses where there were multiple green bins in place.

And it also failed to deal with lots of the niggly 'devil in the details' problems such as how payments could be made, what to do about people who could not afford the charge, whether any part of the subscription would be refundable if you moved house part way through the year, and how much it would cost if you wanted to join partway through the year and so on.

It also did not look at what we suspect could be a big problem concerning those properties where a commercial gardener is employed. We could imagine some difficult issues arising about whether their gardener would be allowed to put the garden waste from their garden in the green bin, or whether it was classed as 'commercial waste', and the Gardener had to fund its disposal.

Can commercial gardeners use domestic green bins?

There was also the issue of whether smaller properties could share a subscription and bin and so on. (Although this issue did came out during the debate in the meeting).

The impression we gleaned was that there was a deliberate intent to defer these controversial 'human' issues to a future meeting in order to get the main principle accepted at this meeting.

In terms of timing, the report noted that a change as big as the one proposed would normally need a 4-6 months lead time for planning and implementation but this could be reduced here because this would primarily be a communication campaign with back office support to set up IT/financial systems and deal with customer enquiries.

So the officer suggested that they should start in January (2017) to prepare and publicise a charging scheme to start in Spring 2017 - in line with the growing season. (That's because spring is when gardeners need to dispose of the waste arising from the winter tidy-up and the first of the spring grasscuttings).

And so it was that her report recommended the following wording for the Committee to approve:

"That the introduction of a year-round green waste subscription service, at a charge of £30 per waste bin per annum, be proposed for consideration by the Council in December 2016, in order that the service may be ready for implementation from April 2017; and that the income arising from the introduction of the charge, if approved, be reflected within the Councils budget for 2017/18 onwards."

 SO WHAT'S OUR OWN TAKE ON THIS REPORT?

Well, at first we thought it was mostly well written and cogent and, assuming the logic, calculations and estimates were reasonable, then the content of the report showed it was pretty much a no-brainer of a decision.

But then we spotted something we didn't understand - something that gave us a fairly serious problem with the figures.

And we had to look more closely.

When the first report on charging for green bins went to the Operational Management Committee in March, there was a table in the report showing the current total operational and support costs for running the existing green waste service was £561,518.

The report in September said it is now £563,810.

Those two figures are so close as to be unquestionable. It's probably to do with implementing a pay award or something. We have no issue with them.

But where do have a big issue is with the number of green bins and the consequent impact on income at various take up rates.

That's because the same officer's report in March said there were 33,883 'garden waste properties'

Various take up rates from the March Report

Specifically it said the income calculations at varying percentage take-ups shown in the report were "Based on existing 33,883 garden waste properties"

It also said "This does not take into account additional income from multiple bin properties"

  Assuming 33,833 properties overall (March)
Participation (%) No of Properties Income @ £30 per bin
40 13,553 £406,596
45 15,247 £457,420
50 16,942 £508,245
55 18,636 £559,069
60 20,330 £609,894
65 22,024 £660,718
70 23,718 £711,543

Readers can follow this link for the relevant page in the officer's March report

So if Fylde introduces a subscription charge per bin (which is where they are currently heading), the number of bins that people will be invited to take out a subscription for is 33,883 - plus however many bins are sitting in properties with big gardens that have multiple green bins.

There was no indication of how many of these extra bins there were, but in some areas (Wrea Green in particular it seems) we're told it is substantial.

That detail was all in the March report, and we don't have much of a problem with it.

As the table above shows, at a 55% take-up, Fylde would receive £559,069 and that would more or less cover the stated operating costs of the green bin service at around £560 odd thousand.

But all along, (as we suggested earlier), we have wondered what would happen of Fylde's take up was - as Wyre have experienced - over 80%

Because at a take-up rate of 80% Fylde would generate an income of over £812,000.

This is way more than the cost of the service, and a good sum more than the whole of the £760,000 that Fylde will lose from LCC.

That's why we said earlier (and in our pervious articles) we wanted to be clear about Fylde's *aim* in setting the level of the charge.

 IT ALL STARTS TO GO WRONG

The report to the Committee in September does mention the 33,833 properties, but it then goes on to produce a table -which looks very much like to one in the March report.

But in this one, the calculation of likely income is based - not on those 33,833 properties where bins are present - but on a 'new' (and very round-looking) figure of "20,000 green bins regularly presented for collection."

And it justifies the use of this 20,000 figure by saying "Assessment of collection data available through Bartec and the vehicles’ bin counters indicate that approximately 20,000 green bins are regularly presented for collection every fortnight." (It makes no reference to multiple binned properties because it is expressing the (probably average?) number of bins collected, not the number of bins that exist).

And, of course, because of this, the figures in this September report show very different levels of income. vis:

  Assuming 20,000 bins collected (Sept)
Participation (%) No of Properties Income @ £30 per bin
40 8000 £240,000
45 9000 £270,000
50 10000 £300,000
55 11000 £330,000
60 12000 £360,000
65 13000 £390,000
70 14000 £420,000

Once again, readers can follow this link for the relevant two pages in the officer's September report.

The difference between these sets of figures is very significant.

This September's report is not far from HALF the income that was shown in the one used in the March report - as readers will see in the side by side comparison below.

  Assuming 33,833 properties overall (March) Assuming 20,000 bins collected (Sept)
Participation (%) No of Properties Income @ £30 per bin No of Properties Income @ £30 per bin
40 13,553 £406,596 8000 £240,000
45 15,247 £457,420 9000 £270,000
50 16,942 £508,245 10000 £300,000
55 18,636 £559,069 11000 £330,000
60 20,330 £609,894 12000 £360,000
65 22,024 £660,718 13000 £390,000
70 23,718 £711,543 14000 £420,000

This left us in something of a quandary - trying to work out why these different figures had been used.

Having looked into it further, the best motive we can attribute is incompetence.

It may be that the officer thought that using the ACTUAL number of bins collected would give a more realistic statement of potential income.

We suggest that's not a competent calculation because the annual subscription charge proposed by the Committee is to be £30 for each bin on your property.

The subscription will NOT be based on how often you put it out to be emptied.

You will pay £30 a year whether you have it emptied 25 times or just once (or in theory - if you have subscribed to the scheme - even if you don't put it out for collection at all).

So the ONLY realistic way to estimate the income at varying take-up percentages is to express it as a percentage of - ideally, the number of green bins which are sitting in all the gardens in Fylde or, if that is not known - the number of "garden waste properties" in Fylde is the second best approximation.

So in the absence of figures for all green bins that are out there, the figures from the March report are the ones that are the most cogent.

The figures in the September report are entirely misleading.

There is another - less good - motive that could be imputed if Fylde chose to base its decision on the much lower income levels derived from the number of bins it says are 'regularly presented for collection' and which are set out in the September report.

A cynic might argue that it had done so because it wanted to hide its real intention to make a profit out of the green waste service - by charging a subscription that is well in excess of the cost of delivering the service, but it has 'adjusted' the take-up figures to make it look as though it will not make a profit.

Sadly, we're inclined to the cynic's view.

We think the '20,000 collected bins' figure has been included to make it look as though an 80% take up rate (as in Wyre) would only produce an income of around £480,000 - when in reality it would produce more than £812,000.

And to us, this device looks to be very much in the mould of the logic that produced Fylde's great Equitable Taxation Con.

Whether it is a plain mistake in logic, or whether it is inspired by a desire to generate extra income that would show how well the Operational Service is doing, or whether political direction has been given to the officer to require the data to be presented in this way, we simply cannot tell, (and probably will never know).

But if it is the latter, it shows there is something very rotten at the heart of a council that we would dearly love to be able to trust as we used to do.

 WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SEPTEMBER MEETING?

Surprisingly, no-one at the meeting (including ourselves) saw what was going on.

It was only when we were preparing the table of potential subscription income ready for this article that we remembered writing the original article (which included the prospect of Fylde making a profit). But the figures we were entering now bore no resemblance to a profit and we realised something was wrong with them.

At the meeting, the item opened with the officer explaining "This report provides the Committee with details of possible options to mitigate the reduction in funding from the termination of the waste cost sharing arrangement from March 2018" before going on to explain the background and some of the options that were set out in her report.

She went on to say "The initial set-up costs and resource implications for the scheme could be mitigated by introducing the scheme in April 2017, ahead of the withdrawal of funding, and using the year 1 income to fund the setup costs."

What this is saying is that from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018, Fylde will get 'double bunce.' It will get the £763,000 from LCC (the final year's support payment for the scheme) AND they plan to charge people for having the green bin emptied even though people have already paid for this through their taxes.

We're less than excited by the use of this year of 'double taxation' because if Fylde gets the £763,000 we cannot see the setup costs would be anywhere near that figure. So we're guessing they also want to cover the fact that there will be a slow take-up for the first few years and they want to use some of the LCC money as a buffer as the take-up rate increases.

In a statement that we didn't altogether pick up the significance of at the time, the officer went on to say "A number of opportunities have also been identified if a chargeable scheme was introduced, which include additional income from increased participation. This would be maximised by effective promotion of the service, easy to pay options, and setting an affordable, reasonable charge, and a reduction in future costs of the service, which would be maximised by continually reviewing the number of vehicles for collection rounds to maximise resource efficiencies"

On one level you can read this approach as being a pretty straightforward statement of logic, but with the benefit of having seen the way the take-ups have been calculated (or perhaps manipulated?), it can also be read as a statement that would enable someone to say - well I told you that's what we were going to do, and you agreed to do it that way - if or when the scheme blows up into a row over excessive subscription charges.

She went on to explain that they had started engaging loading staff using temporary fixed term contracts to leave the flexibility to adapt to an uncertain and changing environment, and then went on to ask the committee to support her recommendation (which we have already set out above).

 MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE DEBATE THE PLAN.

Cllr Frank Andrews asked about older people living alone who were of limited means and asked if there was to be any facility to help them. The answer was that "At this stage, the ins and outs of the specific scheme haven't been finalised. The purpose of bringing it to this Committee is to get a decision on which way we want to take the service forward, and then those considerations will feed into the final report to be discussed at the November Committee meeting, ahead of full Council in December."

Cllr Andrews went on to say that he had spoken with residents in Wrea Green and once the position is explained, they all just said "Oh yes". He said that the value of having the green bin taken away was very much valued, and "...most of them have two bins and they're not worried about the £60 costs."

Cllr Alan Clayton said that from reading previous minutes, he noted there had been a public consultation on Fylde's website and some paper copies, and at the bottom of the paper copy it had said the consultation was open to all Fylde residents until 6th April, and that responses would be analysed and reported to Council on 11 th April 2016, but he didn't remember seeing the results of the consultation on the Council meeting of that date, and he asked what had happened to the results of the consultation and if they were available.

The officer said that survey had been 'parked' when a decision was taken to report further to this committee meeting, and she said those results would be available and could be circulated with the minutes of the meeting.

They were not provided with the meeting minutes that have been published on Fylde's website.

Cllr Sandra Pitman wanted to know who would be promoting and funding the publicity about home composting and so on. The answer was that "Fylde Council would certainly advertise the alternatives as part of the service literature that will be produced in support of the scheme" adding that home composting bins are still available from the LCC home composting scheme. They used to be available free but now there is a discounted charge which were thought to be about £25.

Cllr Pitman also asked about those who did not subscribe. She said "...are they going to have their green bin taken away from them if they've got one already?" The officer's answer was (as before) a stonewall statement that the ins and outs haven't been decided yet. Cllr Pitman also raised the matter of people's expectations in respect of green bins that were damaged, and asked about responsibility for replacement.

Cllr Edward Nash said "The majority of Councils in Lancashire have adopted this. Are they using it to offset the amounts they've not been getting from Lancashire County Council?"

The officer's reply was "Well, at present, no, because we're still receiving the cost-sharing payment"

Cllr Nash interrupted "No, I meant the other councils"

The officer responded "I think it's a general response in terms of shrinking budgets. Certainly I know in Pendle when they introduced their charge there - going on for two years ago now- , it was, you know, quite a while before the potential end of cost sharing. They introduced a charge because they were struggling to make ends meet, and the income that they derived from their charge for their service doesn't actually cover the cost of delivering the service. So I think it indicates how Councils can look at covering the gaps wherever they might arise"

(NB: The emboldening in parts of that statement is our own)

Cllr Nash: "Well, if you take the example that you've quoted on page 13 of Wyre Council, which looks to be a similar size and make-up to ourselves, they have an 80% take-up on the green bins, which has made them over £400,000. So one could presume from that, that whilst this is initially unpopular, it's actually now, popular".

The Chairman Cllr David Eaves intervened saying "I can perhaps comment here and [the officer] will correct me if I am wrong. I see the Councils that have introduced this subscription service early, as being 'ahead of the game.' And have therefore looked to recovering some monies before the [funding is] actually is withdrawn. So they're ahead of the game. For instance, Wyre, yes they are 80% of their collection service already subscribed, and I'm told by officers there that they are still receiving up to 20 applications per day, sorry, per week, to be included in that service.

And so it is... I think they've got their... their scheme up and running, ready for the crunch, whereas they will be one step further in front of us if you see what I mean, but that is.... the detail that is being asked with regard to bins etc can be decided at a later stage.

For instance, I've been asked on numerous occasions, where people have said, well, I live in a little complex, where I've got a flat, and I've got a little bit of a garden, and my next door neighbour has, and - can we share a bin?. Well. I see nothing at all wrong with that, and that's a perfectly good reason for a shared service. So there will be detail, but I think that needs to be looked at by the officers, then brought to this committee, and finally gone, if we agree, to full Council with all the details. "

Cllr Nash came back to say they needed to find £763,000 and even if they introduced the green bin charges, they still had to find a substantial sum of money, and if they didn't introduce the green bin charges then they've got to find the whole of the amount. And to him it appeared that they didn't have much choice in the matter.

We think he's been looking at the figures in the (September) report, (and he had forgotten that the one in March - which had the real figures in it - showed that they could end up covering their costs AND making an overall profit if they did as well as Wyre for take-up rates).

 BLACKPOOL REPORTED TO CHARGE 3 TIMES THEIR COSTS.

Interestingly, although it was after the Committee meeting we're now reporting, Blackpool seems to be doing rather well out of its subscriptions.

According a Gazette report in July, Blackpool needed to cover annual Green Bin costs of £100,260 if they were to continue running the service. To do this, they said, needed 3,340 subscribing residents at an annual subscription of £30. That would cover the stated operating cost. When that July report was published, it also said they already had around 7,000 subscribers.

Compared with Fylde's stated green bin cost of over £500,000 Blackpool's looks incredibly low, but perhaps the much denser population (with a significant proportion of terraced property) and much smaller housing plots (and this smaller gardens) might account for the difference.

In September 24th's Gazette, Blackpool said more than 10,000 people had signed up. So, at an annual subscription of £30 (this years charge in Blackpool is discounted to £25 because it is not for a full year), that number will produce £300,000 of income (compared with the stated cost of just over £100,000) - so - on the assumption that the Gazette were given accurate figures, and they reproduced them accurately - (and we've no reason to doubt either) - on one hand you can say Blackpool has made itself a surplus of £200,000 or on the other you could say it has ripped off those that subscribed to the service, by charging THREE times as much as is needed. It follows that Blackpool could reduce its charge for green waste to £10 next year and still cover its cost.

We leave it to Blackpool folk to sort their council out. We have enough of our own to worry about in Fylde.

 BACK TO THE MEETING AT FYLDE.......

Cllr Tony Ford wanted to know if Fylde received any income from the sale of the green waste?

The officer said "No, we have to collect it on behalf of Lancashire County Council. They are the disposal authority. As part of the PFI arrangement, they have exclusivity over our waste, so we have to collect it and deliver it to them, but we don't receive anything from them at all."

Cllr Ford asked about the PFI being closed down and what was happening now. The officer said "Certain aspects of the plant have been mothballed, and LCC has been conducting an exercise in terms of arranging new markets, which I believe will take place from 1 November, but that hasn't been something that the Districts have been privy to. The only thing we've been made aware of as of last week at the Waste Management Officer's meeting is that in all likelihood, our disposal points will not change" and she gave details of where the waste is taken now.

Cllr Paul Hodgson had a number of questions. The first followed on from Cllr Ford. He said if we were coming out of the agreement with LCC surely, if there was market they could tap into and sell the green waste on it would be a good thing and he wanted to know it that had been considered.

The officer said "Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. Although the cost sharing arrangement is finished, LCC as the waste disposal authority do have the powers to instruct Fylde as to what they do with their waste. It's not something that Fylde has the control over ourselves" (unless LCC decide they don't want the waste).

We suspect this may not be entirely accurate and there could be ways around it. The definition of 'waste' is a moveable feast. If you excavate soil to make a path and dispose of it, that soil is classed as waste, and it has to be treated as such. But if you strip topsoil for sale, it is not waste, it is a 'product'. We think there could be scope for some creative thinking here, and whilst it is right that LCC has disposal control over waste, they have not the same control over products for sale.

That said, we think the likely profit involved would be not worth the effort anyway.

Cllr Hodgson asked another question and then asked "Why have we picked £30 a bin, and why don't we look at £30 a household?"

We thought this was a really good question.

We had expected an answer along the lines of - well in similar sized authorities with similar costs, the average take up per month has been 'xyz', and our costs are 'pqr' - so by doing the calculation, we arrive at a year 1 estimated sum of £29.97 per green bin in Fylde to cover the expense of our providing the service.

But that wasn't the answer that was given.

The officer responded "£30 a bin is a fairly average charge across neighbouring authorities, it is less than the national average of £35 a bin, and that was the reason we decided that.... felt that, that was... an appropriate charge. Again at this stage it has been said 'per bin'. Other authorities may offer a discount on the second bin. I think Wyre offers theirs at £25, and those are discussions that we will have and feed into the final report to set out exactly what the final decision is in terms of charging for additional containers. In fact, I have been looking at some figures from Preston. One property in Preston is paying for eleven green bins. So there are places that are paying for multiple sets of bins, so we will see in the final report what the recommendations are."

Even without the issue of Fylde understating the income it will receive (by using the 20,000 bin calculation instead of the 33,000 one), we're most unhappy with this approach.

It sounds to us as though Fylde is regarding itself, and shaping itself up in this matter as a business that will charge us what it thinks we might be prepared to bear. It appears to see us as a market to be milked.

We do not believe that is, or should be, the purpose of a council delivering public services.

The point of a public service is to provide a service that would otherwise be unaffordable for individuals or groups to undertake.

Collecting and recycling refuse is a good example of such a public service, as are parks and swimming baths.

But the basis of any charge made for a public service should be to either support, or in some cases meet, the cost of providing the service.

It should not aim to make a surplus.

That's why at the outset of this article, we wanted to know the *aim* of the Council in this regard.

We believe Fylde should adopt a clear aim to meet the service costs from the subscription, with any surplus being handed back to subscribers in the following year through lower subscription charges for that year or, if there is a deficit, to recover that deficit from higher subscription charges the following year.

It does exactly that with the Special Expenses charge it has levied since the rural parish councils began to precept their own residents for the costs of maintaining parks and open spaces in each parish council area.

In short, the estimated expenditure and income from this service should be ring fenced for providing the service and nothing more.

It should be a service whose cost is shared amongst those who participate.

It should not be an opportunity to marketise the local authority into seeking opportunities for profit.

We have digressed (again!) - (and maybe even had a curmudgeonly rant).

Back to the meeting.....

Cllr Clayton wanted to know if there was any prospect of the charge spreading to the grey, blue or brown bins.

The answer was No.

He also wanted to see the green bin cost balanced against the need to provide a service.

Cllr Julie Brickles wanted to know about the impact on staffing, and whether there was any potential for redundancy etc as a result of the change.

The answer was that at present the officers do not know what level of service will be required in the future. Staff had recently been engaged on fixed term one year contracts, which would not be renewed unless they were needed at the time, and that had been explained to the staff concerned. This also helped to protect the longer serving staff from enforced redundancy.

Cllr Ford then said "Whilst I am a little bit concerned about Fylde residents paying twice, effectively Fylde would be getting the grant from LCC, but residents will be paying from next year. Whilst I can accept that, to my mind we're still encouraging recycling, which I'm very much in favour of, so I'm happy to move the recommendation."

Cllr Andrews seconded.

But not everyone voted in favour. A clear majority did, but Cllrs Mrs Brickles, Hodgson and Clayton voted against it and asked for their names to be recorded as having done so.

And with that the decision was taken.

 OUR REACTION TO THE DECISION

One of the things we haven't quite been able to fathom is that Fylde's stated cost of operating the green bin service is about £560,000 but the money they get from LCC is £760,000, and we can't quite figure out the reason for the £200,000 difference.

It's not overhead charges, they are already accounted for in the £560,000 (Direct costs are around £462,000 and overheads are around £101,000).

So we think this £200,000 discrepancy to be clarified.

We think Fylde's first decision ought to be to decide whether the aim of the subscription charge is to cover:

  •  the cost of delivering the green waste service,
  • or the Council's broader loss from LCC,
  • or to make a profit.

There has to be transparency in this matter and a decision is needed about it.

The second decision should be to confirm the use of the correct (March report) figures to calculate the income at various take-up levels. (That is, unless by that time, they have an accurate figure for the number of green bins in circulation over and above the first one that is held at each of the 33,833 green waste properties, and can model some income projections with discounted subscriptions for multiple bin properties if that option is to be offered).

We did hear tell that in Wyre, something like 10% of properties had multiple bins. Applied to Fylde, that would add at least another 3,383 to the number of green bins that people might take subscriptions for, bringing the total to 37,216.

If that were to be the case in Fylde, the income (updated from the original March report) would be

  Assuming 37,216 green bins in Fylde
Participation (%) No of Properties Income @ £30 per bin
40 14,886 £446,580
45 16,747 £502,410
50 18,608 £558,240
55 20,468 £614,040
60 22,329 £669,870
65 24,190 £725,700
70 26,051 £781,530
75 27,912 £837,360
80 29,772 £893,160

So (assuming the subscription is £30 whenever you join) at an 80% take up - as Wyre has achieved in its first year - Fylde's income for year 1 would be £893,160 against costs of around £563,810 - and that would produce a surplus over costs of £329,350 for Fylde.

Or put it another way, at an 80% take-up, Fylde could choose to set it's charge not at £30 per subscription, but at about £19 per subscription

We understand that the matter of Green Bin charging is expected to be on the agenda of Fylde's Operational Management Committee meeting again on 15th November - ostensibly to approve the final arrangements before their recommendations are considered by the full Council in early December.

Perhaps they will have sorted out the right numbers to use for income by then.

But our greatest hope is that they will decide to formally declare that the Council's three purposes for collecting green waste are:

  1. to encourage recycling
  2. to agree to provide the service 'at cost' to Fylde residents.
  3. to agree to publish the figures that show this is what is happening

That would mean setting the charge at a level that will just recover the cost of providing the service.

We think the surplus from next year's £760,000 'double taxation' (after setup costs have been taken) ought to be enough to offset the slow take-up in the first years.

So (assuming the full cost of the service is £560,000 and the take up reaches 80% or more as it has in Wyre in their first year of charging), the charge should probably be closer to £20 (or less) rather than the £30 that is proposed.

We're not holding our breath, but we will be keeping an eye on what happens.

And as usual, readers who have signed up counterbalance's own (free!) subscription will be the first to receive the in-depth report about it.

Dated:  18 October 2016

   

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