David Laws says Councils should charge for bin collections. Or does he?

Refuse collection bin lorry LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by bilbobagweedToday’s Telegraph says “David Laws: Councils should charge for bin collections

It’s a headline designed to get you imagining piles of uncollected rubbish on the streets when people don’t pay.  It’s designed to invoke all of your senses. The smell of waste left to putrify in the noonday sun, that tell-tale sound of scurrying little rodent feet, and then the sight of pink-eyed, hungry rats. Everywhere.

That unmistakeable smell of decay is already in your nostrils, isn’t it?

Ugh.

The report is about evidence given by Laws and Oliver Letwin to the Commons Public Administration Committee yesterday. The verbatim report of the evidence is, at the time of writing, not yet up on the website, but you would think that the paper would justify a headline like that with an actual quote about bins. This is the best they can do from Laws’ evidence:

There are some local authorities that because the central government grant has been cut or frozen are seeking to raise more money from those areas that are more under their control locally.

I’m sure that’s not the vision that every local authority would want because that involves some painful decisions for them locally which are not always popular.

But it seems to me that type of trend through whichever route is one which we ought to be seeking to encourage in future so that local authorities can take a degree of responsibility for themselves rather than constantly looking to central government.

It’s mentioned by the paper that some councils are charging for recycling (an entirely counter-productive move if you ask me, given that we want people to recycle) and garden waste, but the idea of charging for the grey bin collection does not seem to be anywhere near the radar. There would be public health implications of such a move and I can’t see this being an option for any sensible council.

What Laws did seem to be talking about is that Councils should do a bit more revenue raising locally and that they should decide how they did it. Isn’t that what localism is all about?

The Telegraph is reading stuff into Laws’ words that simply isn’t there.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • Andrew Tennant 19th Mar '14 - 11:03am

    If councils want to give people the option of purchasing specific services directly and opting out of a mandatory council tax then I’m all for that.

    Somehow though I think they’d rather charge us again for something we’ve already been forced to pay for once.

  • If I did have to pay for my bins to be emptied, as a non-driver without children I would really struggle to work out what I was paying my local council £1000 a year for!

    If Laws thinks “that Councils should do a bit more revenue raising locally and that they should decide how they did it”, what’s wrong with raising it through local taxation (or ideally through a fairer system of local taxation), rather than through regressive charges for local services?

  • This is circulating round Facebook this morning through Tom Watson’s timeline and people are really laying in to David Laws.

  • Peter Chegwyn 19th Mar '14 - 11:47am

    Phyllis – I’m not surprised!

    David Laws should make it very clear, very quickly, that he is NOT suggesting councils charge for waste collection otherwise thousands of Lib. Dem. council candidates this May are going to have to respond to Labour / Tory claims that he IS suggesting charging for waste collections.

    Not helpful!

  • People aren’t angry about the misleading headline though. (Although I accept that that is the Telegraph’s agenda.) The problem is the offensive tone of the final sentence, which seems (seems) to be blaming local authorities for looking for central government: this is only workable if central government ‘stops constantly looking to local government to deliver all its policies for free’ whilst not paying. (Maybe local authorities should start invoicing central government for the costs of policies and/or restrictions imposed by the Secretary of State.)

  • I’m anything but a fan of David Laws, but he is certainly not foolish enough for this to be as “quoted”….

  • Today’s Telegraph says “David Laws: Councils should charge for bin collections“

    Except that’s not what the headline says. It says “David Laws: Councils should charge for services like bin collections”!

  • Worryingly, some of the posters commenting on Facebook. Seem to think he is a Tory! Or ‘typical Tory twit’ to be more precise!

  • Gwyn Williams 19th Mar '14 - 1:28pm

    The answer to the Telegraph is that Councils already charge for bin collections through the Council Tax. If we reexamined our proposals for hypothecation of tax bills , the most obvious justification for a property tax such as Council tax is its direct link to a service which is directly connected to a household such as bin collection.

  • Geoffrey Payne 19th Mar '14 - 1:35pm

    All that David Laws has to do is to deny the policy that the DT is accusing him of supporting.
    On the more general point, whatever the council charges for must not have a regressive effect. If we can agree on that point, then I am not clear what councils are meant to be doing that they are not already.
    On the other hand, if the proposal is to force councils to charge poor people for services, then that is unacceptable.
    We shall have to wait and see I guess.

  • If people want to hear for themselves what David Laws said, it can be found here at 32.40 (the transcript in the Telegraph isn’t particularly accurate):
    http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=15109

    The statement quoted above was followed by a supplementary question from Sheila Gilmore:

    “But I mean what you’re really then talking about is charging, which tends to be directed very much at the people who need services most.”

    Laws: “Well, it can be, but not all charging is necessarily regressive, and some of it may be a rational way of councils getting revenue in …”

    So it’s clear that Laws was including charging in the trend he wanted to encourage. And given the opportunity to dissociate himself from regressive charging, he didn’t do so.

  • Phyllis 19th Mar ’14 – 1:09pm
    Worryingly, some of the posters commenting on Facebook. Seem to think he is a Tory! Or ‘typical Tory twit’ to be more precise!

    Phyllis, It is indeed worrying but it is not an unreasonable assessment of David Laws’ political beliefs. As is pointed out by the actual quote highlighted by Chris —

    Chris 19th Mar ’14 – 2:19pm
    Laws: “Well, it can be, but not all charging is necessarily regressive, and some of it may be a rational way of councils getting revenue in …”

    So it’s clear that Laws was including charging in the trend he wanted to encourage. And given the opportunity to dissociate himself from regressive charging, he didn’t do so.

  • David Blake 19th Mar '14 - 8:24pm

    I pay for my collection through my council tax – and an additional amount for garden waste. There are lots of council services I don’t use, but that’s the way things are. To propose this would be madness.

  • The words of David Laws that you quote, Caron, are pretty meaningless. Are there more words from his “evidence”? It would seem strange to say these opaque words and NOT have some sort of agenda for change, particularly bearing in mind Laws’s Orange Book history.

    Remember that it was the Thatcher agenda under poll tax to transfer more and more services away from taxed to charged individually. We as Lib Dems opposed those moves for good reason. If, indeed this IS David Laws’s current thinking, it is dangerously close to Thatcherism.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Mar '14 - 5:41pm

    Why on earth was Laws giving evidence about refuse collection? I thought he is an education minister?

    Councils can charge for “extra” refuse collection services such as garden waste and special collections of bulky items, and most do in some way or other. (Pendle still resists charging for the latter thanks to our Liberal campaigning over the years).

    It is, I think, not legal to charge for routine grey (residual) waste collection from households (collection from commercial premises are usualloy charged for). I don’t think such charges will be in our manifesto!

    Tony

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