Seán Newman got into trouble with the Conservatives last night by referring to
Bexley’s new bin tax. Some Tories jeered every time he said it. It’s hard to say who
was responsible when the view is
dominated by backs of heads but I would guess that
councillors John Davey and Geraldene Lucia-Hennis were not entirely innocent.
The Tories said that bin charges were not a tax because no one has to pay. Seán was being provocative of course and the bin charges are not a tax just like the TV Licence is not a tax because you don’t have to install a TV, stamp duties are not taxes because you don’t have to buy shares or houses, fuel duty is not a tax because you don’t have to drive car and by the same logic VAT on gas and electricity is not a tax because you are free to freeze to death if that is your choice.
Bin charges are a stealth tax in all but name. They are being imposed to raise money.
However given that the previous Labour government, the present coalition, Bexley council or the tooth fairy have messed up local finances to an extent never seen before, cuts and increased charges and new taxes are probably inevitable and on the matter of refuse collections Bexley’s proposed scheme is as good as any and better than most.
The Listening Council has ignored the recently concluded consultation which was expected. Bexley has never done anything else. 77% of respondents were against the charges. The final decision will be taken at Public Cabinet next Monday.
The essential information is that by 5th October all the 140 litre brown bins will have gone and replaced by 240 litre bins for those who have paid £33 for 25 collections a year. The new service will commence on that date with collection days revised.
The £33 tax charge will be discounted to £27 if you pay by 31st August. (£30 before 31st December 2015.) I suspect that is for the first year only but no councillor thought to scrutinise that point.
New bin lorries (the old ones were scheduled for replacement this year) will be equipped with technology to show the crew where to go and it was said, save them going to addresses where there is no garden waste bin. However it may not help so much in winter. Outside the growing season I tend not to use my existing brown bin. All food waste gets composted. In which bin should I put the dead potato plants which may still have a few unwanted potatoes attached? Food waste or garden waste?
A separate free 20 litre bin will be provided for food waste collected weekly. Those who can’t tell food from garden waste and contaminate bins will be fined but to be fair you would have to be stupid or intent on sabotage to get a fixed penalty notice or be hauled before the courts.
The old bins will be recycled and are expected to raise about £1 each, just enough to cover the collection and maybe distribution costs.
The price of £33 a year is lower than most boroughs but will obviously do nothing to reduce the level of fly tipping. The responsible cabinet member (Don Massey) and director (Mike Frizoni) said this had not happened elsewhere. It transpired that they were comparing Bexley’s proposal with Guildford (£30 a year) and Woking (£35 a year).
In former days Guildford was my nearest large shopping centre and I had friends in Woking and went through it every day on the train. Bexley has nothing in common with either. Both Surrey towns are firmly in stock broker country with large gardens and large bank balances. They achieved an in excess of 40% bin take up rate.
Nearby Bromley has managed only 15% albeit with a more expensive service but Bexley will be lucky to achieve their expected 40% adoption rate. The financial break even point is about 23%.
The new service is enhanced compared to the old one, though it all comes at a cost. Affluent keen gardeners may have up to five 240 litre bins, the extras being charged at £30 a piece and the less well heeled may take their waste to the recycling centres, if they own a car and can find a day on which a centre is open.
While Labour councillors Borella, Ezenwata, Newman and Begho all asked questions or made comments the Conservatives did not appear to be seriously interested in scrutiny.
Councillor Louie French asked four questions all of which would have been unnecessary if he had bothered to read the agenda, as I had during the more boring periods earlier in the meeting. He was concerned about bin swapping but only paid up residents will have a bin so it’s hard to think what councillor French had in mind. Mr. Frizoni was too polite to do anything but answer the questions.
There was at one stage some rather poor arithmetic bandied around by the Labour contingent. They assumed that a 40% take up on garden waste bins would result in 60% of waste (around 8,000 tonnes a year) left uncollected to be burned or be dumped in alleys. Clearly this is false logic; the take up will be by those who produce the most waste. Anything else would be nonsense. So a 40% take up rate should ensure far more than 40% of waste is collected. How much is unknown but if the take up rate was as poor as in Bromley there might well be a problem, but Bexley people have been good at recycling in the past so lots of fingers are being crossed.
Cabinet member Don Massey, not known for diplomacy, said that Labour members were talking “nonsense”. The episode prompted the millionaire from Sevenoaks to take to Twitter. Later on councillor Don Massey made condescending remarks about Endy Ezenwata being a very new councillor and therefore had no knowledge of the past.
Councillor John Davey wasn’t interested in scrutiny but like Ms. Firth was keen to make a political point. He said that Labour would be happy to raise council tax by up to 30% to maintain services as they were. Someone tell him about the 2% referendum limit please. One day I will hear something sensible pass John Davey’s lips.
Councillor June Slaughter spoke in favour of the scheme given the financial situation - much the same position as my own - while councillor Val Clark confined herself to making sarcastic comments about the opposition party.
Mr. Frizoni was confident that the new arrangements will provide a better service and one must hope he is right. Those without a spare thirty three quid may think otherwise.
Bexley will claim that their new money making scheme is something wonderful and environmentally friendly while glossing over the fact that it has once again degraded the quality of life in the borough. Everything they do does. That tooth fairy has a lot to answer for.
I suspect I will not be alone with my dilemma. My green general rubbish bin accumulates at most four supermarket carrier bags in a normal fortnight. I have to hook them to the top of the bin because bin men won’t reach to the bottom to take them. There must be at least 200 litres of air in the bin at the end of two weeks which would be more than enough to take all my garden waste hidden in a black sack. What should I do?
I think I will pay my £27 for the first year and regard it as ‘professional interest’ to see at first hand how good, bad or indifferent the new service is.