THE local garden waste consultation has been called a ‘shambles’ after Wiltshire Council completely disregarded its results.
The online consultation, which ran from July until October last year, was designed to use public opinion to help restructure the way green waste is collected. The original fortnightly free collections are to be scrapped due to funding cuts.
Local residents could choose one of three options; a three month yearly suspension during winter months, a five month suspension, or a chargeable year-round service.
Now, with the results showing that a winter break was by far the favoured choice, Wiltshire Council is proposing to disregard this and introduce a £40 charge to have your green bin collected. Now critics are asking what is the point of the survey if the decision is being totally disregarded? The criticism has meant that Jane Scott, leader of Wiltshire Council, has issued a hurried apology for the council’s handling of the issue.
“It is unfortunate that we need to propose charging for garden waste collections; particularly after we consulted with people about changes to this service last year. The reality is we now know that the budget situation is more challenging than when we carried out the consultation.
“I want to apologise to everyone who took the time to respond to the consultation and that the questions that were asked did not reflect the financial situation that we now face.
“Our key priorities are to continue to protect those who are most vulnerable, boost the local economy and improve the services that are most important to our local communities; such as roads maintenance.
“I hope that people will understand that we have some really tough choices to make and that making proposals for savings are never easy. This is the reality of local government in the present climate and we have to look at every opportunity to make savings and generate income.
“I would urge people to help by ensuring that they continue to reduce their waste and recycle more.”
Wiltshire Council’s Liberal Democrats leader cllr Jon Hubbard called the decision “a false economy which will lead to significant increased costs elsewhere.”
He continued, “People will start disposing of garden waste via alternative means that will cost the council more, such as fly tipping or adding garden waste to standard household waste collections. Not everyone is able to have a compost bin or bio degrader in their gardens,”
“This Green Bin Tax will hit households’ already stretched budgets hard.
“What’s more, the Conservatives have chosen to ignore the results of their own consultation, which clearly showed that Wiltshire residents would prefer to see a cutback in the service, with collections suspended during the winter months, rather than the imposition of a new tax.
“As usual we have seen the Conservatives ignore what the people are saying and choosing to do their own thing. I have today written to the cabinet member responsible to ask how much the consultation that they chose to ignore cost Wiltshire Council tax payers to fund, and what the new administrative costs will be for maintaining the new paid-for service.”
In a letter to The Melksham Independent News fellow Wiltshire councillor Helen Osborn expressed similar concerns.
Cllr Osborn said, “The results of the Wiltshire Council consultation showed that the vast majority of the electorate voted in favour of a three month suspension of the collection of green waste.
“Conservative-run Wiltshire Council failed to take this into account and have decided to make further cuts to the green waste collection by charging £40 per year for a service that up to now has been free.
“This decision has made a mockery of the consultation process, when the public clearly said they preferred the service to be suspended for 3 months during the winter.
“This is another cut too many. I intend to listen to local residents who were in favour of the 3 month suspension, but I feel sure that the Conservatives will vote for this regardless of the wishes of the electors.”
Wiltshire Council have made it clear that the proposal is just that, and that no decisions will be made until a meeting later this month.
On the subject of the consultation’s cost, a spokesperson told Melksham News, “As the consultation was entirely online the main cost was officer time, which is not easy to quantify. With that being the case the overall cost of the consultation was minimal.”
Wiltshire Council says that charging for waste collection is not uncommon, and they have compared their charges to others implemented in the South West – Bath and NE Somerset (£38.50), Dorset Waste Partnership (£40), and Somerset Waste Partnership (£46.50).
A Wiltshire Council spokesperson said, “Households are increasing by 2,000 each year, so there is more demand for services such as rubbish and recycling collections.
“Last year we consulted with residents about the future of the kerbside garden waste collection service and we understand how valued these collections are.
“However, the financial challenge we face means we have to make tough choices in order to fulfil our commitment to our three priority areas.
“We have to continually look for ways to be more innovative and cost efficient and are proposing to introduce charges for the kerbside collection of garden waste.
“Charges are likely to be around £40 per year for the fortnightly-collection, equivalent to about 77p per week. This would bring us into line with other neighbouring authorities, who have been charging for green waste collections for some time.”