This article is an end-of-season look at the situation with Fylde's
green bin service.
Some of what we have found is very disturbing.
Having reviewed the available evidence, we cannot avoid the conclusion that subscribers to Fylde's green waste service are now being asked to pay more than the cost of
having their green bins collected and emptied.
We also worry that, having refused to have separate accounts for green waste and other recycling costs, Fylde is hiding its intent in this regard, and also that its
'estimated' green waste costs are being inflated to justify making a higher charge than is needed.
We invite our readers to form their own opinions.
But our own view is that Fylde might have to change their plans yet again in this matter.
We begin with an Introduction and Overview before looking at Why things had to change in Fylde. The we have the
Fact Check - Starting with How much money will Fylde lose from LCC
next year?, How much was the green waste service costing?, What may be charged for separately?,
How many Fylde homes had green bins?, How many people were likely to sign up?
How many did sign up? How much did Fylde charge for subscriptions?
Then we look at the Money and costing, rehearsing Fylde's first stab at estimating, and how they quickly
Changed the basis of their calculation, and Whether this was a 'Fake
Figure' or not.
We see How other people began to spot what was going on, and How Fylde's aim for the green waste subscription changed.
Then we look at Fylde's Best estimate of likely income, before seeing What Fylde thinks has happened this year in terms of income and spending, before taking a look at
Whether and how well Fylde has adjusted its Operational Capacity to the service demand it found
We then step aside from the overview of the year 1 costings, and look at some of the broader Accounting Matters, and whether Fylde is doing things as they should in this
Next we look at information Specific to Fylde, beginning with a Question posed by Cllr Alan Clayton at the
November 2017 Operational Management Committee, before we move to a Table showing Fylde's green waste costs and income over the last two years, and contrast that with what Officers estimated the new service would cost, and
what is now believed to have cost. There are some surprises.
Then we take each of the cost elements Labour, Vehicles, Replacement bins,
Promotion and publicity, and give our own take on what might be behind the figures, before
looking at The Bottom Line, which many will find a bit of a shock.
Next we look at the Wider implications of Fylde's revised aim for the green waste service, and we conclude with Some comments about trust and honesty.
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
November marks the end of the growing season for most gardens, so it's appropriate we should take stock of how Fylde's green bin scheme has gone in its first year.
Overall, it's probably gone slightly less well than we expected, and slightly better than Fylde expected.
As ever, Fylde's bin men - the folks on the ground, out in all weathers - have done a really good job, and deserve every credit for their work.
Administratively speaking, based on feedback reaching us from readers and our friends who signed up to the Green Bin service (Counterbalance Towers isn't signed up
because we compost and re-use on site) the results have been mixed.
We heard of some significant troubles in the early days, with people who had signed up getting letters to say they hadn't, and quite a lot of older folk wanting to pay by
cheque - or in coin of the realm, and some special sessions having to be put on for them.
Whilst no-doubt this was irritating and sometimes financially wasteful for
some Fylde residents, we think these matters will settle down better next year.
Our problem with the service lies not in the practicality, and not so much with its administration, but with the overarching policies under which the service is being
And our concerns are not specific to Fylde (although we do have some of those as well).
Our concerns are about how this process is being treated and rolled out across the country.
WHY DID THINGS HAVE TO CHANGE IN FYLDE?
There were two reasons.
The first was a change in European legislation (No, not Brexit) that saw a legal requirement (to recycle 50% of all waste) laid on the shoulders of the County Councils.
They are waste DISPOSAL (not collection) authorities, and had limited scope to make this work.
So - in the face of fines if they did not reach the 50% recycling target, they offered to
help fund a new service - the collection of green waste and other recycling by District and Borough Councils within their areas.
Essentially this was an annual payment from LCC to FBC (and other Lancashire Councils), to help them meet the cost of separating out the three streams of recyclable materials they collected from households
(equating to Blue, Brown, and Green bins).
It was to be an 'off balance sheet' Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme that was intended to avoid the setup infrastructure costs
being seen as Government debt, and also to generate income from recycling 'sales' that offset collection costs .
For example, they thought that the green waste could be composted (then sold off in bags to offset its collection costs), and it had been estimated that adding green waste collection as a new
service would double the volume of waste each council collected, so it would make the former 'household waste' collection only 50% of the (new) total, and the County would be able to hit its
50% recycling target.
Drinks all round!
Fylde BC received a subsidy of £760,000 a year from LCC. We understand this was for recycling of all manner of materials, paper, glass, plastic, some metals, but mostly
it funded the new service for green waste.
However, this situation changed when the PFI scheme collapsed, and legal responsibility for recycling moved form County Councils to District and Borough Councils a couple of
County Councils - including Lancashire - mostly lost the incentive to fund recycling in Districts.
And this coincided with enormous reductions in what all UK councils were receiving from Government to run services.
So right across the nation, no councils (County or
Borough) could afford to pay for the recycling service any more.
The options that emerged were either to stop the recycling (and risk still being fined for not hitting recycling targets), or to find another way of charging for the
The latter became the consensus position for Borough Councils.
But because the Government was also imposing a cap on Council spending, they could not increase the Council Tax by more than 2% without holding a referendum - (And the result of a
referendum was thought to have been very difficult to predict, and the recycling costs were mostly well over 2%) so they hit on the idea of funding the green waste service by
offering it as an optional subscription service.
We stand to be corrected on this, but we think this was the first time ever that Councils had used an optional subscription to fund public services.
For complicated reasons, it is unlawful for Councils to implement a charge for collection and or recycling of household waste.
But for equally complicated reasons, that
not apply to green waste (think garden = not household), so across the country, Borough councils began to introduce subscription charges for the collection of green waste.
In essence, we believe that the subscription mechanism was seen and used as a device to circumvent the letter of the Government's spending cap (with the tacit support of
It could not be charged as a tax that everyone had to pay, because that would have brought it within the capping regime, so it became an optional payment that individuals could choose
to pay, or not.
Historically all council income has come from taxation except for the small amounts that came from service charges (e.g. Swimming pool entry charges)
But we don't think enough thought was (or indeed has) been given to the nature and 'legality' of using a novel, optional subscription, to fund council services - in this case,
green waste collection.
FACT CHECK: GREEN BIN MATTERS
How Much Will Fylde Lose Next Year?
It is universally agreed that, from next April, the subsidy from Lancashire County Council will cease.
As a result Fylde's income will reduce by £763,000 from April 2018
How Much Was The Green Waste Service Costing?
Before Fylde's green waste subscription scheme started, the cost of running the GREEN WASTE service in Fylde was reported to the Committee as being
- £561,518 (in March 2016), and
- £563,810 (in September 2016)
(The difference between these two dates is probably pay and cost increases between two different financial years)
The difference between Fylde's previous green waste service costs of £563,810 and the LCC subsidy of £763,000 amounts to £199,190 and is chiefly LCC's contribution to other recycling
initiatives in Fylde (e.g. Blue an Brown bin services and so on)
What Can Be Charged For Separately?
Not Grey bins (mixed household waste), Blue Bins (household bottles and plastics) or Brown bins (household paper and cardboard). These must be funded from taxation.
By law they may not have a separate
charge made for their collection.
Green Bin waste is a different matter. It does not count the same as 'household waste' , and may be subject to a (non-tax) charge, if a Council so chooses.
How Many Homes In Fylde Had Green Bins?
The (March 2016) report to the Committee said there were 33,883 'garden waste properties.'
The (September 2016) report said there were 22,000 'green bins regularly presented for collection.'
Despite sounding similar, these numbers, like apples and oranges, are not the same thing at all.
Fylde had decided to charge a subscription 'per green bin' not per empty of that bin
But Fylde's actual number of green bins was not known (some properties had more than one bin. We
heard tell of one property in Wrea Green that had five green bins)
So whilst Fylde were certain about the number of properties they collected green bins from, they could only estimate how many of these had multiple bins.
knew, on average, how many green bins were collected each fortnight, but because not everyone put their bin out every time, it wasn't a reliable figure for estimating
subscriptions when you were charging 'per bin per property' and not 'per empty' of that bin.
Wyre Council was a year ahead of Fylde in this matter. And they had found that, on average, the number of properties with more than one bin increased the POTENTIAL number of
subscriptions by 10%
So on that basis, Fylde might potentially have expected to see a MAXIMUM of (33,883 +10% of that number =) 37,271 subscriptions.
Or, they might also have expected a maximum of 33,883 (based on the number of properties that had one or more green bins))
Or a maximum of 22,000 (based on the average number of green bins they collected each fortnight from all 33,883 households with a green bin.)
How Many Of These Were Likely To Sign Up?
In reality, it was clear that only a percentage of properties with green bins would choose to subscribe to the new, optional, service. And Fylde had to estimate what this
percentage would be (in order to be ready to tailor its green waste service to the likely level of demand).
It also needed to estimate this percentage to calculate a charge that would generate the income necessary for that to happen.
Experience at other councils showed a range of take-up percentages, and having seen these, Fylde chose to calculate its figures based on a low take-up rate of 40% and a high take-up rate of 70%.
How Many People Did Actually Sign Up?
A lot of people in Fylde did sign up before the deadline date in May that was necessary for them to be included in the scheme when it started in June 2017.
An insider told us that 10,000 subscriptions had been taken out by the end of May.
At a Council meeting on 17 July 2017 we asked how many green bin subscriptions had been received up to then. Cllr Eaves said that 15,820 had been received by close of business the
Friday previous (14 July).
In mid October, Cllr Eaves told the Council there were over 17,000 subscriptions
And at the start of November, Fylde published some figures showing there were 17,209 subscriptions at that time.
What Charge Did Fylde Set For The Subscription?
It was planned to begin on 1 April 2017, but because Fylde could not get the scheme up and running in time, they delayed the start for two months (until June), and charged £30 pro rata
for 2017. This came out a £25 for the first year.
Next year (2018) will be a full year (excepting for a break at Christmas) and the subscriptions will cost £30 per bin per household.
MONEY, CHARGES, INCOME, COSTS, AND SPENDING
For the moment we're leaving the principles of income and spending on this matter to one side. We will address those matters later - under the 'Accounting' heading later on
Fylde's First Stab At Estimating
Readers will recall the Table we published in our report of 18 October 2016
This showed the income that Fylde would receive @ £30 per green bin for the range of percentage take-ups they has set out in their report.
||Assuming 33,883 properties overall (March)
||No of Properties
||Income @ £30 per bin
It showed that if Fylde's figure of 33,883 'garden waste properties' was used, they would break even on green waste service costs (of around £560,000) if a take-up of between 55% and 60% was
If they hit their own highest estimated take-up, (70%), they would generate £711,543
That figure represented a 'profit' of at least £147,000 on the (then) cost of green waste service.
We say 'at least' because at this level, the service would be operating at only 70% of its former capacity, so there would also be scope to achieve operational cost savings
of up to 30% when the service was scaled back to meet the new level of demand.
Fylde Changes The Basis Of Its Calculation
HOWEVER, in September 2016, Fylde changed the basis on which it was calculating the income it was likely to receive.
They had seen that if they used the figure of 20,000 'bins regularly presented for collection' as the basis, and applied the same percentages of take-up, the income figures in the
far right hand column
of the composite table below would apply.
And this showed that, even at their highest estimate of percentage take-up, Fylde would never generate enough income to meet their current service costs.
||Assuming 33,883 properties overall (March)
||Assuming 20,000 bins collected (Sept)
||No of Properties
||Income @ £30 per bin
||No of Properties
||Income @ £30 per bin
Whilst it can be reasonably argued that Fylde was not necessarily wrong to use the 22,000 figure as a basis from which to calculate likely take-up numbers, they were entirely wrong to apply the same percentages of take-up to it
as they had applied to the 33,883 properties in the previous (March) table - because
this revised, lower, figure for collections represented average bin collections, not potential subscriptions.
It was NOT a measure of how many properties had green bins - (and therefore might subscribe for one or more bins).
It was an estimate of how many bins were (on average) *actually* collected from the 33,883 properties every fortnight.
So using the same percentage take-up for both calculations was wrong-headed
Was This A 'Fake Figure'?
Yes. This 22,000 was a red-herring figure - because Fylde had decided to charge for each bin that was subscribed, not how often they were put out to be emptied.
If you subscribed - and you only put your green bin out once in the whole year - you still paid the same annual subscription as someone who put it out every fortnight (25
times a year).
Ergo the 33,883 figure was the cogent figure on which to base percentage take-up calculations, not the 22,000 'fake figure' they finally chose to use as a basis.
Fylde refused to change (or even admit) this error of logic they had made, even when it was pointed out to them
This led us to the view that they had seen the real prospect of generating a surplus to spend on other things, and they were deliberately persisting to use the lower figure of 22,000 in
order to disguise that possibility from casual observation
By this process, they managed to downgrade the expected income that would be achieved, and could thus argue they were not 'profiteering' from charging a subscription.
People Begin To Challenge The Con That Was Going On
We published this information in our article 'Green Bins Charge - 2017' in October 2016 - and from there, others,
including councillors picked up what
was actually going on.
Cllrs Liz Oades and Peter Collins had also spotted it, and began to ask questions.
By the time of the Council meeting that would take the final decision in December 2016, Queen Elizabeth had seen through the ruse. At Council she said:
"The report which went to Operational Services last March said that there are 33,883 garden waste properties in Fylde. That figure changes substantially in the September
report, to a rounded 20,000. But this figure represented the number of bins which are regularly presented, and this makes a huge difference to the income figures. "
"We should really ask ourselves what it is we're trying to achieve with the subscription. It is, of course, important to support our taxpayers to recycle, but are we
attempting to cover the cost of the green bin collection service at £564,000, or recover the whole of the £730,000 which we'll lose from Lancashire County Council, or are we
trying to generate a surplus that can be used to offset spending elsewhere?
Will we be keeping and publishing accounts that show the cost of collecting green bins each year, and the income from subscriptions each year? "
Cllr Eaves replied
".....Our officers have looked at other district council figures when introducing the subscription service, to try to estimate what the number of bins could be emptied. For
instance, Wyre council have a loss of County Council funding of a million pounds, and their subscription service is only at the moment in the region of up to 70% to 80%, and
nowhere near their collection rate."
(It should be noted that Wyre were a year ahead of Fylde in implementing a green waste subscription scheme, but according to Cllr Eaves - who represents the Council on the
Lancashire Waste Partnership and Chairs Fylde's Operational Management Committee who deal with waste and recycling - Wyre had already reached a take-up percentage of between 70%
an 80%). In answer to Cllr Oades' question, he continued:
"...It is the objective of the subscription service to look to the costs of the green waste service itself, ...."
We understand that quotation to be Cllr Eaves saying that the purpose of the subscription charge was to meet the cost of operating the green waste service, and we think
anyone else hearing it would think the same thing.
He has since either changed his mind, or forgotten he gave that answer.
Fylde Changes Its Aim
At the subsequent Council meeting of 16 October 2017, Cllr Peter Collins said
".... as the green bin service is not shown as a separate item in the budget book and accounts, how can this Council be sure that the charges we set will be sufficient to
cover the costs"
Cllr David Eaves shocked several when he replied
"....The charges for the green waste service were introduced in order to achieve the stated priority in the Council's Corporate Plan - To mitigate the impact of the loss of
the Lancashire County Council's waste subsidy, not to cover the costs of the service."
When the Council had been asked to consider whether to make the green waste charge £30 or not, he told them
"...It is the objective of the subscription service to look to the costs of the green waste service itself, ...."
But less than a year later (when the real income was known), he said it was
".... NOT to cover the costs of the service."
(that's our emphasis)
He went on to say
"Our residents clearly find the service great value, as over 17,000 have subscribed. However, the income generated has only gone some way towards mitigating the £763,000
that will be lost when the County Council withdraws the subsidy. I'm therefore delighted that we have achieved another one of the stated priorities in our corporate plan."
Cllr Collins was allowed, and had, a supplementary question arising from that answer. He asked the 'reverse' question saying:
"....The income and expenditure on the previous service is not shown as a separate item in the budget book and in the accounts. How can this Council be sure it is not
charging too much for the green bin service."
Cllr Eaves said
"As I previously mentioned to Council Mr Mayor, the subsidy of £763,000 has been reduced by Lancashire County Council. This matter has been discussed at length in the
Operational management Committee on numerous occasions. It has come to Council where it has been discussed, and it will also come to the Council's Budget Council, and the
figures that I put to you tonight are ones that have been discussed throughout that procedure. Thank you Mr Mayor"
That's not really an answer, is it?
So at the Operational Management Committee of 14 November 2017, we used the Public Platform facility to ask for further clarification of Fylde's position.
We noted what Cllr Oades had asked, and what Cllr Eaves had said in reply, and we also noted what Cllr Collins had asked and what Cllr Eaves had said in reply to that. We
"So that I can be clear about this, can you please tell me: is it now the case that the aim has changed from levying a subscription that would meet the cost of
providing the green waste service itself - as I thought I had understood you to say last December, and is the aim now to make the subscription charge meet as much as
possible, or even the whole of the £763,000 shortfall that will arise when LCC withdraws its funding in April?"
Very kindly (he was not obliged to provide an answer) Cllr Eaves did respond, saying
"The objective is to mitigate the £763,000 that the Council will lose from Lancashire County Council. If I did make a mistake that was, slightly incorrect, when
first challenged, that was my mistake.
The objective is to mitigate the £763,000 that the Council will lose from Lancashire County Council because, not only do we do the green waste, but we have all the other
recycling to do with the paper recycling, and things and cans and bottles, and also the general waste collection.
So it is there for the whole of the recycling costs, to mitigate, as far as possible, the £763,000 that this Council will lose"
Cllr Alan Clayton tried to get to the bottom of these figures later in the meeting, and we'll report that under 'Fylde Specific Matters' later in the article
So What Was Fylde's Best Estimate Of Likely Income?
Readers should remember here that Fylde's stated cost for operating the green waste service to 33,883 green waste properties was just over £560,000
At the Finance and Democracy Committee on 20 Feb 2017, Fylde's Finance Officer had told the Committee:
"Income levels arising from the scheme are calculated by reference to assumed participation rates of 50% in year 1, 60% in year 2 and 70% thereafter as detailed in the
December report to Council. Actual take-up and the consequential income that this will generate is difficult to estimate ahead of implementation of the scheme. As the scheme
commences and progresses it may be necessary to make changes to the estimated income levels within later updates to the financial forecast."
If his predicted percentages were right here, and if we use Fylde's original 33,883 green bin properties figure (rather than Fylde's 'fake figure' of 22,000), we get
- Year 1: 50% take-up would give 16,941 subscriptions, and in a full year at £30 pa per green bin that would generate £508.230
- Year 2: 60% take-up would give 20,330 subscriptions, and at £30 pa per green bin that would generate £609,900
- Year 3 and thereafter: 70% take-up would give 23,718 subscriptions, and at £30 pa per green bin that would generate £711,540
And as we have seen, even at the 70% take-up, there are further savings to be made if some or all of the 30% surplus capacity in manpower and equipment costs can be removed
from the present scale of the operation.
If that could happen in direct proportion (it won't of course, but in theory), the cost could go down as low as £392,000 and generate an ongoing surplus equivalent to
£317,000 a year (£148,000 from subscription 'profit's plus £169,000 in operational savings) for the Council.
Or put it another way, if that happened, the full year charge for the green waste service in Fylde could be something like halved from its present level of £30.
And What Has Actually Happened This Year?
Our own green bin anorak readers can follow this link to download the full Information report to Fylde's Operational Management Committee on 14 November 2017.
"The Council has an approved corporate priority to ‘Mitigate the impact of the loss of the LCC waste subsidy’, as set out in the Corporate Plan"
This statement is true as far as it goes, but used in this context, it would set out to convince us that it was always the Council's intention to fund more than the green
waste service from the subscription. The chronology shows it was not.
And anyway, Cllr Eaves had explicitly said that was not the case. He said it was to look to the costs of the
green waste service itself. But now, after seeing the first year's income, he seems to have changed his mind.
We think the wording used in this Officer report is intended to strengthen and reinforce Cllr Eaves' recent change of mind.
But that isn't what the Council was told it was voting for when it approved the scheme.
Furthermore, when you read the leaflet Fylde sent out about subscribing for green bins, you get the very clear message
that you are paying for the green waste collection and removal
service, not anything else. The beginning of the leaflet says:
'Green Waste Collection Service
With effect from 1 June 2017 the cost to subscribe to the green waste collection service in the first year (1 June 2017 to 31 March2018) will be £25 per bin, emptied every
That statement (and the rest of the leaflet) makes it very clear about what you're paying for.
The report to this November's 2017 Operational Management Committee went on to say:
"The £763,000 contribution from LCC part funded all the recyclable collections (paper, cans, plastics, glass and green waste) however, green waste is the only recyclable
material that can be charged for in legislation with many local authorities doing so from inception of the service."
But then it goes on to further re-enforce the second of the two conflicting statements Cllr Eaves has made on this matter by saying:
"Charges for the green waste service were introduced in order to achieve the stated priority in the council’s Corporate Plan to “mitigate the impact of the loss of the LCC
waste subsidy”, not to cover the cost of the green waste subscription service.
Fylde residents clearly recognise the value of this service with over 17,000 subscriptions. However, the income generated has only gone some way towards mitigating the
£763,000 that will be lost when the County Council withdraws the subsidy. The decision was made by the Council to introduce the subscription service a year before the
withdrawal of the subsidy from LCC to accommodate the cost of setting up and embedding the service from the initial part year subscriptions."
Accompanying this Officer's report is a costing and income sheet which is said to be an 'estimate' of Fylde's latest figures.
It's only an estimate because, after approving the introduction of the subscription service, Fylde decided not to record its actual spending on green waste separately from its other waste collection
This means they no longer separately account for the green waste service, and the actual costs are now buried within the £2,500,000 spent on Fylde's overall waste and recycling
So now (they say) they have to estimate how much staff time and vehicle costs and so on applies to green waste service - out of the whole of the grey, blue, brown and
green bin operating costs.
We will have more to say about this state of affairs shortly, but for the time being here is Fylde's latest published 'Estimate' of its spending and income on
the green bin service this year....
Estimated Costs and Income - Green Waste Collection Service 2017/18
6 x front line refuse collection vehicles + 1 spare *
|Estimated Labour Costs, including NI and pension costs
||Supervisor / Admin
||Agency / Overtime / Bank Holiday / Protective Clothing / Other
|Estimated Vehicle Costs
||Twin Bin Refuse Collection Vehicles
|Estimated Container Costs
||Cost of replacement Green Bins (approx 2,800)
|Estimated Promotion / Subscription Fee Collection Costs
||Estimated leaflet and temporary backoffice support staffing costs
||Additional comms and sticker costs
Total Operational Costs - Direct Costs
|Estimated Support Service Costs
||All Support Service / Service Management Costs
Total Operational Costs - Indirect Costs
|Total Estimated Operational and Support Costs
- Green Waste Service:
(17,209 subscriptions @ £25 per bin):
2017/18 Estimated Net Cost of Service
after income from subscriptions
* 86% uptake on regularly presented bins
therefore no reduction in operational resources delivering the service
We'll have a closer look at these costings in 'Specific Fylde Matters' shortly, but at this stage we need to look again at the basis numbers relative to
Fylde's operating costs.
Operational Capacity Issues
We have always maintained, and still believe, that Fylde's original figure of 33,883 properties was the one that should be used to calculate likely take-up, and we believe our
argument is vindicated by the actual figures....
Fylde said they thought the take-up would be 50% in the first year.
Using the 33,883 figure, that would have resulted in
Using the 'red herring' figure of 22,000, should have delivered
In fact, before this year has ended, there have already been
We leave our readers to come to their own view as to which was the more accurate basis from which to estimate.
But we think there's another BIG con trick going on in this report as well.
Fylde are still using that 22,000 basis, but this time it is to mask some of their costs.
The asterisk figure in their table says
"* 86% uptake on regularly presented bins
therefore no reduction in operational resources delivering the service"
The logic they want us to believe here is that Fylde has achieved - not the 50% take-up they predicted - but an utterly unbelievable 86% take-up in their first year.
If that was true they would be shouting it from the rooftops of the Town Hall. They would probably have the highest first year take-up rate of any council in the UK, and
little Fylde would be making national headlines in the papers and be all over the telly as well.
Perhaps there's something we can't see in the following arithmetic, but their former 'red herring' number of bins 'regularly presented for collection' was 22,000.
And the way we do our sums, 86% of that 22,000 is 18,920.
But Fylde's actual take-up (close to the end of the calendar year) is only 17,209 so something is obviously awry.
The present 17,209 subscriptions are only 78% of the 22,000 bins that were formerly 'regularly presented for collection' - they are not 86% as stated.
So what's going on here?
Well there are a few possibilities. It could be:
- Firstly, (perhaps using live actual signup data from this year) Fylde has estimated that, although the scheme has more or less ended in practice for this calendar year, by the end of Fylde's financial year (next March), they will have had another 1,711 (additional) people sign up.
That would take the
year total to 18,920 - and that WOULD represent an 86% take-up (using Fylde's 'red herring' figure of 22,000 as the basis).
- That said, it could also be an arithmetical or typographical error.
- It could be an attempt to deceive the unwary - though we hope it is not.
As a small aside at this point.....
If Wyre Council's experience of the number of actual green bins being 10% greater that the number of properties that have green bins (to allow
for some multi-bin properties), is correct, then Fylde's number of green bins should really have been 10% higher than its 33,883 number of properties, giving 37,271 green bins that potentially could be
signed up in the scheme.
And if 50% of THOSE did actually sign up in the first year, it would give Fylde a total of 18,625 signups in a completed first financial year.
And guess what - Yes dear reader, you know where this is going don't you....
By reverse engineering Fylde's latest 86% take-up of its 22,000 red herring 'regularly presented'
bins, you can see they expect 18,920 signups by the end of Fylde's financial year.
So there you have it. The result is probably not far off right either way SO LONG AS YOU APPLY DIFFERENT PERCENTAGE TAKE-UP RANGES TO THE TWO SYSTEMS.
You can now see that: about 50% of the real figure of 33,883 green bin properties, and 86% of Fylde's red herring fake figure of 22,000 - come to almost the same number
(18,600 to 18,900 signups) by the end of the financial year
But which of these you choose as your correct basis exerts a HUGE difference when calculating the operating capacity costs.
If you use the 86% take-up figure, Fylde says there are no operating savings to be made.
If you use the 50% take-up figure, the operating costs could be something like halved.
With that short diversion over, we go back to the main plot about these operating costs.....
Readers will recognise that, from the report's asterisked note after the costing, Fylde is using this 86% figure to say - in effect - We're delivering 86% of the former service, so there's only up to 14% surplus
operational capacity, and we can't reduce our operational costs by such a small amount.
But as we've seen, even using their 'red herring' figure of 22,000 - as at to-day the service is operating at 78% of its former capacity. That means that today, up to 22% of
existing capacity is surplus to requirements.
That 22% - (of their stated 'Total Estimated Operational and Support Costs for the Green Waste Service) - amounts to just over £156,000 and at least some of that
ought to be achievable as savings.
But they pretty much don't seem to want us to see that.
We argue this is all somewhat academic, because (in the absence of Fylde knowing the exact number of green bins before the scheme started) the real figure on which to base calculations of percentage take-up of the former service is undoubtedly (as we have seen
above and as we have consistently maintained) the
33,883 'green bin properties'
And if that figure is used, then the take-up figure as at today is about 51%.
Even if Fylde has, indeed, assumed another 1,711 people will sign up before the end of FBC's financial year on 31 March, it would still only become about 55%
Both these figures show that there ought to be around half of the former operating capacity that could be removed from the operating costs to save money.
Fylde's Finance Officer and the Service officer BOTH predicted a 50% take-up in the first year. The Service officer (see later) also actually predicted the likely
operating costs based on a 50% take-up (see later as well).
So saying it's actually been an 86% take-up is a complete nonsense.
Using Fylde's latest cost estimate of £709,361 (which we think is too high anyway) - there could be operational savings of up to £319,000. But in reality
that's unlikely to be achievable.
There could be savings of around £253,000 to be had on what they spent last year - but again that's probably too optimistic.
We believe Fylde's current year cost estimate is already distorted, so when that's sorted out, the savings would be less, and Fylde will need to retain at least some surplus capacity in the
service for the time being if, as the Finance Officer predicted, this coming year will see subscriptions increase to 60% before settling to a steady 70% from year 3 onward.
On that basis, and because there will also be logistics of round sizes and so on to be factored in, we estimate a realistic capacity reduction of around 25% (saving
something like £180,000 from Fylde's latest estimated cost) would be achievable for the next few years.
What we can say with certainty, is that we're not at all impressed with what we think is the fabrication of fiddled figures and
wrong-headed logic being peddled to serve a particular agenda in this report.
We now step aside from the costings to have a look in some detail at how Fylde is accounting for its green waste service.
In our article 'Green Bins: The Finale?' of 12 May 2017 we reported Fylde's Budget Council Meeting.
Such meetings are often bad tempered and niggly affairs these
days because the Conservative majority does their best to hide their real intentions and to exclude the other 40% of the Council from knowing the details behind the figures.
They do this by having all the preparation work debated in a single political party 'working group' where officers feed in proposals, options and alternatives. The
Conservative group then choose what they want and put forward and debate this in a cross-party committee where none of the others have any idea of the debate and options that
Calling it a Working Group is nothing more that a cynical bypass of a legal requirement for the group to reflect the same political balance of the whole council.
it was called a 'Sub-Committee' (which is what it really is) it would have to be politically balanced, and then a broader spectrum of political opinion would
inform the decision.
This device by Fylde's Conservative Group is a party political arrogance that we deplore.
But this Council meeting became unusually tetchy as Cllr Mrs Oades tried to bring openness and transparency to the matter of green waste subscriptions.
She first moved that the subscription charge should be just £10 for the first year, because Fylde would still be getting the whole of the cost from Lancashire County Council
so they would lose nothing; they would encourage people to try and take up the service, and they would get a better idea of what the take-up and the real charge needed to be.
".....I asked at the December meeting what it is we're trying to achieve? Are we trying to cover the cost of the service - which is reputedly £564,000 - or are we attempting
to generate a surplus which could be used to offset spending elsewhere?
Cllr Eaves responded at that time by saying 'we only want to cover the cost of the collection service' which made me wonder, if this was so, why he and his colleagues
couldn't accept my amendment, as this was exactly what I was trying to achieve.
I realise that the Government has changed the rules in relation to waste management, by altering the responsibility for collecting green waste from the County to Districts,
removing all grants and subsidies for the service. So I can see that we need to look at ways of covering the cost. But I think that the charge being proposed is, quite frankly,
a rip-off. And the more sceptical amongst us may think that it's a way of making a profit, and also getting around the cap.
This charge - if added to the £5 being proposed for the Council Tax rise - will result in an increase of 15% for our council tax payers subscribing to the service. This is
truly dishonest, and will hit some people badly.
Fylde will be in receipt of the £730,000 grant this year, and this will give us the opportunity to levy a £10 charge for the first year - which would give us the opportunity
to see exactly what the cost of the service is and, in year 2, work out the real cost of the service and levy a charge accordingly. I also believe that at £10 more people are
likely to take up the service. I therefore move my amendment and ask you to support it."
Her proposition was outvoted. The result was: FOR her amendment (13), AGAINST her amendment (25); ABSTENTIONS (1).
Details of who voted how are in the previous article, as is
a much more detailed version of the debate.
Cllr Oades then proposed a second amendment which was
"My second amendment is that accounting for income and expenditure on the green bin service should be shown as a separate item in the budget book and published in the
accounts to ensure that only the true costs of the service are charged to our residents."
"The reason I move that is that it's absolutely essential that this is done if we are to review the charges year on year"
Once again the Conservative group assembled its majority. The votes FOR her proposal were (12) and the Votes AGAINST her proposal were (26). There was one ABSTENTION (1)
So what we had here was Fylde's Conservative group deciding to obscure its accouting. They voted NOT to have the green waste service accounted for separately, so
neither the subscribers, nor the taxpaying public would be able to see whether they were being overcharged or not.
Readers will understand we were not at all happy with this state of affairs.
Back on 20th February, in the 'Public Platform' of the Finance and Democracy Committee we had asked
- Whether, in the Finance Officer's opinion, the green waste subscription income had the same status as other fees and charges set annually by the Council? (he said it had)
- Whether the new service would have its own cost centre? (he said there was no proposal to do so)
- What level of expenditure and income data was expected to be captured and made available (borough, ward, parish, postcode, collection round or what have you). (he
said this matter
has not yet been considered).
So on 27 February we wrote formally to Fylde's Finance Officer asking him to reconsider his decision.
Readers can follow this link to a copy of our letter.
Faced with this blank wall of intransigence we asked for the data to be collected so it could be published if necessary later, and we escalated our concern to Fylde's external auditors.
And at the end of our article 'Green Bins: Under Way' on 23 June 2017, we said:
"We've addressed this issue of the status of the service (and a number of other issues about its accounting) to the Council's external auditors and asked them for some
information and clarification."
They provided a prompt reply to say they would consider what we had said and see if it was within their remit to answer what we were asking.
Readers can follow this link to download a copy of the letter we sent to Fylde's External Auditors, (in which we should say we have made edits to remove personal data), "
At this point in the article, we want to say publicly how well Fylde's external auditors (KPMG) handled our inquiry.
We were treated with respect, and the matters we raised were taken seriously and seemed evidently to be of interest to senior people there, who provided proper detailed and
technical answers to us.
(Fortunately for us, a former Fylde Finance Officer had once privately awarded 'counterbalance' a 'Golden Anorak Award' for being able to spot things in Fylde's accounts that his own
officers had not seen - so we were mostly able to follow what was said by KPMG).
Firstly and quite properly, KPMG said they could not consider our letter to be a formal objection to Fylde's accounts for 2016/17, which KPMG were auditing at that time, nor
was it a question to be addressed under their powers under the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 because it was not an item relating to the 2016/2017 accounts.
We knew that would be the case, and were happy with it. We had not intended it to be seen as such. The time to object to Fylde's accounts in respect of Green Waste would be
in summer 2018. But what we had asked, was in our view, a necessary prelude to inform what might become an objection next year.
However, they did say they had considered the points raised by our letter, with the aim of resolving them at the earliest available opportunity, and they made several points
"The relevant framework governing Accounting and Financial Reporting of Local Authorities is the CIPFA/LASAAC Code of Practice on Local Authority Accounting in the United
Kingdom 2016/17. We have performed a detailed review of both sources, and can confirm that there are no requirements present in either for Authorities to separately record the
income from green waste collection charges, or the costs incurred in providing the service."
We had expected this to be the case as well, and we had also expected (depending on what KPMG had said) that we would then take the matter up with CIPFA, and failing that,
with Government directly.
But KPMG advised they had also reviewed some supplementary CIPFA guidance called 'Service Code of Practice' (SeRCOP), (which we were not aware of) and the relevant section of
the SeRCOP was the section that dealt with ‘Trading Operations’.
"Section 2.28 of the SeRCOP states that Trading operations are services provided to users on a basis other than a straightforward recharge of cost, such as a quoted price or
a schedule of rates."
They went on to say that if the collection of green waste was determined to be a Trading Operation which was material to the overall Statement of Accounts, then there would
be a requirement to separately disclose the income and expenditure associated with this operation within the financial statements.
However, the SeRCOP does not dictate the services for which trading accounts should be maintained and disclosures made. It is therefore up to Councils to decide which
services are to be provided on a trading basis.
Furthermore, in coming to such decisions, Councils need to demonstrate competitiveness and make comparisons, and Councils need to consider the arrangements for financial administration that are conducive to these objectives.
They will probably need to consider prevailing industry norms and standards for example.
They also said that Councils need to make decisions on the grouping of trading operations.
So they concluded it was for Fylde to decide, and to 'articulate a rationale to support' any decision to treat the collection of green waste as a Trading Operation.
We suspect our question made them think a bit, because they went on to say.....
"In light of this, we have made enquiries to ascertain whether any of the Lancashire authorities that have implemented green waste charges have recognised this service as a
trading operation, and are not aware of any that do so.
Further, we have made our own internal enquiries across our wider national Local Authority client base. While we have not received formal confirmations in
respect of all authorities audited by KPMG nationally, our enquiries to date have not identified any authorities which have treated these charges as a trading operation within
They then went on to say that they had requested that Fylde's officers consider this guidance in detail and provide KPMG with a confirmation of their decision on this
matter, accompanied by a fully documented rationale to support whatever decision they came to.
So what we understand this to mean is that Fylde will have to decide whether it wants to class the green waste service as a 'Trading Operation' - and if they do so, they will
be obliged to publish income and expenditure for it separately.
Whatever they decide, we think Fylde will probably have to produce a document setting out the basis for their decision either way.
But they won't have to do so until their accounts are audited next summer.
In response to our (slightly cheeky) ending question - whether they thought Fylde was being open and transparent in their approach to this matter, sadly, KPMG said their
responsibilities did not extend to giving their opinion as to whether – for reasons of public accountability and transparency or for any other reason – transactions relating to
an area of service provision ought to be accounted for separately, unless it was a material requirement of the Code.
But they did say they expected to consider Fylde's compliance with the 2017/18 Code in their audit next year, that being the first year in which green waste charges were
applicable at Fylde.
As our readers might expect, we have already been in touch with CIPFA to ask if they have issued any guidance on this matter or if not whether they plan to issue any
The part of all this which captures our particular interest is what appears to be (Section 2.28 of) their SeRCOP guidance, which says that :
Trading operations are services provided to users on a basis OTHER than a straightforward recharge of cost, such as a quoted price or
a schedule of rates."
Which, of course is exactly how Fylde (and we suspect lot of other Councils) have opted to charge for the green waste service - by offering a fixed, quoted
price as a subscription.
We understand a senior person at CIPFA is considering our question at present.
SPECIFIC FYLDE MATTERS.
Where do we start?
There is so much that is plain wrong.
In the interests of financial openness, accountability and transparency, why on earth may it be that, when Fylde is required to publish online every invoice they pay that is over £500 in
value, they should refuse to account separately for the green waste subscription service?
Why on earth would they think it wrong to allow people who choose to subscribe to the green waste service to see that what they are charged is the
actual reasonable cost of providing the service, or whether some part of their subscription is being used to cross-subsidise other council spending.
And unless it is accounted for in an open and transparent way, how may taxpayers like ourselves, who do not subscribe, be able to see whether the council tax we are obliged to pay, is being used to subsidise what is
now a subscription service provided to only part of Fylde Borough's taxpayers, and which - depending on the sums involved - might otherwise have caused Fylde's 2%
spending cap to be exceeded?
The issue here is transparency. Fylde's unwillingness to be open in this matter leads us inevitably to only one conclusion.
They have something to hide.
Cllr Alan Clayton Asks a Question
Cllr Clayton is not of the majority party, he is a thoughtful, independent councillor from Wesham. Having heard our question to Cllr Eaves at the beginning of the meeting he
tried in several ways to establish what the cost of Fylde's former (Council Tax based) operation of the green waste service was, because he wanted to compare that to the
money Fylde would be losing from LCC. Trying to simplify down he said:
"....say the scheme was so many thousand and you could say that the green part was say £5,000 then effectively, all we need to get back as the subscription
£5,000. You see what I'm saying. So it's that figure that I'm trying to understand, what we would have been paying."
Cllr Eaves responded to say that the table in this November 2017 officer report showed the 'Total estimated operation and support costs for the green waste service was £709,361.
Cllr Eaves continued
"...I think out of that, you can deduct, reading down from the top, I think you can deduct 'Estimated container costs of £50,000, and you could deduct
'Estimated promotion subscription fee collection costs' It may be some in the (indistinct word 'literature'? 'nomenclature'?) but out of that, in my rough arithmetic, that should equate to
£117,000 which, if you deduct from the £709,000, and that should give you the figure."
We saw Cllr Eaves' aim here, but we didn't altogether agree, as we will show in a minute.
Cllr Clayton was still unclear, and wanted to know if it was being suggested that the remaining part of the scheme, for the grey, blue and brown bins, was the difference
between £760,000 and £709,000?. At this point, Fylde's Chief Executive stepped in and said
"The £763,000 that was given through the Lancashire Waste Cost Sharing Scheme contributed towards green grey blue and brown provision. The total provision of
green brown, all the recyclables was always in excess of £763,000. It was a major contribution towards funding those, based on a per household take-up. That's how the figure
was reached, so the greater the take-up per household, the more we got. Trying to link the two just confuses things."
We recognise smoke and mirrors when we see them, and we think Cllr Clayton does as well because the was a bit of argy-bargy between him and Fylde's CE as he struggled to get a proper
answer to his question. Eventually the Chief Executive came close to one, saying,
"I'll clarify it for you. What's been given in appendix 1 is the estimated cost of operating the green waste collection service and setting it up in the first
year, and there's a lot of estimates in there because, for example, we have a garage, and you've got to estimate how much of that garage cost, that you proportion to just the
green waste. We have a mechanic, how much of that mechanic, throughout the year, gets allocated to the green waste, and until the service has had two or three years to settle
in and mature, those estimates are very difficult to obtain but as we go along they'll get better. And that's why it's a very, lot of work, to think how you're stripping out
proportions of cost. So we've tried to, as best we can, estimate what the cost of that service is. I think Cllr Eaves was trying to say at the beginning, that the objective is
to try and mitigate as much of that £763,000 loss as is possible.
And of course, we might have added that it doesn't help when you've decided not to collect the green waste cost data separately and then have to try and estimate all the
So in an attempt to throw some clarity on this matter....
We produce below a table that compares the published data from the three sheets of Fylde's income and spending that relate to this matter of green bins.
These are taken directly from reports to Fylde's Operational Management Committee, prepared and presented by Fylde's officers. None of these figures is our own, they are
simply transcriptions. We invite readers to form their own conclusions from them.
That said, we make some observations of our own after the table.
|Estimated costs and income
50% Uptake Estimate
|Drivers (6), (6), (3), [-]
|Loaders (12), (12), (6), [-]
|Spare Drivers (2), (2), (1), [-]
|Spare Loaders (3), (3), (2), [-]
|PPE (£200), (£200), (£200), [-]
|TOTAL - 50% as 26 weeks per year , , [TOTAL]
|Twin Bin RCV (6) (6), (3), [Twin Bin Refuse Collection Vehicles]
|Spare Wagon (1), (1), (1), [-]
|Total - 50% as 26 weeks per year , , , [Total]
|Replacement Green Bins 240L (1 per email@example.com% replacement) (£18), (£18), (£18), [approx 2,800]
|Income from replacement bins
(-£32.50), (-£32.50), (-£32.50), [£0.00]
|Total after income , , [Total]
|Promotion (33,883) (33,883), [-]
|Service literature and associated paperwork
(£0.15), (£0.15), (Estimated Subscription Fee Collection), [Estimated leaflet and temporary backoffice support staffing costs]
|(-), (-), (Associated Call Centre and Waste Officer time), [Additional comms and sticker costs]
|(-), (-), (Service literature and associated paperwork £1.00), [-]
|(-), (-), (-), [Bank Charges]
|Total Operational Costs - direct costs
|Total Support Service Costs (Based on 16/17 Budgets)
|All Support Service / Service Management Costs (£101,123) (£10123), [All Support Service / Service Management Costs]
|Total Operational and Support Costs
Existing Green Waste:
NOTES TO TABLE:
- The Y1 estimate (dark blue column) was the officer's estimate of costs for running what they expected to be a reduced level of service. It is as the officer provided to the Committee in September 2016. It
was said to have:
"... illustrated the operational costs for delivering a reduced fortnightly collection of three green rounds, based on £30 per bin with a 50% uptake rate, using 2017-18
- The precise descriptions FBC used were not always consistent. Where there were differences we have tried to show them in comma separated brackets thus:
( March 2016), (Sep 2016), (Estimate 2016), [Nov 207].
Where no information was provided it is shown either as £0.00 or a hyphen "-"
- The basis of display for Labour and for vehicle costs also differs for non-2017 years. In 2016, the full cost was shown and then halved in the total - (because the rounds were fortnightly and
'shared' with the grey bin service, with 50% chargeable to green bins). But for 2017, the figures had already been halved before totalling. In both cases the totals are correct and directly
We now offer a commentary on these figures
The March (Existing) and September (Like for Like) 2016 totals have remarkably consistent figures, and the difference between them is probably just small pay increases from one financial year to the next.
The pre-scheme '50% uptake' estimate from 2016 expected a 50% take-up of the service and the labour cost was thus estimated to be around half the previous year's cost.
However, the total estimated for 2017 (which does not say whether it is, or is not for the full 2017/18 financial year, but we suspect it is) is significantly (about 25.5% or about £60,800) higher than the
'like for like' spending at a similar date last year.
It is also much higher than the '50% uptake' estimated labour cost (which is what Fylde was working on as a likely subscription uptake, and is about 240% of the officer's
former estimate, or £174,000 in cash terms).
There will no doubt have been a small pay award to factor in, but in the previous year, the impact of that was only £8,200 overall.
The 2017 figures do not detail the staff numbers that the previous reports gave, so we can't see precisely where increases or decreases have been implemented.
It may be that either more staff were needed than expected or perhaps it takes staff
longer when properties are further spaced. There may also have been some slowing down due to communication issues about which bins should, and should not have been collected
under the new scheme.
But given that the service was collecting (we believe) at most, only 55% of the bins collected before the subscription was introduced, we would have expected to see a reduction in
chargeable staff costs, rather than an increase, and at present we do not understand why it is so much higher in 2017 than it was in 2016, and why it is 240% above the cost
that it was expected to be.
Whilst it will be the case that mostly the same ground may have to be covered even if you're only collecting half the bins en route, the rounds should be quicker to
complete - generating time savings. So we don't understand why labour costs should be so much higher when a reduced service is being provided.
Of course, because Fylde says separate costs or green waste are not now kept, and they have had to estimate or apportion the bin men's time between the green waste service
and other refuse and recycling collections, it is always possible that Fylde's estimating (or their apportionment) of such time does not accurately reflect reality.
Are lower in 2017 than in 2016. But these costs are nowhere near as low as officers estimated they would be.
Again, we would have expected to see a bigger reduction in vehicles charged to the green bin service when less bins were collected in 2017, but perhaps if
vehicles are recharged per mile, for example, and they have to cover more or less the same distance even though they are collecting less bins en route, that might explain some of the
This sort of thing may be why you can't always pro-rata savings to reduced service levels.
But equally, if the vehicle costs have simply been apportioned as someone's estimate, then there is again scope for inaccurate apportionment to be the cause.
Replacement Green Bins
This is probably the most shocking part of the calculation.
The lesser of the issues we spotted is why the number of replacement bins has increased from something like 508 a year (i.e. 1.5% of 33,883 properties) to a massive 2,800 in 2017.
We recall some discussion in a committee about providing new bins if people were going to be paying for the service (they were always paying for the service of course, but
mind....) but we think a five-fold increase needs to be better explained.
We suspect the explanation is likely to be that officers have decided to buy in 2,800 bins in as stock - ready to supply in the future.
But we don't buy that as a good enough reason for bulking up this year's apparent subscription costs with a one-off purchase of green bins at £50,000. Especially when, at
historic supply rates, those 2,800 bins will last for more than 5 years.
The second issue is that as we can see, the 'estimated replacement green bins" of 'approx 2,800' bins have cost £50,000 this year.
That's a cost per bin of just less than £18
But Fylde charges green bins out at £32.50 to purchasers, so they're making a 'profit' of £14 or so on each bin they supply (That 'profit' would have been £39,200 this year if
they supplied all the 2,800 bins they bought).
But no income is shown in the green waste subscription costing for the sale of green bins. That is in stark contrast to previous years, when some income has been
So it seems that at present, the 'profit' from green bin sales is destined to disappear into
Fylde's general accounts, and we wonder if, given that the green bin service now operates on a subscription basis, whether at least this 'profit' ought to be used to offset some of the
green bin subscription costs - especially if that same account is going to have to bear the cost of buying the bins in the first place.
Finally, and at least partially separately from the argument about 'profit', is the matter of whether the whole of the sales income for green bins ought to be credited
to a green waste subscription account if the purchase cost is being charged to it.
If all 2,800 bins had been sold, then £91,000 of income would have been credited to the subscription account.
As it is, not one penny of income for the whole of this year has been set against the £50,000 spent on bins that will probably last for the next five years.
So, in this matter of green bin supply and replacement, we believe a separate decision is needed for the future about the *supply* (rather than the collection and removal) of green bins.
Either they should be treated as being supplied and funded from within the Council Tax, (and no costs or income charged to the green bin subscriptions) or the reverse should
be true and the 'sales income' from supplying new green bins should be part of the green bin accounting, and used to reduce the green bin subscriptions
Charging new green bins to Council Tax (rather than the subscription) would have reduced this year's green bin costs by £50,000.
Adding sales income for the same number of bins to the subscription cost would have reduced this year's green bin subscription costs by £91,000.
We have no doubt this matter needs to be addressed, and we suspect a change will need to be made before the final figures are produced.
Some will no doubt perceive what Fylde has done with green bin supply as Fylde's attempt to unreasonably inflate the subscription service costs in order to justify charging a higher
green bin subscription than is actually necessary - in order to 'mitigate' more of the loss Fylde will suffer when LCC withdraws its support funding next April
That, of course begs the question that if this one cost item (bin supply) has been treated thus, what about the rest of the costings? have they too been artificially
inflated during their 'estimation' and apportionment to achieve the same end?
And given that the bins are supplied not at cost, but at a fixed price (that includes a 'profit'), we wonder if this service too needs to be considered as to whether it is a
(SeRCOP) 'Trading Operation' or not.
This is another shocking change.
Officers have spent £67,000 to promote and introduce the scheme, when the cost in previous years was just over £5,000.
Perhaps unluckily, they have spent 13 TIMES the budgets of previous years.
To be fair, they did estimate costs of this sort last September so it is not altogether unexpected
From what we can see, some of these (and possibly other headings) are one-off or temporary costs that will not be needed in future years. But there doesn't seem to have been any attempt to either
identify these separately, or to amortise them. So we think some of these costs are artificially inflated as well.
In any event, we really struggle to see the justification for this scale of spending - it is almost 10% of the cost of the whole service cost, and although it isn't being
charged to tax, we think it is roughly equivalent to something like £2 on every council tax bill Fylde sends out - just for promoting the green waste service.
In our view, the apparent need for this level of spending on promotion of the service forms the basis of a fairly convincing argument to
fund green waste from Council Tax rather than a subscription.
At least doing it that way you would not need to spend £60,000 on promoting the service and managing the income.
And whilst we're here, we will express our displeasure at seeing the Bank Charges highlighted in the way they have been.
We suspect this is done with the intention of
arguments for cashless payments and refusing to take coin of the realm.
We think Fylde is a public service, not a profit seeking business, and it should behave as the public servant it is.
And once again this banking charge is probably an apportioned figure, and if there is a challenge made to Fylde's accounts in respect of green bin accounting, we think the allocation or apportionment of this cost would
also be a prime candidate for
a dose of inspection.
The Bottom Line
Says it all really.
Collecting green bins from 33,883 properties cost taxpayers around £560,000
Fylde expected a 50% reduction in demand in year 1 (and we think there has been) and Fylde also expected the operating cost of the subscription service to reduce to £411,000.
The latest apportioned / estimated costs we're being asked to believe are that the cost actually comes to £709,000
Something isn't right.
THE WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF FYLDE'S (revised) AIM
Apart from some issues in principle with the methods of accounting for the service, (which we have already addressed), we have no problem with the idea of the charge for subscriptions being made to cover the
reasonable costs of operating the service.
Indeed - as part of the debate that is intended to inform councillors in coming to their decisions - that's just what Cllr Eaves told the Council they would be doing
when he was asked that specific question by Cllr Oades
But he has now changed his mind, and says Fylde has a different aim for making the charge.
We have a bit of a puzzle about how a fundamental policy aim can be changed without the Council having voted to change it, but it seems to have been adopted - at least by
the officers and the majority group - as being the de-facto position
We can't help wondering if Cllr Eaves' Damascene conversion in this matter is connected to the fact that Fylde's officers first predicted a significant eventual surplus being generated
over the known operating costs in 2016/17, if or when the subscription take-up reached the 70% they expected
And the first year of that prediction (which expected a 50% take-up) has now become reality (actually slightly exceeded) and in view of that, we also have to wonder whether Cllr Eaves is
content for, or even encouraging, Fylde's officers to seek arguments
that justify retaining any current or future surplus in Fylde's accounts.
But, we see a problem with the arguments he and they are making here.
The charge being made is to subscribe to a green waste collection and removal service. Fylde's Green Waste Collection
leaflet makes that very clear.
It is not a tax demanded of everyone, it is an optional service. And of all household waste collected by Fylde, only green waste may
incur a separate charge.
We knew this to be the case beforehand, but we think the officers current report confirms it - when they say:
"The £763,000 contribution from LCC part funded all the recyclable collections (paper, cans, plastics, glass and green waste) however, green waste is the only recyclable
material that can be charged for in legislation....."
If that is the case, (and we believe it is), we can't see how the cost of any household waste collection or recycling service - other than the green waste cost itself - may lawfully be charged-for
separately from Council Tax.
And that's under ANY circumstances, irrespective of the fact that this green waste income is subscription based.
So attempting to recover all (or more than the actual green waste cost) from the £763,000 which LCC will not be paying to Fylde from April 2018, (which includes something like £200,000 on elements like blue and brown bin waste - which may not be charged
for outside the council tax) could well be unlawful in our view.
So Cllr Eaves' (and the Officer's) new found aim of trying to use the subscription service mitigate the loss of £760,000 - when that loss includes something like £200,000 of spending on recycling of household
waste - paper, cans, plastics, glass and all the other things that go in the blue and brown bins, - which may not be charged for separately from the Council tax, is a complete non starter as far as we are concerned.
And we suspect the law will say that as well.
It is possible our revelation today might cause Fylde to change its tune (and aim) yet again, and argue it is going to spend any surplus green bin subscription money on something
other than mitigating the loss of money that LCC has been paying them. But if Fylde persists in claiming the subscription is to
mitigate more than the real cost of the green waste service - which at present it clearly is arguing - then we think they might be in trouble.
Furthermore, the 'opposite' also applies, because if Fylde has not recognised, or refuses to accept, that money spent on grey, brown and blue bin services needs to be costed separately in their accounts, and this aspect has been overlooked - (as it appears to have been overlooked in what may be charged to subscription
income), then it is possible that some of the other apportioned costs shown in the report's table
(labour, vehicles ,
containers, leaflets etc, central support charges and so on) may include elements of spending on services other than green waste, which would also not be within the law,
because only green waste may be separately charged..
And if each of those has not already been
properly and provably apportioned so as to remove the non-green waste aspects of such spending, it will also further lower the cost of the green waste service when they are removed
- (in order to accord with the law).
Potentially, these are all matters to be considered during the inspection of accounts and invoices relating to waste collection services that would need to be undertaken if a challenge is made to
Fylde's accounts during the audit inspection period next year.
TRUST AND HONESTY
Like the Special Expenses / Equitable taxation disgrace that Fylde tried - and eventually partially succeeded to implement in order to avoid a previous Government spending cap, this latter day
equivalent has become just as dishonest in our view.
Our view is neither right nor wrong of course, it is simply our view.
And our view is that Fylde initially embarked on this
matter from a position of genuine concern for residents.
They knew they were going to lose what for Fylde was a very significant part of their income, and they had to find
a way around it.
It was an honest beginning, and all councillors - from whatever group or party - were working together to solve a common problem.
And we felt that honesty continued for a time, but only up to the point at which someone in Fylde realised that with the sort of £30 annual subscription other councils were charging, and
could get near to the 70% take-up their officers had predicted by year 3 - they could generate more in subscriptions than the service would cost, and they could spend that surplus elsewhere.
We think this was the turning point. This was where honesty and transparency were buried by expediency.
This was where the Conservative group took control themselves and consensus working more or less ended as they did so.
The manifestation of this change began with the September 2016 report that changed the basis Fylde had used to calculate take-up from their initial 33,883 green bin
properties to the much lower
20,000 bins regularly presented for collection.
Slowly, it dawned on us that Fylde had not simply made a mistake with this change. Their change was intentional, and they were ignoring what we and others were telling them
about it being the wrong basis because they didn't want to hear it. They had moneybags rolling around in their eye-sockets in the hope of generating a surplus.
It was further emphasized when they decided to implement the subscription charge A YEAR BEFORE the County Council stopped paying them to provide the service.
So in 2017/18 Fylde has actually been paid for the same service twice. Once from green bin subscribers, and once from LCC. And that's around half a million pounds, it's not
No doubt some would say 'good on you if you can get away with it' but we think it demonstrates their willingness to abandon the ethos of public service, and to
embrace charges that were really a sophisticated confidence trick played on an unsuspecting electorate that expected to be able to trust its Council..
It got worse when
we realised that Fylde really intended to use 'market pricing' to match the charges in neighbouring councils when it set its green bin subscription charge.
They did not intend simply to recover the cost of providing the green waste
service, the charge had been devised and was to be pitched at what the surrounding authorities were charging. Fylde's underlying philosophy sought to implement a charge that the 'market' would bear, rather than
providing a service for the public good with the cost shared between subscribers.
It became clear to us that the Conservative group at Fylde was setting out to make a profit from the green waste service.
And if you stand in those shoes to look at what
they have done and decided about the subscription scheme, and the other things they have done to try to hide their tracks in this matter, it all becomes clear.
Queen Elizabeth managed to hurl a cat amongst the pigeons when she found Cllr Eaves off-guard at Council in December
16. Caught between a rock and a hard place, he said Fylde only wanted to cover the cost of the green waste service.
He has since back-tracked, and now says he wants the subscription to cover as much as possible of the whole £760,000 they will lose from LCC, not just the cost of the green waste service.
with all of this because in our view, the purposes of public finance is to equally share costs for things that many need, but which an individual or family could or would not
afford on their own.
So to us, the whole point of a council is absolutely not to make a surplus on anything it does. It is to provide good governance and public services - at cost
- for the public good.
But that's not where Fylde are going with this.
And it's most definitely not what a Council is for.
A subscription should not result in your payments being used for anything other than that for which you subscribe.
If you subscribe to a book club, you don't expect part of your subscription to be used, say, to send out cases of wine to other folk.
That's a nonsense.
But in the matter of green bin subscriptions, Fylde are hiding their duplicitous intent behind false logic, 'red herring' figures,
de-facto cartel-regulated pricing mechanisms, intentionally obscure accounting, shifting aims, and doublespeak descriptions.
Those responsible for adopting this position. Those who concur with it, and even those who only do not demur, all damage the trust and respect that we, as taxpayers, are entitled to expect from those we elect.
We called this article Bin Ends? - and the question mark is important.
It is about bins, and it might be the end of the beginning. But it is not yet the beginning of the end.
There will be more to report on this matter.
Dated: 16 November 2017