Oral statement to Parliament

Speech by Bob Neill on local government and waste management in a localist world

Local Government Minister Bob Neill talks about waste management

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Bob Neill

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

Thank you for, once again, inviting me to speak at your annual conference. So much has happened in the last twelve months and I am privileged to have the opportunity to update you today on what we have been doing.

Creating markets to support the growth agenda

The waste industry plays an important role in promoting local - and green - growth. Last year, local authority waste management contributed around 3.3 billion. This is a significant sum of money and its impact on the British economy should not be underestimated.

But it is not just an important growth industry, it is a vital service. Millions of people rely on it to take away their daily build up household waste.

It is the one service people know they get for their 120 a month in council tax. We can’t lose sight of that. The vast majority of people are grateful for that service.

Much of this is down to people in this room and I would like to thank you all for your contribution. Without it this country would be a lot less pleasant a place to live.


Many of the changes we have brought about in the last year are evidence of localism in action. We are giving local authorities and their residents a greater say in how their rubbish and recycling services are delivered.

We have brought about a 360 degree turn in how waste collections are thought about. Instead of a crime and punishment approach we want a system that focuses on the best possible service. Where it is easier for the council and the householders to do the right thing.

Where councils promote rewards and incentives, new technology, more joint working and better procurement, to support weekly rubbish and recycling collections.

We are supporting that aim by consigning bin taxes to the dustbin of history.

Since the start of the year no council can charge families - the people they serve - for overfilling their bin or introduce extra tariffs for taking away household waste. Pay as you throw is not the right way to improve collections.

Fortnightly collections are unpopular and unhygienic.

It’s the traditional weekly bin round that people want to see. We have got rid of the Audit Commission guidance that started the shift to fortnightly pick ups. Councils will no longer be marked down for offering that service.

To help with the transition back to weekly collections we have put 250 million on the table through our Weekly Collection Support Scheme so that councils can reinstate, or retain weekly waste collections, alongside improving environmental benefits like improved recycling rates or greater cost effectiveness.

Householders will no longer face the threat of a 1,000 fine or a criminal conviction for mistakenly putting a yogurt pot in the wrong bin or leaving it out a little too long.

This Government knows that bin fines were the wrong way to go. So they are being abolished. Step one was to reduce the level of the fine to an acceptable level. It was ridiculous that someone who made a simple mistake like putting something in the wrong bin could be fined more than a shoplifter.

Next we will introduce a ‘harm to local amenity’ test so appropriate action can be taken against fly-tippers and consistent offenders, but not ordinary householders.

Localism is integral to boosting recycling and improving waste management, because it is about strengthened local accountability.

At the heart of our agenda, is the wish to see citizens able to hold their councils to account, for the services that they receive.

The Localism Act supports investment in infrastructure and recognises the pivotal role planning contributes to delivering and maintaining appropriate and effective waste facilities. We have made it easier for citizens to engage with and shape the impact of planning decisions in their local area.

This will help them engage more constructively on where to locate waste facilities.

Weekly Collection Support Scheme

We launched our Weekly Collection Support Scheme in February this year.

The bids we have received show that there is significant scope for councils to increase recycling rates and improve a frontline service without cutting the frequency of collections.

As you know outline bids had to be sent in by last month and I am pleased to say that we received 166 bids. More than many people expected. There are a range of proposals including infrastructure projects and incentive schemes.

We are getting ready to give those bidders bespoke feedback later this month.

This will help local authorities as they seek to finalise and improve their bids in time for the final bids deadline of 17 August 2012.

In so many areas local authorities have ignored their residents’ needs and chosen to cut bin collections; this Scheme encourages local authorities to keep householder interests at the heart of their waste collection service, where they belong.

Any savings must also lead to service improvements otherwise councils are just getting paid to provide a worse service. It will let councils make decisions for their people not their budgets. This is the principle at the heart of localism. Serve the people, rather than the Government.

Sutton Borough Council get this. They are listening. They consulted their local people through open houses and an online forum on the quality, frequency, and costs of bin collections as part of a drive to save a million pounds, or 25 per cent of their waste budget.

As a result Sutton is renewing its commitment to weekly collections of household waste. They found the savings by using new technology to improve collection routes that allowed them more flexible shift patterns.

Local authorities and their residents deserve to choose the service that they receive.

Councils have chosen to bid and I am delighted that so many have taken up the offer.

We have not prescribed how councils go about delivering a weekly collection service, but will favour councils being innovative or tailoring their services to local needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to a good, high quality waste collection service. They need to be bespoke. To fit each specific circumstance.

We are also making the money easily available: successful bidders can choose a ‘one off payment’ or spread it over (up to) three years.

Innovative councils will also embrace this opportunity to invest in more sustainable waste management options - such as increased recycling and smarter procurement deals.

For example, Sandwell has kept a weekly bin collection service and, at the same time, taken huge steps to boost recycling. Their partnership with Serco means that by 2020 Sandwell will be recycling or composting at least 60 per cent of household rubbish. The majority of the remainder will be turned into renewable energy leaving less than five per cent going to expensive landfill.

Thanks to increased recycling, an estimated 300 million savings will be made over 25 years.

And Portsmouth City Council are working with Biffa Waste Services to deliver weekly pick ups to over 200,000 residents in the city.

They’ll save 1 million per year, reduce CO2 emissions and have new software technology.

Other local authorities should learn from this and use the Scheme to develop new, better, ways of working.

Partnership Proposals

Lord Taylor spoke about the importance of partnership working yesterday and I would like to reiterate that message and highlight the importance of public-private partnerships.

The close co-operation of local authorities and industry with local communities will help find the right solution for each place that puts the householder at the centre of the service while meeting our recycling targets and providing even greater value for money for the council tax payer.


I’ve already touched briefly on planning. It goes hand in hand with localism. Planning plays a pivotal role in delivering new waste management facilities that improve services and help move waste up the waste hierarchy. But, as I said, they can be very unpopular neighbours.

As you will know, we did not think that the previous planning system was working. It was too adversarial and too complex. And too few plans were coming forward. That is why we are reforming the planning system.

It is important local people see the direct benefits of the facilities needed to provide the waste services that they want. So that rather than having to go through the courts trying to impose on them, as was done before, communities will welcome them.

Together the Localism Act and the National Planning Policy Framework are reinforcing our localist approach. Decisions are being taken by those who know their areas best. It firmly places communities at the heart of decision making. It decentralises the power and responsibility to shape places out of Whitehall.

It also enshrines the Local Plan and confirms that planning should focus on local needs, empowering local people to shape their surroundings, setting out a positive vision for the future of their area.

And whilst there is a transition period of 12 months for those local authorities that have recently adopted a Local Plan, my advice to all councils is to press ahead and ensure they have an up-to-date plan in place at the earliest opportunity.

Influencing behaviours

We want to see more householders recycling. We don’t want them to live in fear of being caught accidentally doing the wrong thing or feeling like they have been coerced into recycling. We want to enable residents to make well-informed decisions and choose to recycle. We want them to understand the benefits that recycling brings - both environmental and economic.

Reward schemes like Recyclebank and Local Green Points are already being successfully used to encourage residents to increase recycling rates and reduce the amount of waste householders send to landfill.

For years many of you in the waste industry have been trying to shift the attitudes of the rest of us; to try to get people to see waste as a resource, something valuable, not just something to be thrown away. These schemes are getting that message through to people in a far more tangible way than we’ve seen before.

They bring a real benefit to householders who participate in local recycling schemes. Finally, residents are beginning to cotton on to the value of what they are putting into their bin.

When people see a price tag they are going to stop and think about which bin they are going to use.

These schemes not only educate people, they enable them to make an informed decision to recycle as much as possible. Given the right promotion these incentive schemes can bring householders along with you, rather than leaving them lagging behind. We need to see more of them.


Localism, the planning system and waste management can work hand in hand to put householders at the centre of waste collection services. The Government is dedicated to promoting these things.

We are doing our bit to help reshape the playing field around the principle of better service. Councils can once again think about how to offer a good weekly collection, improve recycling rates and reduce the amount of waste they send to landfill.

People will instinctively choose to do the right thing and recycle more if we make it a positive experience for them.

Let’s keep working together to make that happen and give them the best possible waste service.

Published 13 June 2012