District councils have “zero confidence” that they will be compensated by the government for new burdens under its resources and waste strategy, MPs have heard.
Peter Fleming (Con), representing the District Councils’ Network at a parliamentary inquiry on the strategy’s implications for councils, said there was a long history of governments failing to fund such new responsibilities.
He said: “We have zero confidence that funding will follow new functions, and that is borne out through history with multiple examples where government has passed on responsibility and talked about funding coming, but it hasn’t.”
The strategy’s proposed reforms include free garden waste collections, food waste collections by every council and consistency in what recyclates they collect.
Cllr Fleming, leader of Sevenoaks DC, voiced alarm at the potential cost to councils from the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs strategy’s proposals, and said it was, “quite clear the Treasury has not even had a cursory glance at how much the strategy will cost.
“Just for new [collection] vehicles those are £150-250,000 each and most councils have multiple vehicles, so just push that across 200 districts - let alone the ongoing costs if every council has to give residents the same colour and size of bins - just think about putting that across the country.”
Local government should “hold firm” and refuse to take on such new burdens “unless significant money is put in place”, he added.
Hackney LBC elected mayor Philip Glanville, representing the Local Government Association, agreed: “The complexity raises concerns around impact assessments and before we jump for these policies we want to go into more detail for financial implications. There is too much uncertainty about how funding is passed on.”
The inquiry by the housing, communities and local government committee of MPs earlier heard concerns about the strategy’s proposed deposit return scheme for drinks cans and bottles.
This includes options for portable ‘on the go’ containers commonly used in the street, or an ‘all-in’ system including for example wine bottles normally only consumed in homes.
Councils fear either would remove material from recycling collections, affecting their viability.
Ian Fielding, chair of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, said: “If implemented this should be ‘on the go’, as an all-in system fundamentally undermines the effectiveness and efficiency of local government collections system for quite limited benefits.
“Defra’s case seems predicated on [the value of avoiding] litter but with reliance on a fairly unproven analysis of amenity value of litter and we do not believe they have proven the business case for a deposit return scheme.”
Lee Marshall, chief executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, told MPs: “An all-in system would cannibalise our kerbside system.”
He said modelling by some districts in showed it would cost £126,000 “so that’s £44m across England before counting the costs of [the scheme] itself”.
There was though support for the all-in option from Cathy Cook, local authority support manager at the London Waste and Recycling Board, who felt this would be “less confusing for the public”.