As you’ve seen in the news we’re proposing some changes to our garden waste collection. Like most London Boroughs, such as our friends in Havering and Hackney, we are going to be charging for our summer garden waste collection. £50 will get you fifty bags and a garden waste collection every other week. The online reaction has been mixed and I wanted to explain why we are proposing the change.
Government cuts means Redbridge need to save £100 million. This means we need to look at every service we deliver and see if we can do it in a different way. We spend around £2million a year on picking up garden waste. That is a lot of money. Bringing in a charge means that the service will pay for itself. Saving £2 million here means we can do a better job at protecting our libraries, adult social care services and keeping the area clean and tidy.
Your first thought might be “well, my council tax already pays for this”. It doesn’t. Council tax only makes up 15% of the council’s income. We rely heavily on government grants, which have been continuously reduced since 2010. Once you take out the services that we legally have to pay for, it leaves us with little wiggle room. We’re trying to maintain services, but we have to make tough decisions about which ones we fund and which ones we ask residents they really need.
Some other councils make money from recycling waste. The previous administration tied us in to a 25-year contract [Ed: we are somewhere between 10-15 years in] which charges us for disposing of waste and providing no incentive to recycle. Most councils get a financial incentive to recycle, we just have a moral one.
We want people to compost more. Most of your green garden waste is suitable for composting and we are giving residents a compost bin for £5 to help with this. This is not only good for the council’s finances but also better for the environment. In the summer we have 10 diesel lorries driving round the borough adding to our air pollution problem. If you compost most of your garden waste, you can save the occasional trip to the tip for the big items (or pay the charge).
We want you to compost. It saves us money, is better for the environment and gives us a much better chance to protect the services we care about. The cuts are so severe that we have to make tough decisions about what we do and don’t fund. When the conversation talks about closing libraries, cutting care for older people or charging for garden waste collection the decision is difficult, but I feel we have made the right one.
Let’s compare the Green Garden Waste collection service with another collection service where our council has gone in completely the opposite direction to other London council’s and made a charged service free - the Bulky Waste collection service.
Now, if I recall correctly, when the Bulky Waste service was charged it was free for pensioners and those on certain benefits. And most of the comments I have seen on the proposed change above relate to the inconvenience and/or hardship for the elderly and those without private transport. So this might be an amendment that the Cabinet Member may wish to consider?
It also occurs to me that the Green Waste collection may be much easier to manage, and operate efficiently and effectively with significant financial savings if it were to operate on a booking system like the Bulky Waste service. In fact, again if I recall correctly, this is how the service was organised before the scheduled weekly collection was introduced. And again something the Cabinet Member may wish to consider?
It would mean that the operator will know exactly how much and where needs to be collected on any given day and avoids a diesel lorry toodling along our streets looking for green bags that may or may not be there. Unlike household waste and kerbside recycling where most residents put pretty much the same amount out every week.
Of course the Cabinet Member may have already considered these options, but since we do not have a Sustainability Panel any more, where we and others could make such suggestions at the pre-decision stage, we have no way of knowing.
On a personal level I must say that the service has been a disincentive to compost having not used my shredder since it was introduced and my composting has been scaled back to just one 900ltr bin. I did have three (homemade from pallets) on a two-year rotation and shredded material really does get the composting process going. Composting really should be the norm in the leafy parts of the borough so perhaps some good will come out of this.
Changing tack, although I have not mentioned it on this blog yet, the above change comes on top of a proposed 4% increase in Council Tax in April 2017, the selling off of assets such as Queen Victoria House in Barkingside (the electoral registrar is moving to Valentines Mansion), the introduction of parking charges in Wanstead High Street (watch out Manford Way) and a brand new website designed to remove all human contact between the end-user and the service provider.