Call to scrap ‘bin tax’ fails but council will weigh up the cost of abandoning it

greeny binNine weeks after the controversial ‘green bin tax’ came into force in South Gloucestershire, councillors have commissioned a report into the implications of scrapping it.

The unanimous decision came at the end of a long and heated debate last night at the Communities Committee meeting.

The debate was triggered by a petition of 4,200 signatures that was collected by Kingswood’s Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, calling for the optional £36 a year charge for green waste collection to be scrapped as residents were not properly consulted .

The Conservatives have been fierce critics of the charge, which has cost an estimated £650,000 to implement, and have dubbed it “Labour’s bin tax”.

At the meeting they put forward a motion calling for the “environmentally and socially damaging” charge to be revoked and for a report on introducing efficiency reductions on the £20m a year that waste contractor Sita receives by a sum equivalent to the required savings target.

They claim that Sita has been “let off the hook” and that the burden has been passed onto “hard-pressed local residents” instead.

But Lib Dem and Labour councillors, who had voted for it under the ongoing austerity cuts the council has to make, said the Conservatives did not have a “workable alternative” to the charge which is saving the council an estimated £1.1m a year. Labour leader Cllr Pat Rooney branded what they were doing a “publicity stunt”.

Before the debate started, the committee heard from critics of the bin tax in the public gallery, as well as from Jo McCarron, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate in Kingswood.

She said:  “Councillors from all parties have been under immense pressure to make tough decisions about where council funds get spent. The decision to implement the new charge came about was a direct result of the Conservative Government’s cuts to the council’s budget.

“The Conservatives said savings could be made by adjusting shift patterns for green waste collection. But the report shows that their proposal to extend waste collection hours would disrupt traffic, would put children at risk (with collection taking place while children are walking home from school or playing in the evenings), and would mean waste being collected in residential areas through the evening as late as 10pm.

“Not only that, savings from reducing the number of collection vehicles in use would be offset by a series of extra costs from increased maintenance of vehicles to more staff hours at transfer stations and at the council helpdesk.

“The reality is that their ‘alternative’ to the green waste charge would be unworkable and would not make the necessary savings Conservative councillors themselves agreed to.”

After the three-hour debate the Conservatives hailed the decision as a victory. Mr Skidmore said it was a “crucial first step” in getting the charge scrapped. He said: “This was always about ensuring local people had their say, which they had been denied. I’m pleased as the local MP I have been able to help voice the opinion of local residents.

“Local residents have had their voices heard and helped make both Labour and the Liberal Democrats reconsider their stealth tax; which is costing residents £36 a year. This is a crucial first step in stopping their bin tax and I will continue campaigning until this expensive charge is dropped.”

But Labour branded the Tories’ suggestion of scrapping the charge as “reckless” and welcomed the more “considered and responsible” decision made by the committee.

Labour’s lead on communities issues, Cllr Ian Boulton (Staple Hill), said: “The charge for green waste collections was introduced to contribute £1.1m to the savings that the council must make.

“The Tories claim they could save £350,000 from the waste budget without charging, but this begs the question of where the other £750,000 cut would fall.  The further study that the committee has now commissioned will hopefully show the knock-on effect that scrapping the charges would have on the budgets of valued services, such as our libraries and street care.

“I caution residents not to expect this to be able to identify any pain-free alternatives to bin charging.”

See the next edition of The Week In for more on the debate and the problems that critics say the new green waste system has brought, including missed collections, fly-tipping and the impact on  recycling