Local councils deliver a panoply of local services. But when you ask local people what they expect to be delivered as core services, regular bin collections and clean streets almost always top the list.
That’s why councillors have been inundated with residents understandably upset about Camden Council reducing bin collections to once a fortnight across most of our community. Not only does this force residents to keep waste in their homes for longer, but it will inevitably lead to more fly-tipping and vermin infestations.
Fly-tipping has already turned streets from West End Lane to England’s Lane into obstacle courses – and that will only get worse. Shouldn’t we collect residents’ bins regularly in the first place, rather than having to spend more on clearing up the epidemic of fly-tipping and explosion in rat populations that will follow a cut in collections?
The cut has been a disappointment to me and a betrayal of local residents. Labour councillors were elected in 2014 on an explicit manifesto promise to “maintain weekly recycling and waste collection services for all of our residents”: a promise they clearly never intended to keep.
Camden’s rubbish record on rubbish also extends to recycling. Since 2010, recycling has risen across the UK to 44%: overtaking France and Italy. That same year, responsibility for Camden’s service passed from the Conservatives to Labour – and on Labour’s watch, Camden’s bucked the positive national trend by reducing the recycling rate from 32% to 25%.
Bin collections have been cut across the north of the borough: from West Hampstead to Highgate. These areas have the highest recycling rates in Camden, while the areas that recycle less seeing no change to services. As such, cutting collections will do nothing to boost recycling.
Last week, I asked Camden’s administration why recycling rates had fallen and what was being done to arrest that decline. Curiously, the Cabinet member blamed people consuming more thanks to the UK economy’s rapid growth. I’m not one to deny the economy does better under the Conservatives, but this buck-passing doesn’t help residents.
Camden needs to identify what’s caused the decline in recycling locally. Just 2% of Camden’s waste budget is spent on education and enforcement – instead of boosting that, Labour’s first instinct is to make false economies by cutting collections.
Camden must also take tougher action on fly-tippers. In May, the Government allowed councils to introduce £400 on-the-spot fines for fly-tipping. While Brent took two days to issue its first fine, it took Camden seven months to take action – and even now, the fines are just £200: half the £400 that almost every other borough has implemented. Letting fly-tippers off lightly will not lead to cleaner streets.
Instead of punishing fly-tippers, Camden has chosen to punish residents by cutting services. Weekly bin collections are a basic service that every resident has a right to expect and they should be restored as soon as possible. Labour councillors were right to promise to keep them – Camden residents will be worse off now they’ve broken that promise.
The above op-ed was written for the Ham&High (9 February 2017).
For more about my campaign to restore weekly bin collections, click here.