Throwing away localism?
Unless you’ve been buried under the nation’s burgeoning mountain of waste, which apparently is spilling over from landfills to cover our streets and will continue to do so unless it’s disposed of weekly, you will have heard that the government have made a bit of a u-turn when it comes to the issue of weekly bin collections.
Eric Pickles has been championing the case for weekly bin collections for years now, and decided that there was no way he was going to sit back and allow local authorities to decide for themselves how often the rubbish should be collected in their areas. After all, they can’t possibly know what local people really want or how much better weekly collections would be, so he issued something of an announcement to say that it would be so: weekly bin collections for all.
The thing is, nobody managed to explain to him that this might cost a few quid. In fact, it might cost around £140million, or about 7927ish experienced staff nurses (I’ve always wanted to find an opportunity to describe things in this way, ever since local government “waste” started being described in such terms).
Most residents if asked would they like weekly bin collections would no doubt say yes – after all, the quicker rubbish can be swept away, the sooner they can disregard it and stop considering the impact their consumption habits might have on the environment. However, ask them if they are happy it costing the nation over £140m in the first year alone I’m sure many might start wondering if it is money well spent. Even if this figure is exaggerated somewhat, the true figure could still stretch into the tens of millions, which is a significant enough figure.
Weekly bin collections are a wonderful thing, but surely by insisting on providing them unilaterally we are stripping local government of the ability to decide what is best for its own residents? In one fell swoop we are taking away one of the tools available to encourage recycling, and we are effectively saying that central government do not trust local government to do what it sees as the best thing.
Mr. Pickles has been pushing for localism and espousing its virtues to all and sundry, as long as whatever is being discussed is something on which he agrees. When some got upset about local government having too much say over the planning process he introduced community based planning powers. When some said local government were not able to more easily develop a strong local economy along came discretionary business rate discounts and tax breaks.
However, when some complained about local government publicising the work it does through a council newspaper in swooped a new code to stop this at once. And now Councils have the temerity to want to decide for themselves how often they need to collect their bins?! Well, we’ll see about that…
We’ve discussed before the challenges that real localism faces, and how in some circumstances a wider view of an issue needs to be taken: in this bloggers opinion, bin collection is not one of these issues. Localism has the potential to hand real power to local people and local government, but at the moment it feels like it is the equivalent of buying your children a pet. As long as they follow every one of your instructions they can be in charge of it, but as soon as they think of a different way of doing something it comes straight back to become your responsibility once more.
If my Council decides that fortnightly collection is the right thing to do, then as long as it is consistent I will simply have to work around this. If this is combined with more regular recycling collections, perhaps I might even go further in my efforts to recycle. I do not need to have the DCLG fighting my corner here, nor do I see it as an undeniable right to be able to throw away yesterday’s tikka masala. For one thing, I’d prefer to have more important things on my important list of rights, and for another I shouldn’t have any tikka masala to throw away!
I appreciate that the DCLG and Mr. Pickles both have a vital role to play in ensuring that local government runs smoothly, and that their aims of handing more power to local government is a welcome one. However, more thought needs to go into what things are of regional import or are procedural issues, and which ones should certainly fall under the power of local authorities. The more often central government interferes with the latter, the less trust we will all have that they have any intention of paying anything more than lip service to true localism.
And that would be rubbish.