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 paid for it.* Has anyone anywhere heard of a UK council reducing council tax when switching from weekly to fortnightly collections?

Anyone? Please, don’t all shout at once.

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.

11 comments for “Victory? For whom?

  1. September 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    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.

    In a nutshell. The impunity today is staggering.

    • October 1, 2011 at 4:47 am

      Yeah, and depressing that the Mail fell for it and are treating it as a win.

      • October 1, 2011 at 6:38 am

        Agreed! 😡

  2. IanPJ
    September 30, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Did you know that in Malta there is a DAILY collection, including bank holidays, and all for a fraction of the cost.

    That’s because to a large extent Malta is run the way that Britain used to be run, and its extremely efficient.

    • October 1, 2011 at 4:46 am

      That is impressive, and hardly worth having a wheely bin for. As it is we don’t always put one of our bins out every week since sometimes the recycling ends up well under half full. If we had a daily collection a large bucket would probably do. 🙂

      • IanPJ
        October 1, 2011 at 11:58 am

        No bins required. They collect bags of rubbish that you leave at your gate each morning. Black sacks, supermarket bags, heavy paper bags, bin liners.. it all gets taken, and they whistle and joke while they do it. Any recycling and sorting gets done at the refuse plant.

        3 man crews (same as uk), 1 driver who moves forward at walking pace, 1 man each side of road who pickup and throw into back of modern compacting refuse truck. If a bag splits, they even pick that up as well.

        It really is an impressive piece of public service, one of the best in Europe I would surmise.

    • Thornavis.
      October 1, 2011 at 4:49 pm

      According to the thinking classes at the Guardian more frequent collections ie once a week, are an encouragement to greater waste, I can’t really follow the logic but it seems like some sort of Parkinson’s law whereby rubbish expands to fill the available receptacles or perhaps it’s a kind of neo-Keynesian demand stimulus or something. Then again maybe it’s just because the Tories are doing it so it’s got to be evil despite probably involving greater tax spending as AE says.

  3. WitteringWitney
    September 30, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    “Still, as I say most current politicians are fiercely statist even if they don’t think of themselves as such,”

    Oh c’mon AE, of course all politicians are statists and they know they are – that is their entire raison d’être!

    • October 1, 2011 at 4:43 am

      I was thinking of Cameramong and his libertarian paternalist bullshit when I said some don’t think of themselves as statists. I suspect he and others like him really do think of themselves as empowering individuals even as they add to the list of things they won’t let people do for themselves and insist on the state doing it. Cognitive dissonance is part of the job for them.

      And I was thinking of the rare few, the Pauls and Carswells and Hannans, who aren’t statists, or who are very minimally so. Shame there’s not many of them.

  4. ivan
    October 1, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Here in my village in France, we, the villagers, voted for a reduction to the bin collection to 2 days a week for our garbage. We also have a set of large bins at 3 sites for glass, plastic and paper that are emptied when full – about twice a month except that holiday times may make it more frequent.

    I almost forgot, the household garbage collection sees the bin men collecting from outside the front door – we don’t have to put them where the truck can get at them, rather like how it used to be in the UK many years ago.

    Another thing the company is a private one paid for by the village and it also collects on public holidays.

  5. Andrew Duffin
    October 2, 2011 at 9:49 am

    In Venice, we leave our little bags of rubbish outside the front door pretty much any evening.

    Somehow they disappear over night.

    I am not sure whether it’s the rats, or the Commune, but hey it seems to work.


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