“IT’S a basic right for every English man and woman to be able to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in their bin without having to wait a fortnight for it to be collected.”
Community Secretary Eric Pickles’ now infamous quote gets to the heart of one of the most heated issues swirling around local government – weekly bin collections.
Mr Pickles is so obsessed with weekly collections that he set up a £250m fund to persuade councils to adopt weekly collections – despite the overwhelming evidence that the only affordable way to improve recycling rates is to adopt “alternate weekly collections”, where general waste is collected one week and recycling the next.
Labour-run Liverpool was awarded £10m to retain its weekly collection, but is set to turn down the money and move to an alternate weekly collection for 63% of homes.
Crucially, the Pickles money would have increased costs in the longer term and not deliver significant improvements in recycling.
Liverpool has the worst performance in Merseyside with 26% – and the worst of any English city.
All councils have a target of reaching 50% by 2020 and landfill tax currently stands at £64 per tonne, and will rise by £8 annually, until it hits £80 in 2014.
Liverpool council’s cabinet member Steve Munby, who has responsibility, describes it as the “financial juggernaut” hitting councils.
Yet, despite the financial realities, alternate weekly collections has been a toxic subject in Liverpool since 2007 when Labour were in opposition.
When Cllr Nick Small suggested a pilot of alternate weekly collections, it was branded a “rats charter” by the then Liberal Democrat administration.
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson pledged in his manifesto: “I promise to keep weekly bin collections.”
But now, an unprecedented report to the full council will lay bare the full financial facts and recommends the move to fortnightly collections – the Liberal Democrat opposition will vote with the Labour party in favour. A Lib-Dem motion demanding recycling improvements – some neighbourhoods only have 5% recycling rates – will be backed by Labour.
Fortnightly bin collections are in place in Sefton (for 80% of properties) and Wirral, and it is no coincidence they have the best recycling rates of 40%.
In comparison, Liverpool has a rate of 26.8%, St Helens scores 31.5% and Knowsley 32% – all have weekly bin collections. So the options are: remain with the current service, take the Pickles money, or adopt alternate weekly collections.
At present, the cost of collecting and disposing of the city’s waste is around £40m.
Without any significant change to the service to improve recycling, an estimated increase in annual costs is £5.7m, in five years’ time.
Accepting the £10m Pickles money would have added on a further £5m over the same period. The council would have used £7.5m of the £10m to buy new smaller bins, in a bid to persuade people to recycle more.
Officials acknowledged that spending £7.5m on new bins, at a time of financial cuts, might not play well with the public.
The Government also wanted a commitment to retain weekly collections for five years.
The third option, which Mayor Anderson is “minded to support”, is to adopt alternate weekly collections in non-terraced areas.
If introduced in September, the change would save between £6.2m and £11.1m in little over two years, because of the reduced collection costs.
It would lead to a jump in recycling of 10%.
The council is not recommending any changes for terraced streets or those in high density properties, which is about 80,000 homes.
The remaining 136,000 properties would move to fortnightly collections on a rolling basis between September and November, 2015.