Yesterday I did another blog about the unbelievably flawed waste disposal scheme that Wokingham Borough Council are attempting to roll out. I hadn’t expected to be doing another one quite so soon, but it just goes to show that you cannot predict how things are going to progress.
Just to recap, so that you can get the full impact of my latest discovery, the new plan splits waste disposal into three schemes:
- The recycling scheme: a weekly collection of black bins, free, from which they will recycle a selection of materials. There’s not much objection to this, bar that they could recycle a bigger range of materials, and the reward scheme seems a bit ill thought out. Generally, everyone seems to agree that recycling is good.
- The green waste scheme: an opt in scheme, where residents can pay £60 for a bin (the picture seems to indicate that it’s brown) or £1 each for “75-litre compostable sacks”. The collections are fortnightly, and it’s for garden waste. The chief objection to this is that it introduces a charge for a previously free service, which is understandably unpopular. It is, however, legal.
- The general waste scheme: the borough are required by law, under s45(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to remove household waste, but the new scheme limits each household to 80 bags per year. Designated bags must be used, and more can be purchased at 40p each as required. The objections to this are manifold, but include: it’s a stealth tax; 80 bags isn’t enough; the bags are terrible quality; they’ve just been left on doorsteps and are being stolen; and my personal favourite, that it’s illegal.
The illegality argument revolves around charging for extra bags. A letter to local authorities from the Department of Communities and Local Government, in response to concerns raised by DEFRA, had this to say on the matter:
“If your Council sets a limit on the number of bins or sacks that will be collected from a single property, but allows householders to purchase additional waste receptacles, you may only charge for the cost of providing the receptacle…”
Which seems pretty clear and unequivocal, doesn’t it? The council may charge for extra bags, but only for the cost of the bags themselves. They cannot use it to subsidise the collection services that they are legally obliged to provide. So the whole matter of legality hinges upon the cost of the bags- how much did the council pay for them? On BBC Radio Berkshire yesterday, Cllr Gary Cowan, executive member for environment, claimed that he didn’t know how much they cost.
I thought this was a bit unbelievable. Cllr Cowan didn’t sound very believable and you would expect the councillor with responsibility for the scheme, going on the radio to talk about it, to know that sort of thing. So I emailed a Freedom of Information request to the council this morning, saying:
“Please could you tell me how much the blue bin bags for the new waste collection service cost the council, per bag?”
The council have 20 working days to respond to my question, but to their credit they responded this afternoon. I’m going to put a screengrab of the email response I received below, just so I can’t be accused of misquoting:
Wokingham waste and recycling manager Mr Peter Baveystock's response to my FOI request asking how much the blue bin bags cost the council.
Mr Baveystock, the local government officer in charge of waste collection, says that the council paid 4p per bag. They are selling them at 40p. That is a mark up of 1000%, and a profit of 90% on the price that the council are selling it at. That is very definitely more than the cost value of the bags, and explains perfectly why Cllr Cowan couldn’t answer Andrew Peach about the cost of the bags to the council yesterday.
Someone has to respond to this. Not a local government officer, not some spokesperson. I want a senior member of the council to respond to this- to actually respond to the issues raised here, not just sweep it under the carpet and dismiss all objections. This allegation, that they are pursuing an illegal policy, is serious.
If you live in Wokingham and you’re as appalled at the council’s behaviour on this as I am, please write to your local councillor, to Cllr Gary Cowan, or to the council leader Cllr David Lee. Answers are needed to this, now.
UPDATE: With many thanks to Richard Greenhill, another campaigner on this issue (not just with Wokingham- this is a more widespread problem) I have a little more detail to add. The 4p price that I was quoted apparently refers to the initial 80 bags distributed to residents. For the paid-for additionals, Richard’s own tireless FOI requests have revealed the breakdown of the cost charged to residents:
£0.063 “bag costs”
= £0.400 total (per purchasable sack)
So this means that for the purchased bags, only around 7p of the 40p for each bag is the cost of the bag. The remaining 33p is therefore not. So 82.% of the price that residents pay for these bags is lumped into ill-defined overheads. Even aside from the legality issue (which remains), that’s absurd.