It’s unpopular, its possibly illegal, and it’s happening now! I am, of course, talking about Wokingham Borough’s new waste collection and disposal scheme, the rolling out of which has begun today.
The gist of the scheme is that households will be restricted to 80 bags of waste per year. These bags will be given out to residents, and waste in any other bags will not be collected. If more bags are needed, then residents will have to buy them at £0.40 each.
Today saw the first stage of distribution of the bags. Now, since these are rationed out amongst households, and more have to be paid for if needed, this means that the rolls of 80 bags going out today and throughout this month are worth £32 each. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that they were simply being left on doorsteps.
There has already been some discussion of a “blue bag black market” once this scheme is rolled out, so the council should be on top of this. There is so much potential for opportunistic theft here, as people look to amass a stock of bags to meet their own needs, and to sell any surplus for profit. These bags represent £32 of council tax paid by each household- what the council are doing is the equivalent of giving you a £32 tax rebate and leaving it in cash, in an envelope taped to your front door.
This is shocking, but not terribly surprising. The whole scheme has been poorly thought out from the beginning, and potential problems with it have been raised from all sides, and been brushed off by the Conservative administration. What they are doing is introducing additional charges (“stealth taxes”, if you will) for services which were previously paid for by your council tax, in order to be able to shout about how your council tax isn’t going up (which, incidentally, if you live in Wargrave it is). They aren’t actually saving you money, they’re just charging you more on the sly.
Credit where it’s due, whoever operates the @WokinghamBC twitter account has been trying their best to field queries about this all day, and I had a particularly enlightening exchange with them (below) which explains what to do if your bags are stolen. But with a policy which was never popular, the council seem determined to scale new heights of criticism. The Wokingham Times article about it is brimming with unhappy commenters, and their online poll (pictured) shows just what residents feel of it.
For Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe (and other RG10 area) residents then, your blue bags will be delivered on FRIDAY 9TH MARCH. I’m not sure how much use knowing this will be, as it’s likely to be in the day and many residents will be at work, but you might want to make arrangements for someone to secure yours on your behalf. Other than that, I’m not sure what else can be done, but if you want to send an annoyed letter to your local councillor then maybe they’ll at least realise how riddled with holes this scheme is.
The truth is that this was a botched idea, a botched conception, and now a botched execution.
UPDATE: Fresh news on this fiasco this morning. The Wokingham Times are reporting that Paul Baveystock, the head of waste and recycling, has promised to replace all bags reported as stolen free of charge. This is a positive step, and frankly the only reasonable thing that the council could have done, but questions still remain.
Firstly, this has been a disaster. And not an unpredicted one. The council executive repeatedly ignored concerns raised over it, assuring everyone that these problems would not occur. Well, they have. And whilst I salute Mr Baveystock stepping in, what needs to happen is for Cllr Gary Cowan (executive member for environment) to stand account for these failures.
Secondly, the entire point on which this scheme was mooted was one of savings (though, in fact, expense was only shifted onto residents, through a stealth tax). If Mr Baveystock will replace all bags reported stolen free of charge, and has said:
“We take those reports at face value…”
then, whilst that is definitely the right thing to do, the scheme is opened up to fraud. How much will this cost the council? How will this affect the finances? And what other public services will have to be sacrificed to pay for Wokingham Borough Council’s ineptitude?