Are we ready to scrap democracy when it comes to local services and just pay as you go?

Interesting comment piece lifted from today’s Times (thank you).  It only discusses refuse collections, but should it be applied to every service we receive?  If the public just paid the going rate for the services they receive, with the private sector running things for profit, there would be no need for any political involvement.

Just as you now complain to ‘the company’ when the service isn’t up to scratch, you would then complain to the organisation that runs the refuse collection service, or whatever other service it is.  What response you get, is of course another matter.  After all, the person on the other end of the phone is in a ‘job’, not elected to a seat you can either vote to keep them in, or not.

However, the bigger problem for me with this proposal, is the same as happens whenever you outsource any public facing service – loss of flexibility and control.  Once the private sector get their hands on the contract,mother customer can so easily become the lamb to slaughter when it comes to changing circumstances.  Anything that’s not in the contract comes with a price tag.  There’s nothings wrong with that in itself, after all they are running a business not a charity.

So as long as the public understand that’s how things work and there’s very little politicians can do about it without increasing the budget for the contract, it’s fine.  Unfortunately, the public seldom do and the politicians are therefore get the flak.  The alternative of course, is that the contract ends up being more costly than it needed to be, just to build in the contingency funds needed to cover for the unknown and offer the desired flexibility.  What follows of course is the potential for the contractor to exploit that flexibility whenever the opportunity arises, more often than not to their own ends.

I take particular issue with one of the commentators suggestion.  That having taken away the ability to provide the service to a standard that is universal and consistent for the local community, the council’s role would then become that of enforcer against those who refused to conform to the new arrangement and in fact chose to save money by not disposing of their rubbish often enough.

If nothing else, two things are clear. This gentleman has never been a councillor, he’s a business man first and first foremost with little, or no understanding of the public service ethic.

Dump the idea of council-controlled bin collection, it’s time to privatise

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Pundits and politicians have been seeking to interpret the results of last week’s local elections. This has increasingly involved contorted meta-analyses whereby the challenge is not so much to look at the electoral outcomes themselves, but to compare the tallies with the degree of optimism or pessimism expressed by each party before polling day.

“Expectations management” has therefore become a necessary tool in the armoury of every spin doctor. If your party’s result is mediocre, but you persuaded people it would be pathetic, this is notched up as an electoral triumph. The consequence is that no one seems to agree objectively on who did well and who did badly or what Thursday’s poll means for the national political picture.

In one area, however, there has been an unbreakable consensus. The central explanatory force for many of the results was, apparently, the quality of local refuse collection. “Bin collection is fundamental,” Tom Brake, a Lib Dem MP, asserted in a television interview to knowing nods from his fellow panellists. “This was about bins not Brexit,” insisted Anna Soubry, a Tory MP, without challenge from the BBC’s interviewer. If the English electorate really did cast their ballots in an attempt to optimise the efficiency of the emptying of dustbins, they have acted in a rational, albeit rather narrow, fashion. Our local councils do not have any direct influence on whether we stay in a customs union with the EU, but they are responsible for picking up our rubbish.

What we should be asking is whether we really need refuse collection to continue to be a competence of municipal government at all or whether we can rely on the open market providing a better service. We don’t troop down to a church or school hall every four years to vote on how our council should provide us with an electricity supply or a telephone connection, so why should we entrust them with picking up our bins?

Perhaps this core responsibility of local government has been with us so long that we have become inured against questioning it. The Public Health Act 1875 first made it a legal obligation for councils to empty bins. In 1936, this statutory duty was strengthened to insist collections must be weekly. That specific requirement was relaxed in 1974 and the frequency with which our bins are emptied has continued to be a highly charged campaigning issue. Latest figures show that about 1 million households, and over 2.5 million residents, are forced to accept rubbish collections only every three or four weeks. The proportion of homes receiving weekly collections has fallen by more than a third since the turn of the decade. Many will point to the squeeze on local government financing, but surely improved technologies should be enabling councils to achieve more with less?

On the face of it, there are some credible reasons for refuse collection to be run by the public sector. First, it has the standard features of a natural monopoly. If a dumpster is travelling around a particular district anyway, then the associated costs of picking up all of the rubbish, rather than just from a proportion of residences, is fairly minimal. Second, there are obvious negative externality effects in play. Typically, I don’t much care how my neighbours arrange their household budgets, but if they do start to save money by allowing stinking refuse to pile up in their front garden, then my quality of life is impacted. The key question is whether new technologies and more imaginative public policy can overcome these inbuilt problems and allow a competitive market to solve the problem of collecting and disposing of household waste. The evidence is that they can.

About ten years ago, before the explosion of the gig economy, a research report by the neoliberal Adam Smith Institute concluded that moving to a privatised “pay as you throw” approach would have widespread benefits. Rather than relying on their council tax to pay for local government bin collections, households would pay privately in broad proportion to the waste they generate and the frequency with which it is collected. The report concluded that the impact on incentives would lead to an increase in recycling by 50 per cent, a reduction in the need for landfill of about 16 per cent, a cut in carbon emissions of millions of tonnes a year and a reduction in average bills. With the enhanced ability to transmit and collect data that we now have in 2018, these improvements would be likely to be even greater today.

New technologies could also help overcome fears that some people might be tempted to save money by fly tipping or allowing enormous amounts of refuse to build up before arranging a collection. Households could be charged with a specific minimal legal duty akin to the requirement for drivers to have basic motor insurance. It would be far easier to spot which homes had gone for many weeks without their rubbish being picked up than it would have been a decade or two ago. Councils might still be charged with carrying out appropriate enforcement processes, but this doesn’t mean they should be in control of the practicalities of collecting waste.

In a world in which we can book a taxi or order a takeaway meal and expect delivery within a matter of minutes, we can surely find a way to unleash the forces of the market to find cheaper and smarter ways to handle waste collection and disposal.

Politicians of all stripes have been insisting that a key driver of last Thursday’s vote was the electorate’s approach to “bread and butter issues”. The catchphrase is, of course, a misnomer. Fortunately, our bread and butter are provided through market mechanisms and not by local government bureaucracies. In a more rational world, we would be treating bin collections in the same way.

Mark Littlewood is director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Twitter: @MarkJLittlewood

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At last, somebody puts in print my own thoughts exactly

Copied from Sunday Telegraph 31 Dec 2017

Let those filling up drunk tanks pick up the tab by Daniel Hannan

Shakespeare, and most likely Falstaff – played above by Sir Antony Sher – would recognise modern-day attitudes to public drinking CREDIT: ROBBIE JACK/CORBIS
The announcement that “drunk tanks” may be rolled out across the UK has prompted amused headlines around the world. I’m afraid we have something of a global reputation when it comes to alcohol abuse. “This heavy-headed revel east and west makes us traduced and tax’d of other nations,” as the poet says. “They clepe us drunkards”.
In our own day, as in Shakespeare’s, we display an unusual attitude to inebriation. In most countries, being drunk in public is disgraceful. The notion that young Brits boast about how hammered they got the night before is met with incredulity in much of Europe.
But here’s the thing. Contrary to the impression you’d get from this week’s headlines – or, indeed, any headlines over the past decade – boozing is becoming less of a problem in the UK. Take any measure you like – binge drinking, overall consumption, alcohol-related crimes. All are in decline.
Why? Partly because, in November 2005, we ended the rule that forced pubs to stop serving at 11pm. It was controversial at the time. The tabloids prophesied societal collapse. The Daily Mail warned against “unbridled hedonism, with all the ghastly consequences that will follow.” The Sun foresaw a “swarm of drunken youngsters.” The Royal College of Physicians predicted “more excess and binge drinking, especially among young people.”
In the event, the opposite happened. Binge drinking among 16 to 24-year- olds sank from 29 to 18 per cent. Overall alcohol sales declined by 17 per cent. Alcohol-related hospital admissions fell sharply. It turned out that forcing drinkers to beat the bell, racing to get a final pint in at last orders, was not a sensible way to discourage consumption. Giving people more responsibility, on the other hand, encouraged them to behave more responsibly.
I suspect the creation of innumerable virtual universes over the past decade has also played its part. Although parents complain about how much time their children spend on screens, that is time that previous generations often spent on more directly harmful addictions. The rise of online gaming and social media has probably also played a part in the reduction of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases – two other developments that bear little relation to popular worries.
The increased use of police facilities or dedicated buses as places where drunks can dry out should be seen for what it is. Not as a response to some new epidemic of crapulous misbehaviour, but as a sensible way of ensuring that A & E facilities are there for the genuinely ill and injured. Being drunk, after all, is not a disease, but a consequence of choices. It is quite wrong to load the cost onto the taxpayer. The people filling the drunk tanks should be presented with the bill for their stay after they sober up.
The Englishman may, as Shakespeare put it, drink with facility the Dane dead drunk, and sweat not to overthrow the Almain. The least he can do is pick up his tab.

Some insight into why our competitive edge will always be blunt

A couple of weeks ago now, I was in the company of a number of senior people from one of of our major national developers.  We were all at attending a conference and  they were representing the sponsor of that evening’s conference dinner.

it was fast approaching midnight in the bar and the mood was jocular and relaxed with plentry of banter between politicians and developers present, as one might expect.  The conversation turned to the skills shortage and in particular the shortage of bricklayers in their industry.  In another life one of the politicians had been a builder, so was quick to agree with the developers’ complaints about the national apprenticeship scheme used to train brickies.

I won’t bore you with the details of their complaint, but suffice to say, that anything involving the principles of good bricklaying, was totally pointless when it came to training bricklayers, in their collective opinions.  As far as those in the know were concerned, it should only take a couple of months at the most to ‘knock out’ a capable bricky.

On the face of it, many people would sympathise with any employer who objected to paying for staff to be trained to a depth they believed would never be used ‘in anger’ so to speak, which of course is why these developers were complaining about apprenticeships for bricklayers.

However, if the belief that the absolute minimum will do when it comes to skills training, is common across all industries that make or build things in this country, we will always lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to increasing national productivity and therefore competitiveness.

The Germans have a far greater respect for non-academic skills than there has ever been in this country.  A qualified engineer in Germany is given the title Herr Doctor to acknowledge their skill and training for example.  Of course I’m not suggesting that all our young Waynes, Jacks, Jills and Johns should now be trained to the level of Herr Doctor Bricky.

However, if you give a young person a good grounding in their chosen career, then they are more likely to aspire to go further than where they started when they first started work.  There are plenty of 30+, or even 40+ tradesmen and women out there doing exactly what they were doing when they were 20, but could now be doing so much more, had they had the right training at the start of their careers.

Teaching somebody more than just how to lay one brick after another in a straight line, until somebody tells you to stop and go back to the beginning and start again, should be welcomed as an investment in our country’s future, not resented as an annoying delay in building your bottom line at the end of the financial year.

Short-termism infects every area of government and private industry in this country – at least government has the partial excuse of the election cycle for this.  This continues to put us on the back foot when it comes to competing with the competition globally.

Is it that the public recycle more when they have no choice?

Well done to Bury MBC for having the courage to introduce 3 weekly waste collections.  I would however like to know what sort of figures they have for contamination of their recycling stream and how the public feel about recycling in principle?  Are residents recycling because they have no choice, or are they doing with enthusiasm, because they feel it’s the right thing to do?  

If the public are recycling more, because they have no choice – you can only get so much in a 140 litre wheelie bin – then it rather proves the theory that the carrot and stick approach works just as well when you only have the stick!

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Three weekly collection boosts recycling rates7 August, 2015 | By Jack Loughran

Bury MBC has announced a 10% jump in recycling rates following the introduction of three-weekly collections for non-recyclable waste.
Latest figures from October 2014 to May this year show that residual waste was down by almost 4,000 tonnes and the overall recycling rate had risen to 57.5%, LGC’s sister title Materials Recycling World reports.

This led to an increase of around 1,500 tonnes of recyclates collected: paper and cardboard up by 454 tonnes; metal tins and plastic (466 tonnes) and organic material (644 tonnes).

Cllr Tony Isherwood, cabinet member for environment, said the figures showed that the new system had been successful.

“Residents should be proud of the part that they have played in improving Bury’s recycling rates,” he said. “The cost to dispose of one tonne of grey bin waste has risen by £24 to £308 per tonne, huge costs which we can avoid if we recycle all we can and put the right waste in the right bin.

“This is vital, when the council is facing yet another year of multi-million pound cuts. Every penny that we save through recycling is a penny less that we have to cut from other frontline services.”

In March, Falkirk Council became the first in the UK to fully switch to three-weekly residual collections.
As a result of the new regime, food waste collection increased by 75% with up to 9,000 tonnes of food waste diverted from landfill. It intends to introduce four-weekly collections in 2016.

Timely and welcome support from my fellow ward member

This is the text of a letter submitted by my fellow ward member, councillor Christine Lawton, to our local press.

“I am pleased that something amuses Mr Cronin, although I did not find his unhelpful attitude at the steering group which looked at the possibilities of building a community centre for Wygate at all funny. On the question of delay perhaps he should consider “motes and beams”.   

As to his central question “Why are the residents being restricted to a building?”, the simple answer is that the 106 money from developer was for a community building.  Like my predecessor (before your time Mr Cronin) I too am a simple soul – I believe that a facility which could accommodate such excellent groups as cubs, WI, dancing classes for children, a meeting place for the retired would be in principle a fine idea.  That is why the Wygate community is being surveyed  (by an independent charity) to ascertain the wishes and desires of the local residents.  That sounds pretty democratic to me!

I value team-work and loyalty and wish to associate myself with the efforts of Cllr Gambba-Jones and others in this attempt to discover the appetite for a centre for Wygate residents.  Let the people decide – it works for me.”

I’ve taken the liberty of adding the link to Wikipedia for those, like myself, who are unfamiliar with the parable, or just read the panel below.  I couldn’t have said it better myself – no actually, my education doesn’t stretch that far, so I couldn’t have said it at all; thank heavens for Christine!

Top Tory leaders admit doubts over right-to-buy extension

For all those people who think we dance to the Party’s tune on every issue, below is an article that tells a different story.

I echo Gary’s concerns and fear that the ordinary working class people, that the cities depend on to run it’s services and pander to the needs of the rich and powerful who can afford to buy a home, no matter the price, will soon be banished to locations, not even classed as the suburbs, by this sort of policy.  London will undoubtedly lead the way, with social housing within the M25, often falling foul of the ‘most expensive on the books’ category.

Without stringent controls on these proposed sales, such as a profit claw-back clause, if the house is sold into the private sector with a certain number of years, or changes to the capital gains taxation rules, the only social housing available, will be on remote sink estates, in the back of beyond and populated by people that have no other choice available to them.  Underlying all of this, is the implausible suggestion that the sales will fund their replacement with modern, cheaper housing.  The numbers don’t add up, especially as the proposal is for the government to manage the redistribution.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online article of 21 April, 2015 

By David Paine

 Two senior Conservative politicians have expressed doubts about their party’s proposal to extend the right-to-buy, as it emerged housing minister Kris Hopkins had previously warned the policy could mean a huge cost to the public purse.  The Conservative manifesto, published last week, said the party would force councils to sell off their most valuable homes to pay for a new right-to-buy for housing association tenants.
However, the proposal was met with widespread opposition with the National Housing Federation claiming it would make it more difficult for housing associations to borrow to build more homes. These concerns appeared to be shared by Mr Hopkins in a letter he sent to Tessa Munt, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Wells, in October 2013.
In it he said if housing associations were “obliged to consistently sell off their stock at less than market value they might find it difficult to borrow” and added that could “impact adversely” on investment in existing properties and “affect the future provision of affordable housing”.  Mr Hopkins’ letter added the government at the time did not “consider that it would be reasonable to require housing associations to sell these properties at a discount” as extending the scheme could result in “a high liability for the public purse”.
In response, Mr Hopkins said his letter showed “we would look at expanding home ownership through extending right-to-buy” and added his party’s “sensible, affordable” proposal would “ensure that housing associations are compensated”.  The maximum discount under right-to-buy on council properties is £77,900 across England, except in London boroughs where it’s £103,900.
Leader of the Local Government Association Conservative group Gary Porter told LGC he had “not fully bought in to the party’s position” while Kent CC’s leader Paul Carter told LGC he had “some empathy” with housing associations that face losing homes.  Cllr Carter said he was “a great believer in home ownership” but thought the way to “encourage more housing to be built” was to invest in infrastructure, especially transport.
Cllr Porter, leader of South Holland DC, said the right-to-buy was a “great idea and long overdue for homes that were built with public money” but added: “If they weren’t built with public money then they shouldn’t be touched, it shouldn’t apply.”  Catherine Ryder, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, told LGC legislation would almost certainly have to be amended or introduced as housing associations are currently exempt from right-to-buy due to their charitable status.
Ms Ryder said extending the right-to-buy could impact on housing associations’ ability to borrow “even if the discounts are funded”. She said: “If you’re selling off your assets the certainty of your income is more difficult to predict so it’s going to be more difficult to borrow money to build new affordable homes.”  She also questioned how quickly high-value properties sold off by councils to fund the scheme would be replaced and where they would be built.
A recent survey by the Local Government Association, Chartered Institute of Housing, and the National Federation of ALMOs found only half or fewer of homes sold under the existing right-to-buy for council homes had been replaced.

There’ll be no enlightenment from this Dark(ness)

litter chase not text

‘An officer of the district council, should follow somebody they see carrying a drinks can and when they drop it, they should give them an on the spot fine’. Cllr Graham Dark at a full council meeting.

According to this weeks edition of  Spalding Voice Graham Dark wishes to enlighten people on the subject of litter.

Using the letters page, this independent councillor and dedicated navel gazer,  has decided to get an early start to his 2015 re-election campaign.  He does this with a very brief offering of praise for the litter picking efforts of a young Conservatives group, all with Sandra and Tony White, dedicated and tenacious Spalding residents.

However, the real purpose of his politically motivated letter, is to attack the council’s Conservative group and in particular myself, as the cabinet member for waste and recycling.

Councillor Dark appears to be obsessed with use of tickets and fines, obviously a left over from his days as a police officer.  Unfortunately, his time as a cop hasn’t given him any understanding of the difference between having a robust policy and actually having sufficient resources to apply it regularly – certainly not to the extent he desires.  In fact, this desire is so compelling, he seems willing to see other council services suffer, in order to satisfy it.

Cllr Dark, having seen his previous obsession, a bandstand in Ayscoughfee Gardens gain financial support via Springfield’s s106 monies, has now turned his myopic gaze towards litter and the catching of those who drop it.  His repeated references to one thing in particular, enforcement, is becoming a little tedious.

I accept that, some years ago, an undertaking was made to empower certain council officers, to serve fixed penalty notices on littering offenders.  In practice, this was never a realistic option, given that few, if any, of our officers were ever in a position to witness, let alone act, when such offences occurred.  I am of course assuming that cllr Dark wasn’t expecting these officers to do this enforcement in their lunch breaks, but one can never be sure, when it comes to a member of the Independent group, as they seldom allow reality to get in the way of a bright idea.

I may of course be wrong on this last point because, if memory serves, at a recent full council meeting, he made the quite extraordinary suggestion, that potential litter droppers should be ‘stalked’ by suitably empowered council officers.

Graham Dark considers it acceptable for a professional Housing, Planning, or Environmental Health officers, to wander the streets of Spalding, looking out for anybody with a drinks can in hand.  The officer would then follow that person, keeping a careful watch on them and this potentially source of litter.  Should that person discard their can improperly, the officer would pounce on them, book of fixed penalty notices in hand, no doubt crying, ‘your nicked’, or something similar.  How far and for how long this stalking had to take place is unclear.  Suffice it to say, this procedure will not be written in to the council’s robust littering policy, anytime soon.

Incidentally, Graham Dark and his partner in crime Roger Perkins, are both members of a committee that has the role of scrutinising the council’s performance.  Despite this, at no time in their ‘years’ of allegedly banging on about it, have they bothered to get the issue of litter enforcement placed on the agenda of that committee, so that the council’s so called, ‘abysmal performance’ can be properly scrutinised.  I wonder if Graham Dark would care to enlighten me on the reason for this?

Littering is a serious problem and  a blight on our towns and villages. With its larger population and busier streets, Spalding suffers the most problems and presents the greatest challenges.

Finally, can I enlighten you as to what the future might hold.   There has been a major reduction in local government funding, due to the previous Labour government’s mismanagement of the economy.  As such, I cannot promise to commit any more resources to this problem, than those currently available.  We are however, doing our best to encourage and support the sort of community involvement and pride displayed by Jack McLean, young Conservatives, and Sandra and Tony White.  If you would like to offer your help, please do get in touch.