Timing is a funny thing, isn’t it? Just last night I blogged about the Wokingham council meeting tonight, calling upon residents to come along and help hold the council to account, and today three pieces of related news drop into my lap.
Firstly, The Wokingham Times run a story titled “Council defends bid to privatise libraries“- about that libraries plan which definitely was outsourcing, not privatisation, and they absolutely aren’t the same thing, not even a little, no sir! Anyway the article didn’t reveal anything much new, apart from that libraries are going to be debated tonight at the Executive meeting. And, of course, the universally hostile response in the comments was uplifting.
Secondly, in the course of my day job over at Political Scrapbook, we published this story about waste collection. The basic thrust of the story is a letter, from Bob Neil MP and Lord Henley at the Department of Communities and Local Government, which seems to indicate that the the Department considers some of Wokingham’s plans to be illegal.
A bit of background first. Wokingham are planning on a number of changes to their waste collection services. Chief amongst these are the rolling out of new bags for household waste, which each household will be limited to 80 per year. Anything required beyond this will have to be purchased, at a rate of £0.40 per bag. In addition, there will be a new £60 annual fee for green waste collection, a service which was previously free. Somehow, Cllr Gary Cowan thinks that this will increase recycling, rather than fly tipping, in the borough.
But take a look at what Bob Neil thinks about this, in a letter published on their website:
“…it has come to our attention that a small minority of local authorities may be exceeding their legal powers in relation to charging householders for waste services.”
“In short, councils cannot introduce ‘backdoor’ bin charging for mainstream waste collections or waste disposal. Such stealth taxes are not legal and are contrary to the policy direction of the new Government.”
The “not legal” part seems particularly conclusive there to me. I’m reliably informed by local Lib Dem leader Cllr Prue Bray that this matter has been raised before. Apparently they were brushed off by the Chief Executive at the time. I hear that her successor is looking more deeply into it, and I commend him for it, as I really don’t see any room for ambiguity here.
So if even Eric Pickles and co think that Wokingham’s plans are illegal, the residents don’t like them, and they aren’t even going to work, it might be fair to suggest that the policy is a bit of a mess. Especially when I bring in my third piece of news: that the council spent £90,000 of local taxpayers’ money coming up with a mission statement that seems oddly similar to the last one:
“A great place to live, an even better place to do business”
When you’re facing your library services being sold off, adult social care services already sold off, new charges for waste collection (what was it that council tax was supposed to pay for again) and a local government that seems uninterested in what residents think, that seems like £90k well spent, at least! Right?