Victory? For whom?

Paul Dacre yesterday

Town halls are to be shamed into bringing back weekly bin collections, it was revealed yesterday.
In a victory for householders and the Daily Mail, ministers unveiled a £250million fund to restore them.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said councils will now have ‘no excuse’ to maintain hugely unpopular fortnightly schemes. ‘My view has always been that people expect a weekly collection,’ he said.

Yes, and the reason people expect a weekly collection, and so the reason why tapping taxpayers for another £250m makes this a pyrrhic victory at best, is because they’ve already fucking paid for it.* Has anyone anywhere heard of a UK council reducing council tax when switching from weekly to fortnightly collections? Anyone?

So what this means is the taxpayers are going to be shaken down again, either in the form of taxes now or in the form of more national debt now to be paid later, all to pay for what they should have been getting in the first place. Some bloody victory, especially as it turns out Eric Pickles can’t even promise that the money won’t be spunked away on fact finding missions to somewhere sunny with hot weather and hotter waitresses or yet another bunch of outreach and upchuck services for the vertically challenged, gender non-specific, gay, disabled, travellers of extra-terrestrial ethnicity community.**

He cannot force town halls to go back to weekly collections, but made it clear that voters should throw out councils which do not – a provocative suggestion, given that many of those that have gone fortnightly are Conservative controlled.
Mr Pickles told the Daily Mail: ‘I’ve had council leaders sitting at this very table who claim their public like a fortnightly collection and are very supportive. Well, good luck to them. Come the elections, there can be no excuses.’

Actually I don’t exactly disagree with this. If people aren’t happy they certainly should kick out their councillors (MPs too) come election time, but of course this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds when parties have similar, and sometimes identical policies. Who do you vote for when they’re all going to do the same thing? Not voting doesn’t help since the people that do vote will still ensure that one of the bastards gets in, and like most (all?) democratic countries the UK still doesn’t have ballot slips with an option to reject all candidates? As the article makes clear, it’s not like this is something one particular party is prone to do when in control of a council, and it didn’t take me long working my way down a list of hung councils to find that no overall control doesn’t mean any assurance of weekly collections either.

So as far as I can tell The Daily Mail’s self congratulatory circle jerk is based on the government tapping taxpayers for another quarter billion to pay for a service they’ve already paid for through council tax, with no guarantee that this extra money will result in householders actually getting the service. Oh wow, let’s break open the champa… er, the really cheap Asti Spumante that someone brought over New Year before last. Seriously, what do British council taxpayers have to do to get the kind of refuse collection service that we get here in Oz, which having come from a fortnightly collection council area in the UK amazed me enough that I blogged it a couple of years ago.

What is it with rubbish collection here? There’s a tip/recycling centre about 20 minutes drive away that is either free or inexpensive depending on what and how much we’re dropping off. We have a pair of 120 litre bins that are provided to all local rate payers, and for a couple of bucks a week per bin we could double up to 240 litres (or reduce to 80 and get a small rebate). One bin is for rubbish and the other is for assorted – i.e. unsorted – recyclables. Seriously, we don’t do any separating beyond what can be recycled and what can’t, so all paper, cardboard, tins and plastics with a recycle logo just get rinsed out if necessary and chucked into the same bin, with everything else going into garbage bags before being put in the other bin. Nobody gets their cock in a knot and insists the bins are put out in the morning rather than the night before, nobody talks about fines if it’s a bit full and the lid doesn’t quite shut all the way, and nobody insists it’s in a particular place as long as the robotic arm on the truck can reach, which is a fair way (vid – not our council but similar machines). And both bins are emptied weekly, and we don’t have to do anything other than take ’em out the night before the bin men ‘garbos’ come round.
[…]
I mean, how backward is that? Apart from the robot arms on the vehicles and recycling some stuff that’s like where rubbish collection was in Britain 25 years ago.

It’s got to the stage now where I think the best chance of that happening is for the councils to have some competition. That means encouraging people to go private and pay for a collections from one of the firms that have begun appearing to provide that service the councils are no longer interested in but still insist on charging for. I’ve no idea what the average council charge for it these days, and even if I could remember what we used to pay that was several years ago anyway, but a very brief search turned up one UK company willing to do weekly bin collections for about 500 quid a year (plus either a one off £50 for a bin or £6 a month to rent one because councils won’t let anyone else empty theirs). That company also does a fortnightly collection for those who might want it, either because they don’t produce much rubbish or because they just want rubbish taken those alternate weeks when the council won’t do it (shame that means having yet another bin).

Of course, not only would all this be more likely if Eric Pickles stopped putting his hands in the poor bloody taxpayers’ wallets and instead told them that they could withhold part or all of the portion of their council tax that pays for kerbside refuse collection if they pay a private contractor to do it instead, but it’s an essential move if there’s to be any competitive pressure on councils to improve their service. And here’s where we run into difficulties, because currently members of the political class or all parties seem congenitally incapable of considering any solution to a problem that doesn’t involve them at some level. It’s not just the empire building attitude, though that’s probably a factor too, but this assumption among politicians and civil servants that people simply won’t be able to cope with buying services themselves. In modern infantilised Britain this might even be true to an extent, but it’s only a problem if council refuse collection is scrapped altogether. It’s not a problem if people can choose freely between continuing to pay the council for whatever it’s prepared to provide in the way of bin collection and paying a private company for whatever they actually need in the way of bin collection. The only remaining issue would then be that councils would likely crack the sads at the thought of losing some of their income, and frankly that’s just a facet of the empire building thing so too bad.

Still, as I say most current politicians are fiercely statist even if they don’t think of themselves as such, so I won’t be holding my breath. But if you’re walking down a British suburban street on hot summer day there’s a fair chance you’ll still need to, because I’m sure many bins will still contain nearly two week old rotting food stinking the place up.

* I can’t see any mention of whether this is one off or annual. Generally I’d expect politicians doing the ‘Have some free money’ routine to maximise the sound of their generosity with other people’s money by saying if it’s an annual thing, but possibly the Cobbleition are getting a bit sensitive to the fact that they promised to tackle the spiralling national debt and they’re abjectly failing to do so. Or maybe Britons are starting to realise that governments have no money of their own and asking who’s really picking up the bills for their largesse. I’m not wildly optimistic about that but I’d very much hope so.
** This is probably about the last group apart from vanilla WASPs who don’t have outreach services yet.

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Posted on September 30, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Victory? For whom?.

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