Coalition to rule out ‘pay as you throw’ waste charge – but why do they think it’s their job?

by Stephen Tall on June 7, 2010

The Guardian reports:

Ministers are expected to announce that they are scrapping Labour plans to introduce “pay as you throw” rubbish schemes. Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, and Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, will confirm that they will end schemes in which people are charged for household waste collections or for producing too much rubbish.

In one sense this is a bit of a non-story. Labour didn’t, despite the Guardian’s misleading report, plan to introduce ‘pay as you throw’ rubbish schemes – what they did was enable councils to pilot such schemes if they wished. Unsurprisingly, not least given the furore surrounding fortnightly landfill collections which had the Daily Mail foaming at the mouth a couple of years ago, no council decided to be the first to opt-in.

And there are of course many practical difficulties associated with ‘pay as you throw’ – fears of invasion of privacy, cost, increase in fly-tipping, etc. ‘Pay as you throw’ was a typically New Labour authoritarian measure. Credit where it’s due, the Tories’ preferred ‘recycling reward’ scheme, piloted by Windsor and Maidenhead council, in which residents are paid for boosting their home recycling seems to be a far more liberal (and successful) approach to reducing landfill.

My only problem is this: why does the government feel it’s any of their business to tell local authorities how to run their rubbish and recycling services? These are local council services, and responsibility should be left with them – if a council, whether Labour, Lib Dem or Tory, wants to try out ‘pay as you throw’ why should central government try and stop them? It’s a matter between the council and its residents, who have the power to mete out their punishment at the ballot box if they don’t like it.

Nick Clegg has commented that the Lib-Con coalition has found itself surprisingly united on the issue of ‘localism’ – placing local people more in control of their own lives. Yet the Tories persist with interfering in the basic services which councils run, and are standing by their poorly thought through pledge to freeze council tax – another assault on local councils to set budgets and run services as they wish rather than as Whitehall wishes.

As so often with the Tories, their localism is very surface, and seems to amount to little more than telling local authorities to copy the policies of Tory councils they approve of.