waste review

When the Tories were in opposition, barely a day passed without a senior figure – usually Eric Pickles – berating the Labour government for its approach to rubbish collection. The party was incensed about councils which withdrew weekly collections, fined householders who did not sort out their refuse properly or sent out “bin police” to check household garbage. Garbage was a key doorstep policy at the general election.

Now in government, however, the Tories’ single-minded obsession with the subject has been rather diluted. For months on end there has been a grinding row about what approach to take to waste. Mr Pickles, now communities secretary, was keen to push through his agenda. But the “waste review” has not been his responsibility but instead that of Caroline Spelman, environment secretary in Defra.

Today the document is published, and you can see who has lost the row. Not only will councils still be allowed to choose when to pick up rubbish – localism in practice – despite being encouraged to do weekly collections for “smelly” food waste.

Also there is some confusion over the coalition’s plan to ban councils from fining householders up to £1,000 for overfilling rubbish bins or leaving out waste for collection on the wrong day. (Incidentally, the document reveals that this power “is very rarely used”). Instead of ending the fines the government will encourage councils to issue “fixed penalty notices” (of £75 to £110), which councils already have the option to use. (Defra tells me that 1,100 such penalties were issued in 2008/9 alone, although 286 were cancelled). There will also be a review of whether these fines should be at a “fairer level” although “it will take time for these changes to be made“. (see page 45 of the document).

UPDATE: Allies of Mr Pickles argue that fines will in future only be applied where there has been “harm to local amenity” by “neighbours from hell” under the proposed changes. This would mean an end to ‘petty bin fines’ forever, says one, meaning a partial victory for the communities secretary. Meanwhile Pickles’ department is still Read more