England’s largest waste authority has hit back at criticism from communities minister Eric Pickles that a ‘botched PFI deal’ was driving up council tax rates.
Mr Pickles (left) told The Telegraph that Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority 25-year PFI deal with Viridor Laing was “botched” and “shoddy”.
He said in Parliament: “Such [council tax] levy increases often stem from poor policy decisions by the unelected bodies.
“For example, in Manchester City Council, their proposals for higher council tax this year are driven, in part, by a badly drafted, long-term PFI agreement signed by the GMWDA, pushing up the waste levy on council tax due to the cost of rubbish disposal being well over the current market rates.”
The GMWDA hit back, saying the statement contained “a number of factual inaccuracies”.
Cllr Neil Swannick (Lab), chair of GMWDA, said: “Back in 2009 when the PFI contract was signed it was concluded with unprecedented support from both Defra and HM Treasury, and was supported by £124.5m of PFI credits.”
At the time the then environment minister Hilary Benn said of the £3.8bn deal, the EU’s largest waste contract to date: “Diverting one million tons of waste through these world class waste facilities will be a major step in reaching our 2013 and 2020 landfill targets and play an important role in battling climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions created by landfill.”
Mr Swannick said that the deal represented a huge cost saving to the councils in the waste authority, as it would have cost double – in fines and the landfill allowance trading scheme - not to go ahead with the deal.
He also said that it was accepted that the first five years of the deal would constitute steep increases for the districts, but for the following 20 years increases would be less than inflation.
Swannick also baulked at the suggestion GMWDA was “unelected’: “In actual fact the authority is made up of 19 elected Members, with at least two nominated from each of the nine local district councils, and is very open to public scrutiny and through its compliance with transparency and access to information requirements has a full set of records available to the public.”
He said that the PFI deal had the full support of all nine partner councils: Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Manchester, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside and Trafford – as well as the three main political parties.
Phillip Ward, former local government director at WRAP, told MRW: “The unelected waste disposal authority in Greater Manchester exists because a previous Conservative government abolished the elected Greater Manchester County Council.” He said the authority had the same transparency requirements of any local government body.
“Surely Mr Pickles doesn’t think waste disposal for a conurbation the size of Greater Manchester should be organised on a borough basis? If he does he clearly doesn’t understand waste or economics,” he added.
In addition, Swannick said: “Through our contract we are delivering the Government’s vision for long term sustainable waste management and are assured of at least 50% recycling and a minimum of 75% diversion from landfill.
“We are however working to increase diversion to 90% and through the facilities and behavioural change are well on the way to that aim. We are also doing our bit for the environment as we will be able to save around 400,000 tonnes per annum of carbon through the facilities.”