Waste Strategy: Implications for local authorities Contents

Introduction

1.For many people, the most tangible service they receive in return for paying council tax is the collection of their household waste. Bin collections are always an important issue in local elections, and councillors and officers place a high priority on ensuring that the waste collection and disposal services their authorities provide are appropriate for the communities they serve.1 Particular attention is paid to the frequency of collections, how materials are collected, whether additional services should be provided and at what cost.

2.At a national level, the Government also has a responsibility to ensure the country meets it obligations to reduce waste, increase recycling and protect the environment. Many of the these obligations—such as the commitment to reach a municipal waste recycling target of 65 per cent by 2035—are agreed at a European Union level and the legislation which underpins them will be retained in UK law through the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018.2 Governments might also be elected with manifesto commitments relating to household waste, as was the case in 2017, when the Conservative Party manifesto promised to support “comprehensive rubbish collection and recycling” services.3

3.There is therefore, as in many other policy areas, often a tension between local decision makers, who argue that they know their areas best and are directly accountable to their residents through the ballot box—that is, asserting the principle of ‘localism’—and the national Government, which argues that it has a responsibility to meet its national and international obligations.

4.It is a tension that became apparent with the publication of the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy for England (the ‘Waste Strategy’) in December 2018.4 The Strategy sets out policy proposals for the achievement of five strategic ambitions, which reflect the Government’s commitments:

To achieve these ambitions, the Government told us that it would be necessary to “transform the recycling collected from households in England and to provide a truly comprehensive service for rubbish and recycling.”6

5.The Waste Strategy, and four subsequent consultations, set out policy proposals that would lead to significant changes to how waste collection services are provided by local authorities.7 In particular, the Government has called for greater consistency in collection services, specifically for dry recyclable materials, weekly food waste collections, free garden waste collections, a minimum frequency for residual waste collections, and a new Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). The Government has also announced plans to reform how local authorities receive funding for the provision of waste collection and disposal services. It proposes the introduction of an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme, through which those who place products on the market will bear greater responsibility for the costs of the disposal of those products.8 The Government also made a commitment to provide local authorities with “additional resource to meet any new net costs arising from the policies set out in the Strategy” including “both up front transition costs and ongoing operational costs.”9 The Government confirmed its intention to pursue these policies in a series of consultation responses published on 23 July 2019.10 Many of these proposals will be included in an upcoming Environment Bill.11

6.Following the publication of the Waste Strategy, this Committee decided to hold an inquiry into the implications for local authorities arising from the proposals set out in the Government’s Waste Strategy.12 We issued a call for written submissions on 22 March 2019 and sought evidence on the financial consequences for local authorities and whether these had been adequately addressed by the Government, including the likely effect on existing contracts for waste collection and disposal. We asked for views on whether there should be greater consistency in waste services across England, and if the proposals put forward by the Government would indeed lead to higher recycling rates. Finally, we wanted to know whether there were opportunities for closer joint-working between authorities, particularly in two-tier areas.

7.We received 35 written submissions to our inquiry. We also held three public evidence sessions in May, June and July 2019, hearing from academics and experts, waste management companies, local authority officials and political representatives, and the then-Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

8.During the final evidence session, the then-Minister for the Environment, Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, told us that the Government expected to publish its responses to the four Waste Strategy consultations quickly, which it did on 23 July 2019.13 She explained that it would be helpful for us to publish our conclusions and recommendations quickly, so they could be taken into account in advance of the publication of the Government’s consultation responses. Consequently, on 16 July 2019, we sent a letter to Rishi Sunak MP, then-Minister for Local Government, outlining our interim conclusions and recommendations, so they could be fully considered in advance of the publication of the Government’s consultation responses.14 In the letter, we committed to publishing a full report later in the year, setting out the evidence we heard in the written submissions and public evidence.

9.This report, therefore, sets out the evidence we heard during our inquiry, providing context for the recommendations we published earlier in the year. The first chapter addresses concerns around the Government’s proposals for greater consistency in the waste collection and disposal services provided by local authorities. The second chapter outlines the evidence we heard regarding the financial implications of the Government’s proposals, in particular the EPR scheme and commitments to provide additional funding to local authorities. The final chapter of the report addresses wider considerations arising from the Waste Strategy, including proposals for an incineration tax and calls for a review of whether the existing models of delivery and governance for the management of waste in two-tier areas continue to be appropriate.

10.We would like to place on record our thanks to all those who made written submissions to our inquiry and to those who provided public evidence to us. We are also grateful to Neil Parish MP and John Grogan MP who, as members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, joined us as guests to support our evidence gathering process.


1 See, for example, Local elections: Do voters care more about bins than Brexit?, BBC News, 4 April 2018

2 Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, December 2018, page 18

4 Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, December 2018

5 Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, December 2018, page 17

6 DEFRA (IWS0028), para 1

8 Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, December 2018, page 31

9 DEFRA (IWS0028), para 5

10 Consistency in recycling collections in England: executive summary and government response; Packaging waste: changing the UK producer responsibility system for packaging waste; Introducing a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers (bottles and cans); Plastic packaging tax, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 23 July 2019

11 Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill 2018, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 23 July 2019

12 Waste Strategy: Implications for local authorities examined by Committee, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, 22 March 2019

13 Q243 (Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment)




Published: 5 September 2019