Posted: 06.10.20 at 14:58 by The Editor
THE collapsing state of Thurrock Council’s finances means that residents may be asked to pay another £30 a year for their brown bin recycling service – while job cuts could follow as the waste collection service is forced to make cutbacks.
And green bin collection is set to go fortnightly!
The news, sparked in a report to next week’s cabinet, has rocked many councillors – particularly those on the council’s Cross Party Working Group on recycling and waste strategy who say a year’s work on a project to improve the service and save jobs has been thrown away.
Those councillors had hoped that concerns about the changes, expressed at a recent meeting of the cleaner, greener, safer overview & scrutiny committee might prompt a change in policy – but next week’s cabinet is being asked to rubber-stamp all the changes.
And a statement by the ruling Conservative group that the working party came up with the changes has been rubbished by its members – who have expressed anger that they are being blamed for changes being ‘sneaked in’ rather than endorsed by the working party.
The council’s portfolio holder for environment, Cllr Aaron Watkins, is at the forefront of controversy and told Thurrock Nub News of the anguish of having to make tough decisions, saying: “These are decisions that we hadn’t even contemplated thinking about only a few months ago but the changing face of the council finances because of coronavirus has impacted upon the service.
“The council is in a financial position we did not expect and we have to respond to that.”
His comments come in the wake of repeated statements by his Conservative cabinet colleagues speaking in upbeat tones about the council’s financial position because of their strategy of borrowing to raise funds through investments.
Despite those assurances, a warning of what might be about to happen came in June when the architect of the council’s financial strategy warned that tough times might be ahead.
Sean Clark, the man behind the borrowing of more than one billion pounds to play the investment markets, told the council’s corporate overview and scrutiny committee in June that at that point the cost of coping with the coronavirus on the borough was just half a million pounds and said he was ‘comfortable’ with the position of the council’s finances, but he was concerned about the impact of Covid going into next year.
Now the warnings have turned into reality, with today’s bins strategy recommendations highlighting possibly just some of the changes in services that may have to be made and the council seeks to claw back an as yet unannounced likely budget shortfall - estimated by opposition members to be more than £20 million.
And it comes in the wake of previous statements by Conservative councillors in Thurrock that they could not countenance fortnightly main waste bin collections.
Cllr Watkins says: “The cross-party waste management working group have looked at the results of a public consultation carried out earlier this year and what other authorities with high recycling rates have done as well as examining every aspect of waste collection, disposal and recycling here in Thurrock. I am grateful for the thorough work carried out by the group.
“They have been working hard over the last 14 months ensuring a robust strategy would be produced.
“This strategy will play a significant role in boosting recycling rates and building on the good work we have already been doing such as delivering a new recycling scheme to flats. By making sure that more of the borough’s waste is reused or recycled we can cut down on harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
“Throughout this process, our hard-working staff have been at the heart of our conversations and have been fully consulted on developments.
“The approach recommended ensures weekly collections will be maintained for the majority of waste, while helping to encourage residents into recycling more and wasting less.”
However, members of the working group – including Conservative councillors Shane Ralph and David van Day, have issued a joint statement refuting Cllr Watkins’ assertion that they support all the changes.
It says: “We in the Waste Management Working Group took some tough decisions to address Thurrock Council’s failing recycling performance while, at the same time, trying to minimise the negative impact on residents. Having done so, we are extremely disappointed to see cabinet going against a key part of our advice.
“The cabinet are telling us they accept our recommendations in full, but they have added a charge for brown bin collections which we did not recommend - in fact the working group specifically considered this and rejected it as unfair to those residents who rely on these collections.
“We understand the financial difficulties the council finds itself in but charging some people twice for collecting refuse is just unfair.
“If they are going to ignore a year’s worth of careful, cross party, consideration of this strategy we have to wonder whether the cabinet’s motivation is genuinely about increasing recycling or just about saving money.
“We spent a year working together, putting aside the politics and focusing on the big issues, only to see a decision foisted on us that none of us would have accepted. We are starting to wonder now, what was the point?”
The proposed changes will see the council introduce a specific food waste recycling system, which will mean it buying and delivering deliver food-caddies for food-waste collections and rolling-out a weekly separate food-waste collection service that will "divert food from the residual waste stream, contribute to the recycling rates and reduce spending on landfill disposal costs."
Cllr Watkins has confirmed residents will have the option of returning their brown bins rather than paying a charge for disposing of garden waste. And he conceded that means they would be likely to put garden waste in bins that would go straight to landfill - possibly further damaging hopes of hitting the council's waste recycling targets.
Opposition Labour group leader Cllr John Kent has already spoken of his fear that jobs will go as part of the cost-cutting strategy, saying: “I am very concerned at references to potential job losses within the refuse service.
“I fail to see how shedding jobs makes us better at recycling and frankly, as Thurrock Conservatives look to push ahead with plans to Thurrock build an extra 32,000 houses over the next twenty years, we will need more refuse collectors - not fewer.”
You can read the full report on the council's proposed waste strategy for the next ten years here.