Bin Bags Deja Vu in Wokingham

wokingham blue bags 2013

I seem to recall that I was at this around the same time last year; moaning about blue bin bags. Well, with apologies to readers who were thoroughly bored the last time, but I’m at it again.

Last year, when Wokingham Borough Council’s stealth-taxing bin bag scheme was new, one of my many complaints was that the delivery was botched. Rolls of bags — limited to two per household — were left on residents’ doorsteps where many were stolen.

This year we were promised that lessons had been learned. Instead of simply being left on doorsteps, residents who were not there to receive their bags would be able to claim them instead through a voucher system. No more stolen bags, right?

Except this, at the top of the page, is what I was greeted by this morning.

A leaflet, pushed through the door, explained what a *ahem* success the first year of the scheme has been, and how we would be able to collect our bags if they had not been delivered. It was only as I was leaving for work that I realised that the bags has been left there, without so much as an attempt to notify us.

Lessons learned indeed. Exactly the same thing a year on. Wokingham deserves better than this merry-go-round of incompetence.

A wokyrubbish update: obstinancy, but also progress

Before I went up to Manchester for the Labour Party conference, I attended a meeting with Councillor Angus Ross, who after the May elections took over responsibility for the new waste collection scheme. As meetings go, bin bags aren’t the most exciting of schemes, but after over six months of debating them it was refreshing to be able to discuss it frankly and openly with the man in charge.

There were good and bad points to the meeting, but I was reassured that the purposes behind the scheme are sound, even if I think the details are a little misguided. The fact is that cutting down on the amount of waste going to landfill is a noble aim, both for reasons of avoiding the incurrence of extra cost to the council and for the sake of preserving the environment.

Equally, I was surprised to find good answers to my questions on the sorely limited range of materials which are able to be recycled. The council wants to be able to track the materials they send to be recycled, in order — presumably — to make sure they actually are being recycled. If waste is sent abroad, then tracking it is impossible.

I’d like to see more recycling, but it looks like that’s going to take wholesale investment in recycling as an industry, something which will need to happen at national rather than local level — and with George Osborne squatting on the Treasury and the economy like an anti-green tumour, I think it’s safe to say that won’t be happening soon.

But Wokingham Borough Council could increase the range of materials collected. Glass, for example, and Tetra Paks, which are able to be taken to static sites, but a door collection would be a great boost to take-up.

On the subject of the much-maligned bags, there was acceptance that the bags aren’t fit for purpose, without actually saying that. In fact, I was specifically told that Veolia had been directed to look into a new model of bag. So there’s a partial victory.

But there’s still a partial (at least) obstinacy on the part of the council administration, to accept that mistakes were made. I can understand Cllr Ross’ point that the consultation would naturally bring out a lot more of those against the scheme than those signing it’s praises, but it still seems a stretch when Cllr Ross claims:

I haven’t seen the breakdown yet, but inevitably a number of people who respond will have concerns and issues rather than the vast majority who are happy.

I’m not sure a vast majority is happy with it, from my canvassing in the May elections. In fact, I think the vast majority are quite unhappy.

Still, if the problems are addressed, then this will all have been successful. The results of the consultation  as well as a recommendations for changes, will be presented to the executive next month. I’d very much like to see a change of bags come out of that meeting, but we shall see what results come back. I don’t want to over-egg the positive murmurs just yet.

Wokingham Bins Consultation – the Waiting Phase

This morning, an email dropped into my inbox:

Thank you for giving up your time to respond to the consultation exercise on the Council’s new Waste and Recycling Service. Your feedback is very important to us and will help us consider improvements to the scheme for next year.  The results of the consultation will be set out in a report to the Council’s Executive in November 2012. The report will also include recommendations on proposed improvements to the scheme.  You will receive a copy of the consultation analysis in November 2012.

Mark Moon

Strategic Director – Place Based Service Delivery

Hopefully there were an awful lot of other people across Wokingham Borough who received identical emails.

Considering that a public consultation was one of the main demands I made during my election campaign earlier this year, I’m feeling pretty vindicated right now. I hope that the consultation will be properly considered by the council executive, and will lead to real change to rectify this poorly-thought out policy.

I’m also glad that they have promised to send copies of the analysis to the respondants. Too often people respond to such consultations never to hear anything again. If consultation is to be real, it must encompass the whole process.

That said, I hope that they will release the full raw data too, to allow others (such as myself) to conduct our own analysis. If they don’t, then the can be sure that I will use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to push for its release, but for now all we can do is wait and see.

Wokingham Bins Consultation – the Final Days

There are only a few days left to tell the councillors and officers at Wokingham Borough Council what you think of the bins scheme.

The much-fought-for local consultation on the new Wokingham waste scheme has been running for a few weeks now, and I’ve done my best to publicise it. My view has been that the more people who answer the questions, the more accurate the view that is presented to the council will be — and the more likely it will be that they will listen.

I’ve spoken, since it started, to a number of residents sceptical that it will make any difference. I can understand this view, and I’ve complained myself numerous times that nobody at Shute End is listening. But I do think that this survey is worth filling out.

  1. If people who are opposed to or critical of this scheme — and I know that there are a sizable number — don’t reply to it, then it will be held up as an indicator that the residents of the borough are happy with it.
  2. Despite previous obstinance, I genuinely believe that the council are genuinely interested in hearing what we have to say about this. They attracted a lot of criticism for the new scheme during the election period, and even lost two seats. It’s not a huge landslide, but it’s a big movement in an area which traditionally runs between blue and yellow — with little usual movement. Several changes to the executive also indicate an increased willingness to listen.
  3. If people respond to this consultation in large numbers, then the council may be persuaded that such exercises are worth considering before undertaking drastic and controversial changes to public changes. The council has been playing a lot with public services lately (libraries, anyone), and if they’re going to carry on — and, for that matter, mention nothing of it in elections — it would be quite nice if they felt they had to listen to the people anyway.

The consultation closes on Friday 14th September 2012. That’s tomorrow. So please, if you live in the Wokingham area and have any opinion of the new waste scheme, take a few moments out of your day to complete the survey. You’ll find the link below.

Wokingham Waste Consultation

At Long Last – Wokingham Bins Consultation

Paul Daniels apparently thinks that Wokingham’s new waste collection scheme is “useless”. Thankfully, he can now tell them in their new consultation.

When, a few weeks ago, I emailed Wokingham Borough Council to find out why they were seemingly keeping their consultation on the bins so secret, I got an interesting reply. I am, in fact, going to post it here in its entirety:

Dear Mr Dent

The consultation is starting this week, and it will be appearing on the consultation section of the website shortly. It will also be sent out to the Town and Parish Council Offices. So far it has only been sent out to the Wokingham Borough Council Citizens’ Panel, and a press release is going out this week to all the local press.

It will be publicised on the main page of the website also, and it has been sent out to residents who complained about the service.

The web link for the survey is

I hope that helps. If I can be of any further assistance please let me know.

Kind Regards

Carla Chappell

Which is nice.

I don’t know, the cynic in me wonders if this is the God’s honest truth, or whether I just caught them with their pants down. It really wouldn’t be the first time. But I’m prepared to take them at their word, given that the consultation is really what I care about (Though… “ So far it has only been sent out to the Wokingham Borough Council Citizens’ Panel“… Why?)

But the consultation is now live. I haven’t seen anything about it at GetWokingham, but I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy of this week’s Wokingham Times, so there’s every possibility that it’s in there and just not on the site yet. But it is now in the consultation section of the council’s website at least.

So, if you’re slightly irked with the council’s new money-making saving scheme, if you have a tale to tell of your own about how the new bin bags, then you can finally go and tell the council. They probably don’t want you to, but I’m sure that won’t give you too many sleepless nights, right? Just click the link below:


I’d also point out that the consultation is only open until 14th September 2012, so you only have two weeks to have your say.

And on a related (and entertaining) note, it seems that problems of bin bags has even extended to local Wargrave celebrities Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee. The magician and his wife have had the same problems getting hold of bags as other residents. Mr Daniels himself blasted the scheme, saying:

We have been trying to get bags for ages. You have to ring up the council, which costs money every time, then when you pay by credit card, it costs money too. And the bags cost four times what you can buy plastic bags for, even in Waitrose. I would like to know why they cost four times the amount — they are only plastic sacks. The fact that we can only buy 10 at a time is a joke. I used to be a local government internal auditor and if I was running this, that company would be dumped — that’s if I had a bag to put them in.

Ouch. Maybe he’d like to put it to the council’s consultation?

Wokingham Borough Council and the Secret Consultation

I think this sums it up rather neatly.

Back in the local elections, three plus months ago (was it really only three months ago?) one of the chief criticisms I had of Wokingham Borough Council’s new waste collection scheme was that it was a profound change to the system, and it had been done completely without consultation.

Well, it seems that the council are somewhat belatedly running just such a consultation. Sort of.

A thirty-four question online survey inquiring as to residents thoughts, opinion, and experiences of the new waste collection scheme has appeared, introducing itself with the line:

…the Council would like to know your views about how the scheme is working and whether it is delivering on its intended improvements.

And about time two. Except…good luck finding said survey. I consider myself a reasonable competent researcher — it’s included in my job title, after all — and after a good hour with a search engine I was still drawing a blank. As far as I can tell, you cannot find the survey unless you already have the URL. Which is an interesting approach, don’t you think?

The funny thing is that the council website already has a section of its website dedicated to consultations. The list of open consultations isn’t exactly long, but I don’t see anything related to waste collection there.

So we have a waste consultation, but it’s unfindable. The only reason I even know about it is because a neighbour happened to receive the link in an email and forward it to a family member. Even the leader of the Lib Dem opposition didn’t seem to know anything about it.

As I see it, there are two possible explanations:

  • It’s not real. Which seems strange, since it looks like it’s hosted on the council website.
  • The council doesn’t really want people to find it, apart from people who they show the link to.

No prizes for guessing which I think the answer is.

So going forward, what to do. Well, firstly I suggest you all go to the survey, fill it out, and tell the council what you think of their waste scheme. I’ll even give you the link, free of charge:


Secondly, there’s an email address on the consultations section of the Wokingham website, for someone called a “Consultation Officer”. This sounds like someone who should know about any consultations being conducted, so I’m going to send them an email asking for clarification. I’ll let you all know what response I get.

And thirdly, I will be meeting with Cllr Angus Ross at the end of the month to discuss the new bins scheme. Amongst a few other things, you can be very much sure this will be mentioned.

Five reasons not to vote Conservative today (or why Eric Pickles is wrong)

Nope, sorry Eric! Wrong on all five counts!

I wasn’t going to do any more election blogging, but when I saw Eric Pickles “5 Reasons to vote Conservative today” post on ConservativeHome, I just couldn’t help myself. Here are each of Eric’s points in turn, why he is wrong, and why you shouldn’t vote Conservative in the borough of Wokingham today.

1) Conservatives deliver better quality, better value local services… More Conservative councils have frozen council tax this year than Labour councils.

Yes, Wokingham have frozen council tax. But that freeze was made possible by a one-off grant from central government. This will almost certainly not be repeated next year, which means that council tax will have to go up by at least 2.5%- just for funding to stay at the same level.

And that’s even before we get to the massive stealth tax that the council introduced under the guise of a new rubbish scheme.

2) Conservative councils have been at the forefront of the transparency agenda, opening up their books and finances to public scrutiny.

Transparency my foot. Do you remember the budget? Do you remember how the council executive only released it the statutory week before the vote, whereas other authorities had released it months earlier for scrutiny by residents and opposition parties? And maybe you remember that it was simply voted through, with a minimum of debate, and no opportunity for proper examination.

Judging from this, the Conservatives were going all out to make sure there was no public scrutiny of how they were spending public money.

3) Councils account for a quarter of all public spending, and need to do their bit to help pay off Labour’s deficit.

This doesn’t play too well next to council leader Cllr David Lee’s near-constant bleatings about being the worst funded council in the country. If we’re supposed to be cutting back even harder, why does he always seem to be begging for more money? Also, the notion of there being no money left sits ill next to Eric Pickles’ slush funds for weekly bin collections and short-term tax giveaways- all of which seem calculated to give the Tories something to crow about at election time, having achieved nothing all year long.

Don’t believe the lies.

4) Conservative councils are cutting municipal non-jobs like town hall ‘pilgrims’ and waste like town hall pravadas.

I’m not sure who exactly Wokingham have been cutting, but they don’t seem to have been left with a particularly brilliant crop. The local government officers in charge of the bins, in particular, don’t seem to have covered themselves in glory of late.

And as for these “town hall pravadas” (I can only presume he means “pravda”, a reference to the newspaper of the Soviet Union), one of the biggest complaints about the new rubbish scheme was that nobody knew it was coming. People didn’t know there was a new scheme, and they didn’t know their collection day had changed.

I guess we can thank the Tories for that, then.

5) This Government is devolving significant new powers to local councils…Conservatives can be trusted to use these powers well.

You’ve got to be kidding me? Trust them? I don’t trust them with the powers they’ve got at the moment. So far, Wokingham Conservatives have:

  • Introduced a completely unworkable bin scheme as a cover for a stealth tax.
  • Launched a plan to sell off the libraries, without asking anyone.
  • Closed all of the public toilets in the borough.
  • Threatened to close and sell off care homes.
  • Wasted £90,000 on a PR exercise, and God knows how much in the end on the regeneration of Wokingham Town Centre.
  • Ignored the views of residents at every turn.

Would you trust them with more power. I wouldn’t.

Please, don’t vote Conservative today. Send a message that Wokingham deserves better, that it deserves a council that will listen to it, and act in its best interests.

An Election Day Letter to the People of Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

Dear residents

Today is the day; election day. And the polls are now open, the ballot papers are now read, and I sincerely hope that somewhen in the next fifteen hours you will all be making your way to the polling station to cast your votes.

I have spent the last few weeks working hard, talking to you and distributing leaflets, and offering my policies and stances on the local issues that matter to you. I sadly haven’t managed to speak to all of you, but most of you will by now have seen my leaflet. And if you haven’t, and would still like to, I have made it available online here.

I wanted to take this last opportunity to simply remind you of the importance of your ballot paper. When you stand in the polling booth, you will hold in your hands the power to influence the course that your local government takes. And it is your local government. I know it hasn’t always felt like that, I know that the council haven’t listened to your views, your concerns, your opinions.

But the ballot box is the one thing they cannot ignore.

I have laid out the changes I would make, and how I would conduct myself differently if elected as your councillor. I would put your views and interests first, and I would push the council to consult more and listen more.

The disaster that has been the new rubbish scheme has shown what happens when council stagnates. There is no meaningful debate of ideas, and the assumption that those in power are right presides. The new scheme has been proved ill thought out from the start, and the Conservatives must accept blame for it.

I humbly ask you, today, for your trust, your support and your vote. Throughout this campaign I have tried my utmost to maintain an atmosphere of honesty (I was not afraid to hold my hands up when I got things wrong) and keep the focus on local issues that are within the ambit of the local authority. This is what I would strive to maintain in office.

With that said, I invite you to examine my policies once more. Besides my leaflet, I have made my own views and policies fully available on this blog, and you can read through those blogs here.

I thank you for the time you have invested in reading this, and all of the thousands of other words I have written.

Matthew S. Dent

Labour and Co-operative Party candidate

Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

Not Fit for Purpose

Cllr Gary Cowan and council waste boss Peter Baveystock proudly show off their new stealth tax wheeze- the green waste bins.

We’re on the eve of the local elections now, and as it’s almost alarming that it’s here so quickly. This has been an exciting election campaign, charged by the fact that people have a fair amount that they want to discuss with the candidates who come to talk to them.

By far the most popular subject is the new rubbish scheme, and I’m afraid the vast, overwhelming majority has not been positive. On the whole, single people and couples without children have no real problem with the scheme, whilst families with children are finding it impractical and unmanageable.

What’s become clear is that this is not simply teething problems. Yes, the execution has been awful. Bags the wrong size have been distributed, they have been carelessly left on doorsteps and stolen, and more than a month into the scheme there are still residents who haven’t received bags.

But the problems with the scheme run deeper than that. I have found myself largely focusing on the blue bags, but the green waste scheme is just as flawed. What was previously a free service now costs £60 (per year) for a brown bin or £1 each for individual compostable bin bags. 5,000 have reportedly signed up for the bins, which is much less than the council expected and has resulted in them halving the number of bins that they’ve ordered- from 10,000 to 20,000.

Let’s look at the money in this for a moment. With 5,000 bins sold at £60 each, the council have already received £300,000. Now, if we take away the cost to the council for each bin (which, after the local budget, we now know is a mere £25) and we get £175,000 profit. An extra £175k to plug the gap in finances created by a smoke-and-mirrors council tax freeze, by paying for a service which was previously paid for by that same council tax. 2,000 bags have been reportedly sold, so that’s £2,000 minus the 15p-per-bag cost to the council: £1,700. So that’s £176,700 made out of the scheme in the first month alone.

And this is just the first year. The charge is annual, but the bins are (I believe) for life. So whilst the first month of the scheme this year has raised £175k, if the same people renew their participation in the scheme next year the council will make the full £300k as profit. I defy anyone to explain to me how this isn’t a stealth tax.

Aside from that, there are the bin bags themselves. “Compostable” might work well as a buzz word, but as Jonny Vaughan pointed out you’re still creating something to be instantly disposed of. And given that they’re compostable, they will fall apart readily. I wonder what all this rain has been doing to them…

Finally, I’ll close with something else I’ve found. Three Mile Cross Info (a blog belonging to a resident of Three Mile Cross village) has posted a letter from the council, which seems to indicate that they are rethinking the legality (questionable at best) of the scheme.

…we have agreed that there will be a review of the collection services in the next few weeks and until then our contractors have been told to accept refuse in any form of plastic bag.

A review, in the next few weeks. Conveniently, just after the election. So here’s where your vote tomorrow counts. If Conservative candidates are returned on mass across the borough, the council will descend back below the parapets to ignore you all until 2014. The only way of smoking them out and making them listen is to hit them where it hurts: and elect non-Tory candidates.

Do not underestimate how much your vote tomorrow will count.

Why Not to Trust Tory Promises

The Conservatives have broken so many promises, in Wokingham and nationally; how can they be trusted now?

As 3rd May, polling day in the local elections, draws every closer, reasons not to trust the promises that the Conservatives make seem paramount. Just how many of them have they broken? They must be competing with Nick Clegg about now.

So far, we’ve seen:

  • A massive, widescale reform of the NHS, despite a promise that there would be no more top-down reforms.
  • An attempt to sell off the country’s forests to the highest bidder, having promising to care better for the countryside.
  • Despite pr0mising to fix the economy and cut the deficit, they’re borrowing more and the country is back in recession.
  • A promise to be the “greenest government ever” met by…well, nothing.
  • Scrapping EMA for poorer students, despite promises not to before the election from both David Cameron and Michael Gove.

And those are just the ones off the top of my head.

Additionally, those who read the Conservatives’ 2010 manifesto might remember this line:

…we will not allow the poorest people in Britain to pay an unfair price for the mistakes of some of the richest.

And yet since being in government, they have hiked VAT (which hits the poorest hardest), and increased tax on pensioners to fund a tax break for millionaires. That seems like a broken promise to me.

Of course, this being a local election local issues will be rightfully taking centre stage. But to think that the Conservatives in Wokingham borough are more trustworthy would be a mistake.

This blog, from November 2010, by local resident Richard Peat shows up just how conniving they are. Essentially, they promised in advance of the 2010 general election that a Tory government would reduce housing quotas, allowing the council to reduce the number that they would be building. The Tories got votes, as a result, in both national and local elections, and unsurprisingly the quota reduction didn’t happen.

So essentially, they lied in order to win votes at election time. Not exactly shocking, you may be tempted to think.

Look, also, at the library privatisation plan. It was announced last May, conspicuously just after a local election in which a third of councillors faced the public vote. So you’d expect it to have been a major issue in the campaign for that election.

But you’d be wrong. No mention was made, and the idea was not put to the public. A cynic might suggest that this was because the Conservatives knew it would be a vote loser, and decided that it was easier for them to subvert the democratic process and do it in secret. But I’ll let you make up your own mind.

My point is this: the Conservatives cannot be trusted to stand by their campaign pledges. They promise that they’ll iron out the “teething problems” with the new rubbish collection scheme, but you weren’t asked or consulted with about it. They promise the libraries are safe, but they’ve broken their promises many times before. And how can we know that Monday 7th May won’t see the announcement of some new policy we’ve heard nothing about before?