Tories attack variable charging for households

The Conservative Party has come out against variable charging for household waste collection - a stance that appears to conflict with efforts to paint itself ‘green’.

Shadow Local Government Minister Eric Pickles said in January that variable charging would "require massive expenditure" on a "new army" of inspectors to check the volumes of waste people put out. It would also be "deeply harmful" to the environment by causing a "surge" in fly-tipping.

Mr Pickles claimed variable charging would be a "new tax" on top of council tax and the poorest would be hit hardest.

In fact, council tax bills already include a charge for rubbish collection. Variable charging would simply replace a flat charge with one that takes account of the amount of black bag waste.

He also tried to link variable charging with the separate issue of fortnightly collections. "Cuts to the frequency of rubbish collection are already harming public health due to the increase in smells and vermin," he said.

Mr Pickles was speaking in response to the launch of the Local Government Association’s "war on waste" campaign, which calls for local authorities to be given powers to introduce variable charging or "save-as-you-throw" schemes.

As part of the campaign, the LGA will publish a report spelling out how such schemes would be implemented.

The LGA, the Environment Agency and environmental groups all believe variable charging is vital if councils are to meet their landfill diversion targets and avoid significant fines.

In contrast to Mr Pickles, Environment Secretary David Miliband spoke last year of his "personal interest" in variable charging (ENDS Report 378, p 11 ). Sir Michael Lyons is considering the issue in his review of local government finance, due to report in March.

The Scottish Executive has already announced it is willing to consult on variable charging if there is broad support for the idea.

But Zac Goldsmith, vice chairman of the Tories’ quality of life commission, said in January that tackling waste production was "more important" than dealing with waste at the household level.

Mr Goldsmith wants the government to focus on measures such as designing out packaging waste.

The group’s waste convenor, Tory councillor Kay Twitchen, is also chair of the LGA’s waste executive and an Agency board member.

Ms Twitchen said her work for the group had turned her against variable charging. "It will lead to more anti-social behaviour - like fly-tipping - which would do a lot of damage to the environment and cost a lot of money to deal with," she said.

However, she is in favour of direct charging - separating out the cost of waste collection from council tax.

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