Green Bins: Latest Information
This article updates readers on the last
four meetings of Fylde Council where plans to charge residents for green bin collections have been discussed.
This quartet of meetings has (more or less) decided everything necessary to bring the scheme into operation.
The Quick Rough and Dirty Story: Fylde Council has approved a subscription charge of £30 per green bin per year for Green Waste removal.
Up to now, this service has been included in the Council Tax you already pay to Lancashire County Council (who then paid Fylde to do it)
But, (from 2018 onwards), LCC will stop paying Fylde - and if the service is to continue, Fylde has to find the money from somewhere.
It could come from all Fylde householders via higher council tax, or through reprioritised spending (eg by Fylde dropping something else and doing green waste), or it could come from a charge on those
who use the service.
Fylde decided to charge service users.
So to have your green bin collected from and after June 2017, you will have to have paid the full subscription. No part years, no discounts, no concessions.
Payment will have to be by Direct Debit.
There will be no collections over Christmas.
For this year (2017), the scheme will NOT be implemented in May (as Fylde previously stated), it will be delayed until June, so the charge has been reduced
(more or less pro rata) to £25 for the first year's subscription. Next year - for a full year - it will rise to a £30.
But we still think the subscription is still set too high to simply recover the cost of the green waste service, and we suspect Fylde is setting out to make a profit - so we
bring our readers the Green Bins story as it unfolded.
We begin with a brief Introduction, then a quick list of our previous articles on this topic and some Background.
We then look at each of the decisions Fylde has taken at the four meetings since our last report. They are: the report to the Operational Management Committee of 15 November
2016, that was going to consider the details of the scheme (but in the event could not do so lawfully), and at What was said at this fractious meeting.
We then look at the Council Agenda of 05.Dec.16 for the 'Green Waste Subscription Service' and then What was said at the Council meeting which approved the introduction of
the scheme overall, and set the charge at £30. We especially look at what was said at Council by Cllr Liz Oades and Cllr David
We then look at the agenda for the Operational Management Committee of 17.Jan.17 which (lawfully) looked at the operating detail of the scheme (although we think there is
yet more detail to be decided) and we consider What's Changed since the 15 November 2016 meeting, and then at What was said at this January meeting.
Our fourth meeting report is the Finance And Democracy Meeting of 20.Feb.17 where we look at what the Finance officer reported, and we re-consider the likely income (and
thus the 'profitability' of the scheme) with the benefit of Fylde's most recent take-up estimates. This meeting also answered some questions we had posed in the Public
Finally, we used the Freedom of Information Act to ask about the Take-up and income elsewhere, (notably Wyre and Blackpool) but sadly, they claim not to have the data we
needed to calculate their take-up rates accurately. However, we report what they could tell us, before reaching our own Conclusions on the matter of whether Fylde's charge
covers the green waste costs or whether it sets out to make a profit
This is another very long report, because we're reporting the four meetings that produced what will probably be the final arrangements for a subscription service for green waste
They're long reports because we suspect this will become a controversial matter when it is implemented. It also has the potential to go horribly wrong.
And because Fylde no longer webcasts its Committee meetings, these reports will provide the only transcription of who said what at the meetings that have created this new
service. We think our readers might wish to know who said what in the future
We have some sympathy with Fylde's plight in this matter.
They will lose £763,000 a year from LCC who have decided to stop paying what was effectively a sort of 'bribe' to encourage Fylde (and other Lancashire Councils) to
encourage householders to recycle more waste.
By starting a popular green waste collection service that was (initially) funded by LCC, Fylde was immediately able to allow LCC to comply with EU based regulation which
said LCC had to recycle at least 50% of the waste they dispose of. (LCC is a DISPOSAL authority)
Since then, the legislation has changed, and (at least until after Brexit!) Fylde itself is now legally obliged to recycle 50% of the waste it collects (FBC is the
So LCC - the *waste disposal* authority - no longer has much impetus to continue to fund FBC (as the *collection authority*) if LCC are unlikely to be fined for failing to recycle
50% of its waste, and Fylde is.
We said we have some sympathy for Fylde, and we have. But what we're not able to support is the *way* FBC is going about introducing a subscription service.
The brief story so far is:
'Green Bin Bill' (March 2016) broke the news that Fylde was considering introducing a subscription payment for green waste collection from 1 August 2016.
'Green Bin Bills Deferred in Fylde' (April 2016) reported the decision had been postponed for further information.
'Green Bins: Interim Update' September 2016, reported that more information on green waste collections - the pros and cons; what was happening in the rest of Lancashire and
nationally; and a look at our closest neighbour - Blackpool.
'Green Bins Charge - 2017' (October 2016) showed that reports to, and decisions taken at, a FBC meeting began to show that Fylde was adopting the wrong approach to solving
this problem. We gave lots of comparative costs based on Fylde's reports to date, together with press reports of the costs and charges for neighbouring councils.
We concluded that instead of sharing the cost of what should be a public service amongst all its subscribers, Fylde appears ready to abandon the idea of public service using
collective shared costs. They seem to want to run it as a business with the make a profit out of its subscribers, setting charges at what Fylde believes 'the market' will bear.
We thought they were justifying this 'market pricing' charge by deliberately underestimating and understating the expected take-up of the service.
This enables them to justify a higher than necessary subscription cost per bin, which would, in turn, generate a profit if the higher take-ups experienced elsewhere also
happened in Fylde.
We called for greater clarity over the costs and charges, and hoped that the Council would formally declare its three purposes for collecting green waste are:
- to encourage recycling
- to agree to provide the service 'at cost' to Fylde residents.
- to agree to publish the figures that show this is what was happening
It would mean setting the subscription charge at a level that will just recover the cost of providing the service.
Since that October 2016 counterbalance report, there have been three meetings of Fylde Council and its Operational Management Committee where discussions and votes have
taken place, and one meeting of the Finance and Democracy Committee which has built the costs and charges into Fylde's budget.
We have also used the Freedom of Information
provisions to get information on the experience of implementation in Wyre and Blackpool. We intend to pull all this together in the report that follows
OPERATIONAL MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE REPORT 15.NOV 2016
Quite a fractious argument about procedure developed at this meeting.
Firstly, the agenda presented the matter as an 'Information Item".
That nomenclature signifies that (at least in the officer's mind), it does not require the Committee to take a decision. The report is presented for their information. No
decision is required.
In truth it does not stop any member of the Committee from making a proposition about its content, but the impression gleaned (and sometimes given - quite wrongly - by a
Chairman) is that the report is not for being amended, it's really just to keep the Committee up to date.
There was a problem with this arrangement on this occasion, which we'll come back to shortly.
The Officer's report began by saying:
"At the Operational Management Meeting, held on 13th September 2016, it was RESOLVED to recommend to full Council:
The introduction of a year-round green waste subscription service, at a charge of £30 per waste bin per annum, in order that the service may be ready for implementation from
April 2017; and that the income arising from the introduction of the charge, if approved, be reflected within the Councils budget for 2017/18 onwards."
This was important to say because the Committee (which has delegated authority to take decisions), had already taken its decision to recommend the charge of £30 a year to the
Council at it's last meeting. So that was done and dusted. There could be no further discussion of the subscription charge until the Council meeting. What was now being
considered were the detailed arrangements and 'rules' of the service.
The report went on to say
"A Green Waste Project Board, comprising Members and Officers, has been established to discuss policy and logistics associated with the introduction of a subscription
service. The Board held an initial meeting on 20th October and the following proposals were agreed:
Bins will be charged at a fixed price of £30 per bin per annum. There will be no refund for a part year subscription, discounts for multiple bins or personal
circumstances and subscriptions will be non-transferable between properties.
There will be no ‘take back’ facility for the collection of non-scheme green bins where residents do not initially sign up to the service. This will be reviewed after 2
years once the scheme has matured, with no refunds on non-scheme bins.
A suggested start date of 1st May 2017 was agreed with subsequent years running from 1st April to 31st March. The delayed start in year 1 was proposed to avoid a
significant increase in enquiries to the One Stop Shop during March, the busiest time for dealing with council tax enquires.
A full promotion and communication program will support the introduction of the service to ensure maximum publicity and participation. This will commence following the
outcome of the full Council meeting in December 2016 with a press release and updates through social media and roadshows. Pre-scheme literature will be delivered in February
2017 highlighting the scheme and detailing the web link for further information. This will be followed by a detailed information pack delivered to all properties through the
letterbox in March.
The preferred option for residents to enrol into the scheme will be online to include the payment of the £30 annual fee. The process will be the same if the contact is
made via phone or in person at the One Stop Shop with CSS specialists assisting to process the subscription.
Subscribed bins will be distinguished from non-subscribed bins via scheme stickers detailing the property address. Subscriptions will also be linked against the property
address through the in cab technology Bartec that is linked live to the customer service team. Non-scheme bins presented for collection will be rejected, stickered and
highlighted on Bartec so that information literature can be distributed to properties to further promote the scheme.
These proposals will feed into the report to be presented to full Council on 5th December 2016. If the scheme receives approval to commence in May 2017 the Project Board
will continue to meet on a regular basis to finalise the operational arrangements and agree the supporting IT, finance and communication considerations. The Operational
Management Committee will receive regular updates with respect to the progress of the scheme...."
This report is wrong both in fact and concept.
It is entirely wrong.
There existed no authority to set up any sort of "Green Waste Project Board, comprising Members and Officers to discuss policy and logistics"
Furthermore, by presenting this as an "Information Item", the officer was acting Ultra Vires.
She was treating the decisions of an unauthorised group - not as a recommendation to be considered, debated, and amended by the Committee, but as fait accompli set to bypass
the Committee and go straight to Full Council in December.
This would have opened the possibility to the Full Council being told that the matter had been reported to the Operational Management Committee and they raised no objections
- so it was all OK.
Frankly this is absolutely disgraceful behaviour from an officer if it was intentional, and way less than competent if it was not intentional.
We hoped someone from the Committee would pick it up and protest.
The Chairman seemed quite comfortable with it.
That made us wonder if it was something that had been cooked up to intentionally by-pass the Committee - in the hope that
no-one spotted it.
The officer then said that after having initial discussions with Fylde's own computer and finance people, and listening to what happened in other councils, a significant
proportion of the first year income would be required for set up costs - and especially for online payment facilities.
We think that phrasing makes it sound a lot worse than it will be. (The first year income is likely to be more than £300,000)
In response to earlier pressure from Cllr Alan Clayton, the officer also said that a Green Waste Consultation was conducted between 18th March and 13th September and that,
477 responses were received.
She then went on to rubbish Fylde's own consultation by saying it was not statistically or geographically representative, and only intended to seek a view on the potential
introduction of a subscription service.
Her report then said
"Other local authorities that have carried out similar research with similar results have reached in excess of 60% participation in the subscription
service within the first two years therefore giving officers the confidence that estimates forecast to date will be achieved at Fylde."
We were puzzled by this quote because we have previously seen her reports quote take-ups ranging from 40% to 70% and even as high as 80%.
This take-up figure is really important, because of the scale and costs on which green waste operates.
Last March, Fylde said the total operational and support costs for running the existing green waste service was £561,518.
The following September's report said it had increased slightly to £563,810 (presumably this small increase included a pay award or materials increases etc)
So if that is the cost Fylde needs to cover, and it has decided to charge £30 per bin that is subscribed to the scheme, they need to sign up about 18,800 or so green bin
subscriptions to break even.
The report the same officer published in March said the calculations were
"Based on existing 33,883 garden waste properties"
We subsequently learned Fylde did not know how many of these had more than one bin, but 33,883 green bin properties was a safe minimum to assume.
- If the take-up was 40%, then at least 13,553 bins would be subscribed, and the income would be £406,596. That's not enough to break even.
- If the take-up was 55% then at least 18,636 bins would be subscribed, and the income would be £559,069 That almost breaks even.
- If the take-up was 70% then at least 23,718 bins would be subscribed, and the income would be £711,543 That's a profit over cost of around £14,700
But when you add in the properties with two or more green bins (these are said to add around 10% to the number of likely subscriptions) the income figures are significantly
In her September 2016 report Fylde's officer said:
"Fylde is very often compared to Wyre with many socio economic and geographical similarities, in 2016, Wyre introduced a chargeable waste collection service in response to
the removal of the cost sharing payments from LCC and to date have over 80% take up of the service, ....."
If her statement in the report was correct, and Wyre *had ACTUALLY* achieved over 80% take-up of the service in its first year of operation, and if her statement
that Fylde is similar to Wyre is also correct, then Fylde too might reasonably be expected to achieve the same take-up. And if that is the case, then two important questions emerge:
- Why was this report now lowering expectations of the take-up rate to 60% and saying "Other local authorities that have carried out similar research with similar results have
reached in excess of 60% participation in the subscription service within the first two years" when she had already said Wyre hit 80% in its first year?
- And secondly, if Fylde achieved an 80% take-up, it would generate £813,192 which represents a profit over costs of £249,000 So unless this was to be a money-making venture,
why would Fylde not set the subscription cost at something closer to £20 (based on Wyre's experience?)
And of course, incorporating the estimated additional 10% for multi-green-bin properties in Fylde makes the service even more profitable.
So we wondered what would happen at this Committee meeting in November.
WHAT WAS SAID AT THE 15 NOV MEETING
The Chairman introduced the agenda item saying it was....
"....there for information as to how things had progressed since our last Operational meeting where we resolved to go ahead with this subscription service"
And he invited comments on the report.
Cllr Alan Clayton was the first to speak. He said he recognised it was an information item but there were there things he wanted to comment on. He wanted the part saying 'no
refund for a part year subscription, discounts for multiple bins or personal circumstances and subscriptions will be non-transferable between properties' to be reconsidered as
far as people's personal circumstances were concerned - especially for older people on low incomes, and he wanted the committee to consider a percentage reduction for those in
He also wanted to know how much influence had been placed on the results of the survey, especially regarding the stated resistance to paying a subscription at all.
He also wanted to know whether the subscription service would deliver new bins at the beginning of the process, or were people expected to buy new bins as the need arose.
Chairman David Eaves said:
"I think those questions can be taken on board by the officers that are dealing with the finer detail of this subscription service...."
We say this is entirely wrong. It is the role of elect members - not their hired hands - to take decisions on such matters.
Taking decisions is exactly what the Committee is there for.
We suspect the Chairman knows that, but it sounds like he was trying to bat Cllr Clayton's concerns into some very long grass so that they could be disregarded when no-on
was looking. We say he was wrong to suggest leaving it to officers. But equally, Cllr Clayton should not have phrased his concern as a question. He should have proposed an
amendment to the report's proposal and forced a vote on the matter. He may have lost the vote to the Conservative majority, but it would have been shown that he had tried to
secure a better outcome for his electorate if that's what he believed was necessary.
Then Cllr Julie Brickles from Warton and Westby picked up the stick and said what was needed. She said:
"I note from the report that a Green Waste Project Board, comprising Members and Officers have been looking into this, and I'm quite surprised, because I don't recall this
committee putting that board together. What members are actually on that board."
The Chief Executive was (unusually) in attendance at this meeting and said he would try and go through most of the issues and the departmental officer would jump in if he
got anything wrong. He first disposed of Cllr Clayton's point about the bins, saying it was up for discussion at full council.
Whilst technically correct, because full Council must approve the fees and charges set by FBC, he was wrong to imply (and we're sure he knew this) that discounts and refunds
were not a matter that could be debated by the Committee in order to make a recommendation to the Full Council about the detail of the scheme. It absolutely *was* their role at
Compounding what seemed to us to be an underlying intent to close down proper and legitimate debate of this matter by Councillors at the committee, the Chief Executive
"The current recommendations are based on what is best practice elsewhere, what tends to be most efficient in terms of the logistics of the scheme, and the experience of
others, we've been working very closely with Wyre Council in that respect"
That is an appalling answer.
He was equally dismissive of question about the survey results, adding that they were consistent with the results Wyre got because they had asked the same questions in
exactly the same survey.
At this point, we have to ask, if the Officer who rubbished Fylde's own survey by saying it was not statistically or geographically representative, and it only intended to
seek a view on the potential introduction of a subscription service, then why on earth should Wyre's survey (with the same questions) have been followed at Fylde as 'an example
of best practice?'
Doing so was either plain stupidity or a deceptive sleight of hand of the worst order.
Then the Chief Executive got to the really tricky area and said
"In terms of the working group, I think it's just been titled as something more formal than it is. It's the IT Team, it's the Finance Officers, I think it's the Chairman and
Vice Chair giving us advice. It's the Environmental Health Team, it's the Operational team. In fact I went to the first meeting and thought there was too many officers here
talking about things. IT need to liaise with Finance on the logistics of how it's happening, a lot of it's been technical logistic stuff, so, it wasn't, a working group in
particular, it's just been getting advice from the Chairman [... pause before correcting himself ...] a *briefing* from the Chair and Vice Chair on these key issues that we
looked at. I think to be honest with you, the Chair and Vice Chair will probably admit they were pretty dry and boring meetings from their respect, so much so that the Chair
opted out of the second one. Cos they are very technical about the logistics of the paying system, the online system, the how you identify which bins have and haven't paid.
It's all that sort of thing. And a lot of it is information that we're getting shared, learning from people who have already implemented the scheme"
What you see here is good old-fashioned bluster.
He's protesting far too much.
He's done something wrong.
He knows he's done something wrong, and he's trying to wriggle out of it.
It was perfectly right that officers needed to have the meetings about how a decision to charge would be implemented.
But it is entirely wrong to involve selected elected members in those discussions.
In the Committee system of operation, it MAY ONLY be the Committee that tells officers what they want to happen, and officers are there: firstly to help the Committee
identify what needs to be considered (both for and against any issue); and secondly, they are there to execute the decision of the Committee or Council meeting that took the
decison(s) as to what will happen.
It's all very simple.
But this present Chief Executive is fond of blurring the line, perhaps to curry favour with the majority political group. This is both dangerous for democracy, and it
represents a serious failure toward the councillors we elect who are not members of the majority party
There should have been no involvement at all of any elected members with the officers in these meetings. The officers should have produced a report setting out the positive
and negative options, and THE COMMITTEE should have received that report and taken the decisions.
It *has* to be the committee because, by law, the decision taking body MUST reflect the overall political balance of the Council.
What the Chief Executive had allowed to happen here is that one party - the current majority party - was asked to advise what they wanted the report to include or say. It
was then presented to the Committee as an 'Information Item' for which no decisions were required.
That is all plain wrong.
But it *has* to be what the officer believed had happened - because her report said the group had "...been established to discuss policy and logistics associated with the
introduction of a subscription service. The Board held an initial meeting on 20th October and the following proposals were agreed:"
What followed those introductory remarks in her report were the decisions we have set out above.
They were decisions because, as the report stated, "the following proposals were agreed:" about how the service would be delivered.
These were not recommendations placed before the Committee to consider and vote on.
The use of the past tense in the officers report clearly indicated a proposal had become a decision.
Officers had no authority to come to such a decision. The Chairman and Vice Chairman had no authority to come to such a decision. The group had no locus or authority to take
such decisions, so it can only be that these decisions were outside the competence of those who claimed to have taken them.
They were therefore Ultra Vires and unlawful.
No wonder the Chief Executive was wriggling to try to find a way out of it.
Cllr Brickles quite rightly, picked up her stick and started banging it.
She said she was not happy with what had happened at all.
After a brief private word with the Chairman, the Chief Executive started to wheel out a "Not Me Guv" defence saying:
"I wasn't... I wasn't... particularly wasn't at the Committee where.... I don't know whether there was a formal resolution to say there was nominations.... to all intents
and purposes it was a business meeting to discuss the logistics"
The Chairman said:
"I was asked if I would like to attend. I have not been appointed by this committee at all. Councillor Pounder was asked if he wished to attend. He hasn't been appointed by
this committee at all. Is it this committee's wish that we nominate two people to attend these meetings. They'll still be ongoing"
Cllr Sandra Pitman broke it by saying that if there were going to be more such meetings, she proposed it should be the Chair and the Vice Chair who attended if they wished
The Chairman (seeking to get it slid through quickly) failed to ask for someone to second Cllr Pitman's proposition, and failed to allow other non-conservative councillors
the opportunity to amend it, by calling for a vote on it by asking if everybody was happy with that, and declaring it carried.
Cllr Brickles asked for her vote to be recorded as being against that decision.
There was then a noisy argument about whether Cllr Brickles vote against that decision could be recorded, but in the end she assumed the mantle the Chief Executive should have worn, by
saying there had been a vote taken and she was entitled to have her vote against it recorded.
Cllr Clayton tried to restore some semblance of order by saying the way he saw it, it was an information item, and these were recommendations in it that were going to full council,
without any opportunity to make any changes to it.
And he worried that when they went to full council, it would be seen by full council that this committee was endorsing everything within that recommendation.
The Chief Executive corrected him - saying
"This item is not the one that's going to full council. You made the decision in the September Committee. The decision this committee made as a "Decision Item" which said it
would go to full council to recommend a Green Waste Subscription Service. The detail of it will be coming back to this committee"
And indeed his weasel-words were right. The details of the scheme had come back that evening, but they had insulted and sidelined the committee's authority by being presented
to them as an Information Item, not as one requiring a decision.
They were being told what would happen in a decision that had already been (unlawfully) taken by a cohort of officers and Conservative members.
The Vice Chairman spoke in plain language (as he often does). Addressing Cllr Clayton, he said:
"I agree to some extent with what you are saying, but at the end of the day, we made a decision that we were gonna go ahead with charging on bins. I've
attended those meetings. And those meetings really have been a case of how we go about putting it together. How the financial side works out how its done and one thing and
another. It's not one... it wasn't a meeting that could be done by committee... it was a case of different departments putting their input into how we go about doing this.
One of the things that came out of it was that the IT system would need to be sorted so as they can get the finances in, how they do that, whether we charge for one bin or
two bins or whether there's a reduction. The financial system we've got at this moment wouldn't allow for a discount. Now that was all that went on at that Project Board or
whichever name you want to give it. That is what it was. Me and David come back to you and we tell you what's gone on, you know, I don't know what else we can do. We can sit
here and go round the table all the time, but decisions have to be made, and we had to take 'em by the...."
He stopped short of saying 'the Project Group' or 'the Chairman and I' probably because he recognised there was no authority for that to have happened - which is exactly
what Cllr Brickles was complaining about.
Trying to find a way out of the mess he was in, the Chairman asked the Chief Executive:
"Would there be another Decision Item to come to this committee, following the, the decisions that have been made by the Project Board, before it goes to Full Council?"
That was an explosive question, and the Chief Executive didn't want to be caught sitting on it as it went off.
Clearly irritated, he (at long last) gave the proper facts, and said:
"Let's just get clarity. The Project Board, despite what's been said, cannot and will not make decisions. Right? I'll state that once again, the Project Board cannot and will
not make decisions. I think it's just one officer's drafted this report and called it that. And if you want to chastise that officer for doing that then do. That's up to you.
Bit it will not, and can't make decisions. What this Information Item is about is the emerging proposals that will come to this committee for the detail of the scheme.
The detail of the scheme will not go to full Council. It's like a capital scheme. The Full Council says spend thirty grand and then it comes to the committee to show the
detail of the spend. You agreed at the last committee that you want the Full Council to put in place a subscription service, so that's the report that will go to full Council,
not all this detailed stuff cos that will be devolved down to this committee to finalise.
The emerging proposals... there's a lot of work to do yet... are very complex. It's actually unearthed one or two significant issues with some of our operating systems in
terms of payments and linkages and connections technically. So there's a lot more issues to address yet. Yes. These are the emerging proposals for what will happen is, Full
Council will decide to or not to go forward with a subscription scheme, and then the final detail of how it's going to operate and whether there's discounts and all these...
could be more than is already in this list... emerging proposals will come to this committee.
I thought that process was outlined, but if its not I apologise for that."
Whilst - at last - we had the correct process set out, we thought this was a most unimpressive oration from a Chief Executive.
He takes responsibility for the actions of his staff, not the elected councillors. He appoints them, he sets the systems of checks and balances in place to ensure they act
within the Council's Constitution, he is responsible for adherence to the constitution and staff performance and discipline.
It is therefore his responsibility when something - as has clearly happened in this case - goes wrong. And it is therefore an illustration of his own competence when he seeks
to place the blame on the more junior officer. She clearly thought they had taken decisions. Councillor Pounder thought it too (and almost said so). But the Chairman
actually did say it.
The buck for this perception stops at the CE's desk. He had participated in some of the meetings with majority party members giving advice or briefings. He cannot claim not
to have known about it. Furthermore, the arrangements he has, (or should have), in place to review items on Committee agenda before they are published, are set by him, and this
agenda ought to have set off alarm bells and red flashing lights before it was sent out. Clearly it did not, and that represents another systemic failure on his part.
Finally, we're less than satisfied with his use of the term "will come to this committee" because that term leaves it all open (again) for it to be another Information Item, quite
possibly too late in the day to make any changes (because all the systems will be in place). He does not appear to have grasped the nature of operating a proper committee
system where decisions may be taken ONLY by politically balanced groups. NOT by one political party, and NOT by Individuals.
In practice the Council needs decisions on the fine detail of the green bin scheme NOW, so that officers in their own technical meetings know what it is they have to implement.
We believe Fylde Council is continually being damaged by the incredibly stupid and dangerous 'command and control' logic of some members of the majority party - who
see the seeking of consensus as a weakness; who treat knowledge and information as official secrets; who cannot abide anyone outside their sphere of party control taking part
Most importantly, this politically selfish approach by the majority party fails to ensure that proposals are only delivered after scrutiny and input from a council-wide spectrum of political views and opinion
- and that council-wide perspective is the same spectrum of views and opinion that is held by the Fylde electorate (which councillors are supposed to serve) - not simply one political party's sub-set of
This green bin subscription service also has the potential to go horribly wrong, as those with experience of trying to alter the council's financial computer systems know only
too well, and as the former Commissar found out to his cost when he declared a Financial State Of Emergency in 2008
Cllr Paul Hodgson had also spotted the flaws in the report. Quoting from it, he said:
" '...,the Board held an initial meeting on 20th October and the following proposals were agreed.' Well surely these proposals that are here should have been brought back to
this committee, and the decision on those, made here, not by this Board.
And then the second one is '...these proposals will feed into the report to be presented to Full Council' - well those proposals have been agreed by this Board, and not
agreed - or a decision taken - by this committee."
Neatly put, we thought.
The Chief Executive responded...
"You're correct, the language in that information item is misleading, but I will repeat again, nothing can be agreed outside of the Committee. So it's not been agreed,
that's the constitutional working term...."
Floundering about in an constitutionally administrative mess, the Chairman said....
"With regards to the future Information Items, and the emerging detail that's going to come out of this scheme, can I ask that the suggestions from whatever we call the
collection of officers comes to this committee for approval and decision, in order to move the matter onwards."
"Can I make a further suggestion. We forget what the title of any meeting at all, and that officers meet in order to formalise the detail of what they would recommend to
come forward, not making any decisions, and those recommendations will come to this committee for decision on whether to implement those decisions or alter those recommendations
or withdraw those recommendations. Can I suggest that as a way forward."
And after a bit more discussion this was more or less agreed (no vote, no amendment, no proposition, just 'can we accept this as an information item'),
But in our view, whilst
the wording purports to address future details, the conclusion left the matters listed in the 'Information Item' in a decision-taking 'no-mans-land'.
They cannot have been decisions of the Project Board, but they are not decisions of the Committee either.
We thought the best solution would be for them (and whatever else emerges), to be brought to a future meeting of the Committee for a proper, formal decision.
And we hoped that's what would happen.
COUNCIL MEETING AGENDA 05.DEC.16: GREEN WASTE.
This Council meeting's agenda had to consider the Operational Management Committee's recommendation to:
"approve the introduction of a year-round green waste subscription service, at a charge of £30 per waste bin per annum, for implementation in 2017; and that the income
arising from the introduction of the charge, if approved, be reflected within the Councils budget for 2017/18 onwards and that the Operational Management Committee agree the
operational detail of the scheme prior to implementation."
The accompanying report covered all the items we have previously reported - except it only included the report that went to the Operational Management Committee in
September. (ie it did not attach the different report that went to them the previous March with what we believe to be the more accurate figures to project take-up of the
The March one was based on there being 33,833 properties in Fylde where bins are present - but the September one had a (very round-looking) figure of "20,000 green bins
regularly presented for collection."
Depending on which of these figures you use in the calculation, there's a big difference in the income achievable.
Neither is exactly right, because no-one knows how many properties have multiple green bins.
We believe that, of the two, the one using 33,833 properties is the more accurate - because it measures the number of properties, and the subscription bills will be charged
per property, with extra charges for those with multiple green bins.
The September report only counts how many bins are "regularly presented for collection" - and if we were paying per empty, this would be the more reliable figure to use. But
the subscription is NOT per empty, it is per bin per year at each property. If you only put it out once, or if you put it out 22 times a year, the subscription is going to be
exactly the same.
We believe Fylde is intentionally using the rounded '20,000 regularly presented' figure from the September report in order to understate the likely income.
We also think Fylde is doing this intentionally in order to justify setting its subscription at a higher rate than is really necessary, and that this practice will more than
cover the cost of the service. It will generate a profit.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE COUNCIL MEETING?
Councillor Eaves introduced the item (the background to which we've covered several times, and provided links to the articles at the start of this article, so we're not
going to do it again now). Councillor Albert Pounder seconded the proposition set out above.
Cllr Alan Clayton raised the matter that the public consultation on the change had not been made available in time to inform this decision.
COUNCILLOR LIZ OADES
Cllr Oades rose to speak and said:
"The report which went to Operational Services last March said that there are 33,883 garden waste properties in Fylde. That figure changes substantially in the September
report, to a rounded 20,000. But this figure represented the number of bins which are regularly presented, and this makes a huge difference to the income figures.
if 80% of green bin properties in Fylde - that's 33,883 - take up the service as indicated at Wyre, then this would yield £812,000 per annum.
It wouldn't matter how regularly the bins were put out for collection, a charge of £30 is per property, not per collection, paid by every green bin property that signs up
for the scheme.
It should be possible, using these figures, to reduce the subscription to something nearer to £20.
It's also notable that there's no reference at all to multi-bin properties which would make more money for this council.
We should really ask ourselves what it is we're trying to achieve with the subscription. It is, of course, important to support our taxpayers to recycle, but are we
attempting to cover the cost of the green bin collection service at £564,000, or recover the whole of the £730,000 which we'll lose from Lancashire County Council, or are we
trying to generate a surplus that can be used to offset spending elsewhere?
Will we be keeping and publishing accounts that show the cost of collecting green bins each year, and the income from subscriptions each year?
I move that the charge will be reviewed each year and the subscription adjusted the following year to reduce or recover any variance from actual expenditure on the green bin
collection service, and that the accounting for income and expenditure on green bin collection should be separately identified and published in the Council's accounts.
And that last paragraph is an amendment to the recommendation."
She had picked up exactly what we had also seen, and she put on record her call for separate accounting and that the subscription charge should aim to cover cost of
providing the service - and by implication it should not aim to make a profit.
Councillor Peter Hardy supported the amendment saying he opposed the charge in principle because we were already paying for it in the taxes we pay, and he seconded Cllr
CLLR DAVID EAVES
No other speakers asked to speak to the amendment, so the Mayor invited Cllr Eaves was invited to speak.
He first picked up the point made by Cllr Clayton and indicated that
the issues that had been in contention at their last meeting would all come back to be ratified by the Committee, then threw in a red herring as he said:
"With regards to the number of bins, yes, the lorries that empty the bins have counters every time a bin is emptied, and consistently, throughout the summer, some 20,000
bins per collection day were emptied. Our officers have looked at other district council figures when introducing the subscription service, to try to estimate what the number
of bins could be emptied. For instance, Wyre council have a loss of County Council funding of a million pounds, and their subscription service is only at the moment in the
region of up to 70% to 80%, and nowhere near their collection rate.
It is the objective of the subscription service to look to the costs of the green waste service itself, bearing in mind this service is now over ten years old, and was only
introduced as a free service as a result of Lancashire County Council giving Fylde Borough Council the money to do it. If that hadn't happened, Fylde residents would not have
had a green waste service. There would be the education matters with regard to how to use composting methods etc, in order to reduce the number of people who wish to use this
particular service, but I also stress again, that any recommendations that are coming with regard to the subscription service would come to the Operational Management Committee
for approval, and if they do not receive approval from that committee they will not take place."
We were puzzled when Cllr Eaves quoted Wyre as having a 70% to 80% take up rate in its first year. Fylde's officer had said it was 80% but then suggested 60%
We were also a bit puzzled by the meeting's procedure. We're used to the mover of an amendment having the right to speak to their amendment before the Chairman summed up, and
unless Cllr Oades' preamble was considered to be her speaking to her amendment we didn't understand why she (rather than Cllr Eaves) had not been invited to speak.
Furthermore, it seemed to us that when he spoke, Cllr Eaves was speaking not to Cllr Oades' amendment at all, but to his Committee's recommendation and to the comments of Cllrs Clayton and Oades.
In fact, he ought to have been speaking to Cllr Oades' amendment at this time.
The Mayor then asked Cllr Mrs Oades to clarify her amendment. Cllr Mrs Oades did so.
The Mayor then said they would take a vote on that amendment and asked for all those in favour of, and against, the amendment.
The numbers were not given or published in the
minutes, but from where we were sitting and the FBC video of the meeting, (sadly with very poor
audio quality), it looked as though all the Conservatives voted against the amendment, and all the other councillors
voted for it.
The Mayor declared the amendment lost, and turned to the original recommendation (what's called the 'Substantive Motion'- because losing a vote on an amendment does not mean
the original or any other option has been approved. It has to be explicitly approved).
Cllr Linda Nulty then spoke to say she listened to what Cllr Eaves had said and was at a loss to understand why they were voting on this at this time. She seemed to think (as
others had done at the earlier Committee meeting) that the detailed arrangements for the green waste would also be considered by the Council, and she couldn't see the point of deciding the charge
now when they didn't know the detail of what that charge would cover.
What she didn't know, is that these details were not ever destined to be considered by the full Council anyway, and that was because of the way the officers had set up their
We could see the old-fashioned logic of her position. (We would also have agreed with her that it would have been right way to do it too, but it's not how Fylde does it
Cllr Mrs Nulty clearly didn't want to buy a pig in a poke.
But in the brave new world that Fylde now walks, you first decide whether you're going to do something or not, and only then do you look at the details of how well (or even
whether) it will work!
Next to speak was Cllr Jan Barker who spoke of correspondence from constituents about the cost, but said she wanted to consider the social cost because by introducing a
charge it might reduce the number of people who took part in gardening and had a healthier outdoor life because of it. She thought people who looked after their gardens
shouldn't have to shoulder the cost of the green bins, and she argued that we should all contribute to the cost through the Council Tax (and, we thought, by implication she was
saying it should not be by a subscription). She wanted to see Fylde lead the way to a fairer, better and more creative way of dealing with this issue, using a holistic
Cllr Eaves was then invited to sum up on the recommendation proposed by his committee, which was:
"To approve the introduction of a year round green waste subscription service, at a charge of £30 per waste bin per annum, for implementation in 2017; and that income
arising from the introduction of the charge, if approved, be reflected within the Council’s budget for 2017/18 onwards and that the Operational Management Committee agree the
operational detail of the scheme prior to implementation."
He answered Cllr Nulty to explain that the Committee would sort out the detail, then he sat down, and the Mayor said they would move to the vote.
Quick as a flash, Cllr Liz Oades was on her feet to ask for a recorded vote.
The point of her asking for this was to show which councillors had supported the plan and which had not. Five hands rose to support Cllr Mrs Oades' call for a recorded vote and one
was taken on the Operational Management Committee's recommendation above.
The result of those present at the meeting (with no abstentions) was: For the recommendation (28) Against the recommendation (15) .
|Cllr Ben Aitken
||Cllr Paul Hayhurst
|Cllr Christine Akeroyd
||Cllr Karen Henshaw
|Cllr Frank Andrews
||Cllr Paul Hodgson
|Cllr Peter Anthony
||Cllr Angela Jacques
|Cllr Jan Barker
||Cllr Roger Lloyd
|Cllr Keith Beckett
||Cllr Cheryl Little
|Cllr Karen Buckley
||Cllr Barbara Nash
|Cllr Maxine Chew
||Cllr Edward Nash
|Cllr Alan Clayton
||Cllr Linda Nulty
|Cllr Delma Collins
||Cllr Elizabeth Oades
|Cllr Peter Collins
||Cllr Sandra Pitman
|Cllr Michael Cornah
||Cllr Albert Pounder
|Cllr David Donaldson
||Cllr Richard Redcliffe
|Cllr David Eaves
||Cllr Louis Rigby
|Cllr Susan Fazackerley
||Cllr Vince Settle
|Cllr Trevor Fiddler
||Cllr Elaine Silverwood
|Cllr Tony Ford
||Cllr John Singleton
|Cllr Richard Fradley
||Cllr Roger Small
|Cllr Gail Goodman
||Cllr Raymond Thomas
|Cllr Shirley Green
||Cllr Vivien Willder
|Cllr Peter Hardy
||Cllr Thomas Threlfall
|Cllr Neil Harvey
The background colouring in the table indicates different political group memberships and it will be seen that all the Conservatives voted to implement the £30 green bin
subscription charge, and those from all the other groups voted against it.
The more anoraky of our readers may wonder how some non-Conservative members of the Committee could vote against the recommendation when they had been part of the committee
that took the decision to make this recommendation in the first place.
The answer is the did so because they asked for (and had) their votes recorded against the decision that the Committee took - so they had acting consistently in both votes.
And with that, the charge of £30 for a subscription to the (optional) green bin collection service, passed into the Council's archive of decisions.
We had yet to see how bad the devil is within the details of the scheme
We were quite surprised that the Conservative group had voted down Cllr Oades' amendment. Cllr Eaves himself had seemed to imply that they only wanted to cover the cost of the
collection service - which is what Cllr Oades' amendment has sought, so the only reason we could see for its rejection would be that the Majority party don't intend to publish separate accounts for the
service. That means we will never know what the income and cost has been.
OPERATIONAL MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE AGENDA 17.JAN.17
The first item on this OM Agenda was the detail of the subscription green waste collection service.
And sure enough, the proposals from the fractious and ultra-vires decision-taking 'Green
Waste Project Board' (from the previous OM Committee) were all back on this agenda - but this time they were properly presented for debate and decision by the Committee, together
with some new proposals to be considered.
So at last, the proper procedure was being followed.
This is entirely thanks to the perseverance and doggedness of Warton and Westby's Cllr Julie Brickles - who saw what had been done wrong and
was not prepared to let it continue. We salute her.
So what's the latest position?
Well, the report asked the Committee to consider and approve the following proposals:
- Implementation date of subscription service 1st June 2017
- Annual subscription of £25 per bin in year 1 (reduced year service to March 31st 2018)
- Collection of additional wheeled bins at annual subscription of £25 per bin in year 1
- Subscription increase to £30 from year 2 (full year service April 1st to March 31st)
- Collection of additional wheeled bins at annual subscription of £30 per bin from year 2
- Fortnightly collections with a Christmas period suspension
- No reduction for part year subscription
- No refunds or transfer of subscription
- No reductions or concessions applied until the scheme has been proven
- Online direct debit payment system
- Expenditure of £38,500 on communications, finance and back office support in Year 1
- To delay making a decision on the collection of non-scheme green bins until after the scheme matures
SO WHAT'S CHANGED?
- The report says that the original plan was to start from May 2017, but there's not time to get all the back office admin and literature done by then, so officers want to
move the implementation date to 1 June 2017. They think this will give sufficient time to get the admin and arrangements in place. It will also move the subscription billing
away from the time they send out Council tax bills (when finance Customer Services staff are really busy).
What the report didn't say is that a May/June start is also the peak time for grasscutting so more people are likely to sign up straight away to be able to get rid of their
- The subscription was to be £30 per green bin, but because the scheme is now delayed, the charge is to be reduced to £25 in year 1 with an increase to the full year £30 per bin in
year 2 (for a full year service).
- There's a small - but interesting and probably unintended - consequence of this decision - It was the Full Council who set the charge of £30, and whilst it will only seem common
sense to most people, to be technically correct, Fylde's Full Council meeting needs to approve this changed subscription fee of £25.
We doubt FBC will want to do that (unless it's
hidden in the small print of the overall budget considered in March). They won't want to risk the decisions already made being undone if they open that box again (especially now
that councillors know the detail of how the scheme will work), so we think they will just rely on it's being buried in the overall Budget report on 2 March.
Philosophically, we also struggle with the concept that whilst they are willing to reduce the charge pro-rata because of their inability to hit their target date, they are
not willing to make pro-rata adjustments to the charge for customers who join or leave the subscription list partway through a year. We imagine there may be scope for a
challenge to the unfairness demonstrated here if anyone was moved to make one.
- There will be no collections over Christmas, so there will only be 25 collections (= £0.58p per week or £1.16 per collection) for a full calendar year. That weekly
expression of cost is no doubt the way it will be sold in the literature - to encourage people to subscribe.
- Officers said they looked at offering discounts for: multiple bins; part year subscriptions; concessions; and other incentive schemes, but they say it's just too complicated
and expensive to offer them, at least at the start, so they don't want to do this. They say to have done so "would add resource, cost and risk to the project" - though they say
they will re-look at this matter once the scheme is bedded in.
This little example highlights something we go on about quite a bit.
It is absolutely classic officer speak.
It shows a (commendable) drive for efficiency and cost reduction - but it wholly ignores the impact the decision will have on people.
It has the take-it-or-leave-it appearance of a 'monopoly business' decision, not a Local Government decision.
When officers get too much influence, this is just what happens.
But when Councillors get too much influence, the opposite is often the case. Efficiency and costs often suffer because decisions move closer to a 'social service' type of
The best councils are those that run with a healthy and ongoing tension between these two groups.
But sadly, we think Fylde is too officer driven at present - as the interchange at the
November Committee we reported above clearly shows. Without the intervention of Cllr Brickles the decisions at that committee would effectively have been effectively taken by officers....
Back to the plot......
From what we can see, it also looks as thought people will have to sign up using a direct debit.
Even if we were going to subscribe (which we are not - because we compost and re-use everything except perennial weeds and woody material), this direct debit condition alone
would prevent us from doing so.
We simply can't see how any sane person would countenance giving another person or body the right to remove money from their bank account - irrespective of whether or not
they tell us that they're going to do it first. We have no willingness to use Direct Debits whatsoever, and whilst it is efficient from Fylde's point of view, it may not be the
best payment system for people.
With every step it takes these days, Fylde is sacrificing its capacity to meet the needs of individuals on the altar of cost reduction.
There are some other doublespeak gems in the report that we ought to highlight here as well - about coping the changes needed to computer programmes, and existing payment
There are some wonderfully prescient little quotes - for example these which say that:
"....any additional cost regarding system development can be met from within existing budgets as part of a corporate objective to migrate to digital services."
"...An online direct debit payment option is recommended as the preferred payment method with customers assisted in using this process over the telephone or face to face in
the One Stop Shop."
"It will not be possible to set up an automated payment telephone line as customers would require a unique account/invoice number however, the telephone system will be used
to direct callers to a dedicated officer who will assist customers in setting up online payment for the service, the same as if they were sat at home doing it themselves.
Payment technology has shifted from multiple payment channels to a single channel accessed through multiple methods e.g. online payment only by self-service, phone or face to
In plain English, the first of these means everyone is going to have to use digital payments for all Council services in future (ie cards and electronic payments), because
they are planning to at least minimise and probably actively discourage the use of payments by legal tender in coin of the realm, and by cheques.
In the second, (an even worse statement for green waste subscriptions) - Fylde is proposing subscriptions will only be payable electronically by Direct Debit - and people will have to adapt to
And the third one says an officer of the Council will promote the DD scheme on the phone in order to get people to set up direct debits with their bank. We're very hesitant
about this suggestion. People need to approach their bank for this information, not a service salesman.
Where this is all leading, as the last sentence shows, is that in the longer term - through the adoption of its controversial Corporate Plan (which was explicitly rejected
by Councillors outside the majority Conservative group. See our article Corporate?? Plan?? from Feb 2016) - Fylde has decided it will not to offer a variety of payment methods
in the future.
Instead it will focus on using the direct debit system whether you contact them in person, on the phone, in writing, or online.
Don't say we didn't warn you.
Back to the main plot......
The report then has a large section on the publicity the scheme will have. (That's in order to convince people to sign up for it and pay the annual subscription
-which in effect,
they are already paying to LCC in their Council Tax, but LCC want or need to use this money for other things).
The report then talks about people (like us) who don't sign up for a subscription, and if anyone who is not subscribed puts a green bin out, it will be rejected with a
sticker, and the incident logged against that address to identify the reason for non collection. Furthermore, a letter will be sent to the property with details of the scheme
and how they can subscribe. But if they continue to put green bins out for collection after receiving the letter, the bin will be removed from the property. (Fylde can do this
because they actually *own* the bins on your property - even though for the last few years, residents or developers have had to 'pay' for them. But all of the bins remain the property of the
Council, so they can take them away).
We'll be interested to note the reaction of one of our businessmen readers to this proposal. On hearing about the green waste charge for the first time said: fine, he would
be sending FBC an invoice to charge them for the use of his property to hold their bin - and he might just backdate it.
Finally, the officer report notes that participation typically drops at first, but increases over time as residents realise it is easier and cheaper than disposing of the
(We'd make the point here that re-use through home composting is actually cheaper, greener and more efficient, and that's where Fylde's main effort should go - but we don't
expect to get very far with that idea).
Fylde think the scheme will reach maximum participation in 2019-20, so they want to delay their original idea of collecting in all the 'non-subscription-scheme' green bins
until then. This is partly to encourage people to use them and sign up for subscriptions if the bin is still there, and partly because of the cost of collecting and storing
them, and then having to re-issue them if people change their minds about subscribing in the early part of the scheme.
There are two points of detail that we think have not been addressed so far:
We recall hearing Cllr Eaves say he thought it was a good idea for neighbours to share bins where only small volumes of green waste was produced, but we don't see
anything in the detailed report about it. We envisage here that a few properties in a neighbourhood could sign up for the scheme, but share their capacity - either at each
collection or by allocating specific collections to other households.
(For example, counterbalance towers only needs green waste disposal on two occasions a year (November and March - for prunings) so if we had say 2 of the 25 annual
collections allocated to us at a cost of around £2.50 a year, and other folk in our neighbourhood needed the bins at different times, we could collaborate so that it added up to
£30 overall, and the green bin could be "timeshared" as long as it was collected from the subscribing address).
Whether this sort of thing will be permitted or not has not been made clear.
Secondly, there is a much more contentious matter concerning green waste that is produced as a result of your paying a gardener who creates the waste from your garden.
Fylde has (probably understandably) studiously avoided comment on this topic so far, and we think it could affect many folk in the better-off parts of Fylde like Wrea Green.
The problem comes because when you employ someone to do your garden, the waste they produce is classed as commercial waste, not domestic waste (yes, we know its a stupid
distinction, but that's what the classification is), so Fylde should not be collecting green waste produced by commercial gardeners, and we expect there will be a clause in
the subscription agreement that will say this.
According to the law, those gardeners should be paying commercial waste charges to dispose of their waste material.
We think it's a wholly stupid idea and a ridiculous distinction, but it's what the law says.
Wyre Council has been more upfront on this matter that Fylde has been so far.
Their draft subscription agreement (we haven't seen the current version) says "8. If you employ a gardener or handyman service to maintain your garden, they should make provision
to take away the waste and dispose of it as commercial waste."
Readers can follow this link to download a copy of the draft agreement that Wyre residents have to accept in order to subscribe to Wyre's service.
There may have been changes since the draft that went to councillors for approval, but readers will get the gist of what was proposed.
Wyre has a couple of other notable differences to Fylde's arrangements.
In Wyre, second and subsequent green bin subscriptions will be charged at £25 pa, not £30, and Wyre say that at the start of the service, wheeled bins that were no longer
required would be collected within 5 months, and reused as replacements.
Wyre will not remove green bins containing large branches, turf, earth, soil, stones, gravel etc and the garden waste must not be put in plastic bags. We've yet to see Fylde
consider these aspects.
Wyre also limited subscriber properties to those where a 26 tonne Refuse Collection vehicle can access, and they require payment annually in advance using the online payment
service by debit or credit card. (which is, in our view, preferable to Fylde's Direct Debit proposals)
On the positive side, one thing the Wyre report did note was the opportunity to receive additional income resulting from higher than expected participation levels, and they
would strongly promote the service as offering an affordable charge and easy payment methods.
This is exactly what we're worrying about.
We think something of a con trick is being played on those who subscribe - fro green waste collection - probably in many places throughout the UK - but most likely in Wyre and Fylde.
Back to Fylde's own report again, quite interestingly, the 'Legal Implications box' on the report notes
"In proposing revised arrangements for the collection of garden waste the
Council is required to have regard to the provisions of the Equalities Act 2010 and s.17 of the Crime & Disorder Act 1998. Nothing within the proposals to charge for the
collection of waste contravenes the provisions of these Acts"
However, it is our understanding that if the Council has evidence of, or has reason to believe, that some (racial, disability, gender, sexuality, age, and religious
belief) groups may be affected differently than others, or, if there is public concern about potentially discriminatory practices or their impact (eg in complaints,
consultation or feedback), then the Council would need to undertake something called an 'Equality Impact Assessment' (ostensibly to demonstrate whether there are or are not
differently affected groups - and if so, to assess the extent of the likely or alleged impact on those groups) before implementing the scheme.
So far as we know, Fylde has not done such an impact assessment, and they did not seek information about the impact on different groups in the consultation they undertook.
So with no information to hand, they can justifiably claim not to have any evidence or reason to believe there is a problem.
However, the population profile of Fylde is very exceptionally skewed toward older people. Abnormally large numbers of retired people live here, many on fixed income
pensions, and we wonder if there is a case to be made that such older people would be disproportionately affected by the charge, especially when there is no age concession or
discount being offered.
Some places do offer concessions. We have seen them elsewhere for those on low incomes. For Example,
- Oxford City Council takes green waste free of charge to those receiving Council Tax or Housing Benefit at the time they join the scheme.
- Bracknell Forest Council offer a concession of up to 50% to those on low incomes who are in receipt of a DWP income related benefit (such as Income Support, Income based
JSA, Guaranteed Pension Credit and Employment Income Related Support Allowance).
This was the sort of matter that Cllr Alan Clayton sought to address in the committee, but his approach came to naught.
So at present, Fylde has no impact assessment planned, and no concessions.
SO WHAT WAS SAID AT THIS JANUARY MEETING?
The officer introduced her report with no surprises from the text we have highlighted above. Cllr Eaves reminded members that he had promised the scheme details would come
to the committee for approval, and they were now presented.
At last, things were being done properly.
Cllr Karen Henshaw wanted to know how much the subscriptions would bring in. The officer said they had no indication at all. They could look at examples in other councils
where it has been as low as 7% and as high as70% but until Fylde started advertising it they had no indication at all.
This sounded awfully like a smokescreen from the officer. She knows (and has published) the income at varying take-up rates and could easily have given the range that she
had previously quoted to the Committee in her reports, but she chose not to do this. She did say Fylde was a green area with large gardens and she hoped they would be
encouraged to join the scheme.
Cllr Julie Brickles said she was worried they were not offering concessions in the first year. She thought people would be struggling to find the £25 or £30 extra and she
would have liked to see those conditions in place before they started the scheme.
The officer stonewalled again with - we're looking at best practice and taking the advice of the IT professionals and the finance department so it is set up to suit them.
In an attempt to smooth over the passage of the recommendations, Cllr Eaves gave an assurance that concessions would be reconsidered after 12 months of operation.
Cllr Frank Andrews said no-one wanted to bring the charge in, but they had a very good reason for doing so, and it was important to make people understand why it was
necessary to bring it in.
There was then a proposal from Cllr Angela Jacques, seconded by Cllr Frank Andrews that they approve the recommendations.
The vote was a show of hands. We couldn't see who voted which way, but those present were
Councillors: Frank Andrews, Julie Brickles, Karen Henshaw JP, Angela Jacques (substituting for Councillor Sandra Pitman), and Barbara Nash (substituting for Councillor
At this meeting there was only one non-conservative councillor, (Cllr Julie Brickles) present, and she asked for her name to be recorded as having voted against the
And with that vote, most, if not all of the fine detail of the scheme was approved.
Provided that the implementation goes well (which is not at all certain, and if it were up to us we would be asking for better updates that show implementation progress
plotted against milestones and targets if we were a member of the Committee - so we could better spot potential problems), it will happen from this June.
FINANCE AND DEMOCRACY MEETING 20.FEB.17
Having decided the details and the charge at the operating committee, the Finance and Democracy Committee is where the money aspect all comes together.
The Finance officer's report to the Finance and Democracy Committee said:
"Income levels arising from the scheme are calculated by reference to assumed participation rates of 50% in year 1, 60% in year 2 and 70% thereafter
as detailed in the December report to Council. Actual take-up and the consequential income that this will generate is difficult to estimate ahead of
implementation of the scheme. As the scheme commences and progresses it may be necessary to make changes to the estimated income levels
within later updates to the financial forecast.
It is proposed that the upfront one-off costs associated with implementing the scheme will be met from existing revenue budgets wherever possible.
However if this is not achievable any shortfall will be met from the income that is generated in year 1 of the scheme which may affect the income
assumptions used at this stage."
A less polite phrasing for paragraph one might be 'we're going to adjust the targets to what actually happens so we can never be seen to wrong' - but to be fair, this is a
completely new way of doing things for Fylde.
Paragraph one also shows that Fylde's most recent estimate assumes a 50% take-up in year 1, a 60% take-up in year 2, and a 70% take-up thereafter.
Using what we regard the most reliable basis available to calculate income, (The Officer's March 2016 report), there are 33,883 properties with one or more green bins.
Adding in 10% on top of this number is a reasonable estimate to account for the properties that have multiple green bins, (10% is what Wyre BC found in practice during its first year
of operation). This gives us a probable total of 37,271 properties that COULD want to subscribe to the paid-for green waste service.
Using Fylde's latest estimated take-up rates, the income that number of bins would produce will be:
- Year1: Assume 37,271 green bin properties with 50% take-up (1. With a part year service @ £25 per bin) = £465,887 OR (With a full year service @ £30 per bin this would be)
- Year 2: Full year, and assuming the same number of properties and same subscription charge of £30 per bin but take-up increased to 60%= £670,878
- Year 3 and thereafter: assuming the same properties and subscription charge of £30, but take-up increased to an ongoing 70% = £782,691
We know the cost of Fylde's green waste collection this year is a bit less than £564,000 - so on our calculations using Fylde's own projections, FBC will be in profit from year 2 onwards (by around
£10,600 in year 2 and almost £22,000 a year thereafter)
But Fylde is projecting much lower levels of income in its own estimates of income (ie in what it calls its 'Medium Term Financial Strategy').
This assumes an income in year 1 of £300,000 and in year 2 £440,000 and from year 3 onwards £500,000.
We think this is because they're (intentionally) using the wrong basis on which to calculate the number of subscriptions there will be.
Their September 2016 report changed how they estimated the number of bins - from an actual 33,883 green bin properties in March, to (a rounded looking) 20,000 green bins
"regularly presented for collection" in September
But the subscription charge is levied per bin per property per year, not how often you put it out for collection during the year.
We think Fylde has found a plausible way of artificially deflating the likely number of subscribing households, and from that, a deflated projection of the income they will
receive each year.
So why would they want to do that?
Well we think it is being done to justify a higher charge than is necessary to cover green bin collection costs.
We think they're covertly setting out to make a profit from the green waste service. - Despite what Cllr Eaves said.
In fact they're likely to be in profit in year 1 as well - because they're also getting the £760,000 from LCC who are committed to paying this grant to Fylde until March
We accept that Fylde's operational costs will rise under subscription scheme - because they will have additional work to manage a subscription list and make the subscription
charge to each household on the list, so the computer time and finance staff re-charge is going to increase.
But we'd be surprised if that exceeds the income from the thousands of new houses that now have planning permission in Warton, St Annes and elsewhere, none of which have
been taken into account in the forward financial modelling we've seen reported so far.
And if the year 1 take-up rate goes up to the 80% (the rate that Fylde's officer said that Wyre had achieved in its first year), then these figures will be blown out of the
water anyway, and the service will be much more profitable for Fylde.
We wanted to know if Fylde were planning to publish their income and expenditure for Green Waste as a separate cost centre, (so people could see whether they were paying the
right amount to cover the costs of the service). So using the 'Public Platform' at the Finance and Democracy Committee meeting, to ask some questions.
First, we wanted to know if the income was being classed in the same way as Fylde's other fees and charges (which are set annually by the Council), or whether it was going
to be classed as external contract income (which is not considered by councillors, but is, in effect, set by officers who submit prices - and hopefully generate surplus income
- for external grounds maintenance contracts they win in competition with other contractors).
As we expected and hoped, the Finance officer said it was a charge that was introduced by Council in the same way as other fees and charges were set by the Council and they
were not treating it as a private contract.
Our second question asked whether, in view of the significant sums involved, the service would have its own cost centre in the Council's accounts.
Having it as a separate cost centre means that staff time, materials, transport and overheads etc applicable to this service would all have to be costed specifically to the
green waste service and thus shown separately in the Council's estimates of expenditure - along with the income derived from the service. It means you can see at a glance
whether the service is covering its costs, or losing money or making a surplus.
We were less happy (but not altogether surprised) with the Finance Officer's answer which in reality was "No" but his 'No' was expressed as:
"At the moment all of the Council's operational services in terms of waste are contained in one cost centre, so, refuse collection, recycling, all the costs and all the
income is contained in one cost centre. The intention is to have an additional line within that cost centre to represent income from the green waste charges, so there isn't a
proposal at this stage to accept a cost centre for green waste charges."
What this means is that, this service (which is not part of the public service provided from taxation, but rather it is a service offered by FBC on a voluntary subscription
basis), at least so far as Fylde's published estimates and accounts are concerned, will not separate out its costs.
We will know the total income, but won't see the cost.
So we'll only be getting half the story.
Like Wyre BC (see below), Fylde will be able to say it does not collect the green waste costing data separately, and therefore it will not be possible for councillors (or
members of the public) to judge how successfully or otherwise the green waste service is operating.
Furthermore, we wonder if, as Cllr Eaves said, "It is the objective of the subscription service to look to the costs of the green waste service itself"
- then without
separating out the costs for green waste so that councillors can know what those costs are, how is it possible they can properly set future charges to meet the objective of
covering the green waste service costs?
Accounting-wise, this collecting of costs cannot be that difficult to do, because Fylde's technical officer has twice reported a breakdown of those very costs (for operating
the green waste service) to the Operational Management Committee (in March and September 2016).
So the cost accounting system must already be able to separate it out. (And in any case it would be gross incompetence for any manager not to know how accurately their costs
and spending matched their budget).
We can't help wondering if it's the *publishing* of the data that's the problem here.
If that is the reason, we think transparency ought to have a higher priority.
We regard this as an important matter, and something we expect to take further.
Our final question asked what level of analysis would be captured and available for both income and expenditure.
Would data be collected only for the whole of Fylde, or would it be available as per ward or per parish, or per collection round or per postcode for example.
The Finance officer was honest enough to say it was not something he had thought about or explored yet, but he didn't think it would be readily easily identifiable.
The Chief Executive added:
"I've been engaged with the working group, the officer working group that's been looking at this and they've spent quite a lot of time looking at the data
analysis and I'm
aware that BARTEC, the system that we brought in that's recording the properties that have green waste collection service can certainly provide analysis by postcode and
collection round. That BARTEC is the collection rounds itself.
The IT team are working with the Operational Management to see whether there's an upgrade to BARTEC that can put either ward or parish. I don't think it will be able to do
both, it will be one or the other"
We were grateful for this further explanation, which is fine as far as it goes. It will collect operational management data about the actual collections (which
collected, and so on), and that's exactly what we would have expected an efficient operation (like Fylde's) to know for its internal managing purposes.
But what's missing here is something like a comparable analysis of the financial data, so both costs and income can be analysed and compared when councillors are being asked
to take decisions, and ideally it should be available at a more detailed level than the whole of Fylde Borough.
So we left this meeting a bit clearer, but not a lot happier.
WHAT IS THE TAKE-UP AND INCOME ELSEWHERE?
Fylde's take-up and income assumptions are now pretty clear, so we used the Freedom of Information Act to ask for the figures from Wyre and Blackpool - to compare them
We asked for details of the raw numbers so we could calculate our own percentage take-ups.
But it proved impossible to do accurately, because each council claims not to have some of the data needed to make accurate comparisons.
For example, Fylde knew in March that it had 33,883 properties from which green waste was collected, and in September they knew they regularly collected 20,000 green bins.
Fylde also knew the cost of green waste collection which was: £561,518 (in March 2016) and £563,810 (in September 2016)
Wyre said it did not know how many properties had green bins collected before the subscription service started, but they said they estimated it to be 40,000
collected out of the 51,384 properties that have any sort of bin.
They also said they did not monitor the average (or regularly presented) number of green bins collected since the subscription service began.
They also claimed not to know the total cost of operating the green waste collection service, including support service and management costs. (They say the cost elements of
the Waste & Recycling Service are not broken down independently, although they do know the cost of ALL Wyre's waste and re-cycling as a combined total, but this includes
bottles and cardboard etc and is not a lot of help).
Readers will recognise that because this information is said to be not available from Wyre BC, it is not possible to determine how many of the former green bin properties or
green bin collections in Wyre are now collected within the subscription service. So their take-up rate remains unknown to the public.
Our readers might also speculate - as do we - whether Wyre are reluctant to collect and publish such data - because in doing so, they could be held to account by residents
and subscribers who would be able to work out the numbers, costs and income for green bins before and after the change, and they could see whether the subscription charge
covered the costs or whether Wyre was making a profit from them.
Likewise, Blackpool said they did not know how many green bins were routinely collected before the subscription was introduced.
But they did better with the number of households. Unlike Wyre, they knew that 56,000 households had some form of waste collected, and that 23,000 households had green bins
collected before the subscription service started, and that under the new subscription service, they now collect from 10,000 households.
We make that a take-up rate of just over 43% on the previous usage.
Blackpool also told us their green waste cost was £210,000 a year.
This is very different from Fylde, and probably because Blackpool is very much more urbanised than Fylde and Wyre, so it's green waste is likely to be much less in scale,
and comparisons with Blackpool and Fylde are probably unreliable bellwethers anyway.
Based on the information they provided, it is not possible to properly determine the take-up rate in Wyre. The nearest one can get is to take the 'Estimated 40,000
households' to which the former (non-subscription) green waste removal service was available and compare it with the 21,263 households that currently subscribe to the green
waste collection service.
When you do this, it indicates a take-up rate of just over 53%,
But it is difficult to square this with Fylde's officer reported in September 2016
"Fylde is very often compared to Wyre with many socio economic and geographical
similarities, in 2016 Wyre introduced a chargeable waste collection service in response to the removal of the cost sharing payments from LCC and to date have over 80% take up
of the service,..."
So we have little or no confidence in the Wyre take-up figures, and we suspect they could be higher.
Like Fylde, Wyre may also be 'doctoring' the calculation it uses - so it understates the projected income, then - when it receives more than expected - they will say they
can't separate it out from the overall waste income and costs.
It was not really any better in Blackpool.
They told us the collection cost was £210,000 a year and they had 10,000 subscribing households.
But the Gazette of 10 July 2016 said (at that time) the council had 7,000
subscribers and had therefore met its target of 3,340 subscriptions in order for the reduced service to cover its annual costs of £100,260."
So the number of subscribers in Blackpool grew from 7,000 to 10,000 between July and December 2016, - but the cost of operating the service appears to have doubled from £100k
to £200k over the same period.
We simply cannot believe that is correct.
counterbalance is quite iffy about accuracy, so we're not happy using the comparisons we received from these other councils.
But we do think something is not right here.
You don't need to be a winner of 'Mastermind' to see that if Blackpool have 10,000 subscribers paying (this next year) £30 each, that will generate £300,000.
At one end this
means they're making a profit of £100,000 a year, and at the other (if - as the Gazette reported - costs were only £100,260), it's making a profit of almost £200,000.
So for once, we're not able to bring our readers what we would be able to describe as the definitive position from our neighbouring councils.
We remain very suspicious about Fylde's figures as well.
Cllr Eaves did say:
It is the objective of the subscription service to look to the costs of the green waste service itself
We hope this means that he wants, (as Cllr Liz Oades had proposed as an amendment at Council 0n 5th December), that the charge should only recover the cost of running the service
around £564,000). That means Fylde need 18,800 people to subscribe to the service.
We will be watching.
There will be another Council meeting that will approve the overall budget on 2 March, and we may see some further changes by that time, or at that meeting.
If there is any significant change we will bring it to our readers as soon as we can.
And we expect to report further on the accounting arrangements Fylde decides to adopt as well.
Dated: 24 February 2017