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Longer Tip Trip?

Longer Tip Trip?In Snippets - February 2010 we reported early rumblings that the first cash-saving casualty of the new Conservative zero-budget-increase administration at County Hall was likely to be 'St Annes Tip' (or, to use its Sunday name, St Annes Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC)).

We said the tip was one of the better services County Hall provides for the taxes it absorbs from Fylde residents, but (as one former labour County Councillor explained to us quite graphically - and apparently without any shame) Fylde's purpose is to be net contributors to taxation in Lancashire because we are a relatively affluent area, and our function in their grand scheme of things was to help fund those less-well-off-folk in East Lancashire.

We jest not.

Now it looks as though, despite a quite significant protest, and despite being one of the biggest tonnages of recycling in the County, St Annes tip is going to close.

Well, at least the report to LCC's 'Sustainable Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee' for 19th May recommends its closure.

We can see some of the arguments that LCC make for not having two such tips in Lytham St Annes.

Most people go by car, so it won't be that much more difficult to go the extra mile to Lytham. And if Lancashire were to use the average population served by a tip in the UK, it would reduce its number of tips from 23 to around 15.

So how did LCC arrive at the decision to close St Annes, and three or four other tips?

Well, as with any unpopular decision, they brought in consultants to give them a report that would bring the unpalatable message. And at the same time, the Consultant's report helps to distance the Councillors and the permanent officers from the unpopular decision.

LCC used a consultancy called "Hyder Consulting."

(Readers who confuse the consultant's name with Hydra - an ancient serpent-like subterranean beast with poisonous breath and nine heads which, when one was cut off, grew two more - will be forgiven. This description actually sounds like several of the consultancies of which we have experience).

Hyder, of course, is the same crew that Fylde Council's Planning department employed to produce its Core Strategy, but were fired off the job after only six months or so because they were "unsatisfactory". Hyder Consulting is allegedly suing Fylde Council over the decision to terminate its contract early.

So there's no conflict of interest there then, and no prejudice. It's good to know these things.

They found that, in comparison with other County Councils, Lancashire has the second highest number of tips per head, and consequently one of the lowest average population catchments. (That's another - rather twisted - way of saying we're getting a good service).

It seems that Lancashire's tips serve, on average, less than 50,000 residents. But in Kent, the catchment is 90,000 - and in Derbyshire it's 140,000.

So, using their logic, we're really we're getting a service that's too good for us.

What they forget to mention is that Derbyshire is the Peak District National Park with big areas and not a lot of houses so you'd expect to have to travel further.

The Consultants came up with five options for LCC to provide us with a poorer service.

Option 1 was leave it more or less as it is. This would cost an extra £315k a year. The other options all proposed some sort of closure (typically 11 sites out of 23) with annual savings ranging from £2.7m to an extra cost of £1.7m depending on which permutation you looked at.

To put this £315k extra cost in perspective, the basic allowances paid to County Councillors in the year 2008/09 was £843,276. In addition, selected councillors received Special Allowances totalling a further £422,239. And they claimed expenses of £199,887.

So if they didn't pay just the Special Allowances they could more than afford to keep the service running.

We don't know the consultants cost, but we wouldn't be altogether surprised if the cost of the overall bill for the consultants and study was getting toward the £315k extra it will cost if all the tips stay open next year.

But maybe that's not the point. Time and again through the report comes the story that the cost of waste disposal will be increasing this year, so they need to cut back on the service to accommodate the future cost increases.

The following quote is typical "... Given the significant extra costs of waste disposal facing the authority in the future, it was felt that it would be unrealistic for the consideration of the HWRC [tips] to ignore the opportunity and desirability to make savings."

We think what you see in this report is a justification for a decision that has, in reality, already been taken.

Another quote as an example "The current location of sites, effectively being based on historical accident, had left the network with some areas where there are concentrations of sites in close proximity, providing potential for rationalisation."

In St Annes, it's not a historical accident, its where the former waste disposal and recycling authority chose to put it - on Everest Road.

The report goes on with platitudes about having increasing numbers of, and publicity for, so called "Bring sites."   These are small sites, often in places like supermarket car parks, where additional volumes of the main recyclables can be taken. And about working with district councils and the 'third sector' (that's charities and voluntary groups to you and me) to improve the kerbside collection of bulky items.

In this regard, the report produces a little pearl of wisdom. It says "Nearly all districts make some kind of charge for the collection of [bulky] items. It is important to note that the HWRC service, being essentially only open to those with cars, does mean that those without cars, often the most deprived members of the community, cannot use them. For these people, a doorstep collection process may be the way to ensure the service is inclusive. However, charging for the service may negate this."

So what are they going to do here? Close the tips and pay for bulky items to be collected from the houses of 'poor people'? And is that - as the (un) friendly County Councillor told us a while back - just those in East Lancashire?

One issue the consultants don't take into account is that St Annes tip is being used a lot by people from Blackpool. And administratively speaking, Blackpool is no longer part of Lancashire.

Since it seceded and became a Unitary Council in its own right, no-one from Blackpool pays any Council Tax to Lancashire County Council and, as a consequence, when Blackpool people use St Annes tip (which is very convenient for those in South Blackpool), they are getting something for nothing - because the costs of running the tip are borne exclusively by LCC taxpayers. Blackpuddlians pay nothing.

Most people probably wouldn't give this a second thought of course, but we believe it is an unspoken factor in the thinking behind the choice of which tip to close to help make the savings that kept the County Tax at a zero rate increase this year.

It would be easy to fix of course. - Periodic Activity Sampling at the tip could produce an apportionment payable by Blackpool to Lancashire County Council - just as (presumably) they do with Libraries where the library ticket entitles you to universal library use in both Blackpool and Lancashire. We presume some sort of library use recharge claim is made by each against the other depending on how many 'foreign' uses there are. (- And if it isn't it ought to be).

The idea is pooh-poohed by the report though. It says "Keerbridge, Everest Road and Petre Arms all have a degree of use by residents of Cumbria, Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen respectively. Noting that this use had been referred to in some of the evidence considered by the task group, there was a feeling from some objectors that this was being used as a reason for closure, and therefore that an alternative would be to reach an agreement with the neighbouring authority involving some level of charging. Out of county use was not a factor in decisions around closure. Even if it were, charging would be undesirable as it would also require Lancashire to reach agreement with neighbours on use of their sites by Lancashire residents. It would also be impractical - although approximate tonnages are known for out of county use based on samples and local knowledge, identifying individual users would be impossible."

This is talking rubbish. Activity Sampling could do the trick easily.

But have a guess which tips are being recommended for closure?

Surprise surprise, the four that have been selected include:

St Annes Everest Road (very close to Unitary Blackpool whose residents don't pay any Council Tax to LCC),

Petre Arms (situated in Langho, in the south of the Ribble Valley district, and very close to another Unitary Council of 'Blackburn with Darwen' whose residents don't pay any Council Tax to LCC), and

Keerbridge (in Carnforth very close to Cumbria County Council whose residents don't pay any Council Tax to LCC, but where 25% of the waste comes from Cumbria.

But the report says none of these are being closed because they have a high proportion of "out of County users"

So it's just a co-incidence then?

Finally, the report looks at possible other problems people have raised in opposition to the closure

  • It would reduce recycling
  • It would lead to increased flytipping
  • It would cause increased CO2 emissions due to longer journeys
  • It could be avoided through savings elsewhere

and the consultants (unsurprisingly) find arguments to counter all of them.

Closing a site won't affect people's willingness to recycle.

Fly Tipping is associated with unscrupulous traders, high density housing, and people not having enough space inside their homes. (We couldn't help wondering whose fault the last two were, given that Councils control planning permission and building control regulations).

Increased CO2 was likely, but not much as most people would live between centres so they won't have to travel much further (You can try and work that excuse out for yourself), but the main reason it wasn't important is that when they increase kerbside collections, it will actually improve CO2 emissions because it will discourage people from going to the tip if they can have it collected from home. (And if you believe that, you'll believe anything)

Alternative savings are non existent (they say)....

They can't think of a way to recharge "out of county" users (We believe the real reason here is that they don't want to, because the County Council hopes one day to bring Blackpool and Blackburn 'back into the County fold', or expand LCC's own status to that of a Unitary Authority covering a Lancashire that includes Blackpool and Blackburn, so they don't want to do anything that legitimises the independence of the Unitaries).

They don't want to reduce opening hours to save money because it "may" not save enough and anyway they are "....concerned about variations across the network or throughout the year leading to confusion amongst site users...." as though you go to Ribble Valley tip one day and St Annes tip the next.

If ever we saw a more stitched up report it's difficult to work out where it was.

So what you have here is a political decision. "We'll give you a zero council tax increase" the policy manifesto said.

Implicit, if not actually stated, in that promise, are cuts in services - because the price of ongoing contracts, and purchase prices, and staff wages increase each year. So to stand still, some services must be cut.

St Annes tip looks like being one of them.

As the report concludes "...If the proposals of the task group are taken forward, it will result in one off capital receipts for the council of around £460,000. It will also, more significantly, result in a savings to running costs of £970,000 every year. The loss of a longstanding facility is obviously difficult for local people. Over from1m saved in council tax is surely to be widely welcomed, especially where, as here, the overall impact on service across the county will be minimal. It is hoped that these capital receipts especially can be used to enhance the facilities at the remaining 18 sites"

The final insult says: "...the county council, with its partners, seeks to develop a strong and effective communications strategy to make residents aware of the changes and the improved services available to them"

Yes really.

Dated:  15 May 2010

UPDATE 24 May 2010
We have two more bits of news. The first is from an insider connected with the tip who tells us that the cost of the survey to decide which tips to close was £345,000. That is a scandal.

The second is that Fylde is going to talk with Blackpool, who, like the County Council, are a waste disposal authority in their own right, to see if there is some room for collaboration - maybe Blackpool could take on the St Annes tip and have Fylde or LCC contribute to them, or some sort of cost sharing arrangement could be put in place. That's sensible planning and a good effort on Fylde's part.


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