Waste and recycling collections: the political perils

by Stephen Tall on March 2, 2009

Today’s Financial Times reports on the electoral situation at Waverley council, where the Lib Dem group was reduced from 27 seats to three in the 2007 local elections after introducing fortnightly waste collections to boost recycling rates. It also notes the problems suffered by Labour in Telford, Shropshire and Blackburn, and by the Conservatives in North Lincolnshire, for the same reasons.

Celia Savage, one of the surviving Lib Dem councillors in Waverley, claims the Tories ruthlessly exploited the issue of fortnightly bin collections in the run-up to the poll. Stories abounded of stinking garbage piling up in people’s gardens while queues of cars snaked for miles from the local rubbish tip.

“What made it worse was that it was a hot summer, people complained that their bags were getting very smelly,” admits Mrs Savage. “But the issue was exaggerated. If the timing had been different things could have settled down and people would have got used to it.”

So, have the people of Waverley had their weekly collections restored as a result of voting out the Lib Dems? No – as the FT reports, “The Tories, who now run Waverley council, have kept the fortnightly waste collection.”

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I think it has now become almost impossible politically to introduce new fortnightly bin collections as both the opposition and the press will mercilessly attack anyone who does it. It also fuels the idea that concern about climate change is just a way of raising taxes and reducing quality of life (an idea which I thnk is becoming more prevalent).

However most people are happy with fortnightly collections when they get used to it. I remember the then Lib Dem run Southampton trialling it in one part of the city. A survey of the people in that area showed that they were more than happy with it, but Labour and the Tories (on the back of a big campaign by the Southern Daily Echo) voted down the Lib Dem plans to extend it to the rest of the city. Yet just next door in Lib Dem Eastleigh they have had fortnightly bin collections for years and apart from one or two persistent complainers, everyone is happy with it.

by Anders on March 2, 2009 at 12:40 pm. Reply #

I don’t think it is, but you do have to time the introduction right, i.e. you don’t want it just before a set of elections! It’s also about how you do it – in Fife, we have the combination of the blue paper bins and black general waste bins which are collected on a fortnightly cycle, and another garden waste bin which is collected on a different cycle – introduced by Labour when they were in administration.

This alone though won’t get landfill down, and in trying to look at alternative ways though pilot schemes (i.e. more recycling, possibly monthly general waste with a fortnightly food waste collection) but all alternatives are being opposed by – yes – Labour, who are now in opposition!

Until all parties stop scoring the easy political goals and start looking sensibly at the issues, we’re not going to get anywhere – although you’d think that the prospect of significant fines would be focussing efforts.

by KL on March 2, 2009 at 1:05 pm. Reply #

I think fortnightly collections were at least part of the reason the Lib Dems lost several seats on Harborough DC in 2007. The Lib Dems headed a minority administration until then.

The Tories are have been in control for nearly 2 years now and fortnightly collections remain in place.

by Ian Ridley on March 2, 2009 at 2:41 pm. Reply #

Pedant warning – Labour had problems in ‘Telford, Shropshire’ and ‘Blackburn, Lancashire’ – not Telford, Blackburn AND Shropshire, which is a massively Tory county council (soon to be merged with the district councils under it to become a unitary, but that’s by the by)

by Dave on March 2, 2009 at 3:20 pm. Reply #

I think a lot depends on how you introduce alternate weekly collections, how you sell the change and how you deal with the problems (actual and perceived).

Yes there are councils where the administration has lost out on the issue, but this often coincides with other factors in the campaign (certainly the case in Waverly).

There are plenty of examples of councils that have continued to happily gain seats after introducing alternate weekly collections – Lib Dem run Eastleigh and Tory run Cherwell for example.

by Liberal Neil on March 2, 2009 at 6:51 pm. Reply #

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