Sunday 1 January 2017

Budget Scrutiny Panel oppose bulky collection charge

The Budget Scrutiny Panel has asked the Council to think again about introducing payment for bulky waste collections.  The amount to be saved is relatively small at £250,000 and I suspect it may have been put in as one of those token items that the Council can revise after the budget consultation to show that it has 'listened' to residents.  But maybe I just have a suspicious mind.

The original proposal was very vague regarding the actual level of charges so it was hard to see how the sum of £250k had been arrived at. It appeared to be offering a faster premium service if residents were prepared to pay a charge:
The proposal is about introducing a differentiated charging scheme for the removal of bulky items, retaining some level of free service, so that:
·      operating costs are recovered
·      a popular service can be sustained
·      waste disposal volumes are better controlled
·      demand is better regulated
·      waiting times are reduced; and
·      monies received can be re-invested in the service

How would this affect users of this service?

Customers may notice altered operational arrangements and revised service terms and conditions. In some instances, service users would need to pay for the removal of bulky items or make alternative arrangements for disposal.
The Panel Report states:

The Panel had severe concerns about this proposal, primarily focused around the potential reputational damage to “Brand Brent” for what is a relatively small saving.
We understand that this proposal is designed to offer a “gold standard” option for people who wish to dispose of bulky waste items. In essence rather than wait the current standard period of time of around six weeks for a free collection they can pay to have the items removed sooner. However, as the policy is stated on the detailed options paper this is less than clear and could be interpreted as restricting the right of local people to have their bulky waste collected by the Council. This is a sensitive political area and we feel that when speaking about this subject the Council needs to be extra careful to get its messaging right so no misinformation gets into the public arena.
We are not confident that the Council has fully modelled the potential cost of an increased level of illegal rubbish dumping which may occur if people come to believe that they will have to pay new costs to have their bulky waste taken away. This could undermine the overall level of savings. 
Overall, the Panel felt that similar savings may be achievable by better sign posting people to other agencies who collect waste for free, including the growing number of furniture and electrical charity shops, or charities which provide furniture and white goods to people on low incomes.
This will not be a simple task. Council staff will have to be trained to give absolutely accurate information to ensure that residents do not become frustrated or feel they are being misinformed.
An example would be a local person ringing the Council to ask them to take away a sofa. The resident would be informed that they can wait up to 6 weeks for the Council to take it away, or call their local British Heart Foundation store who could take it away more quickly and for free. The Council operative would have to be sure from the call that it was an item of furniture the charity shop would take, and have the correct number for the shop as well as knowing the areas it collects from etc.
Similarly, Council departments would need to work together even more closely to ensure that products offered for collection to the environmental teams are passed to the benefits teams when people are in need of second hand goods for their homes.
We believe that this investment in time and training would be worthwhile as it would not only reduce the number of collections the Council needs to carry out but also reduce the amount of waste going into landfill which incurs a Landfill Tax charge to the Council. It would also have the wider social benefit of promoting re-use and recycling as first options in even more circumstances.

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