To conduct pre-decision scrutiny on the proposed changes to the Garden Waste Collection Service.
Cabinet Member Catrin Maby and Carl Touhig presented the report and answered the members’ questions.
Will there be alternative payment methods so there isn’t a one-off fee? Is assistance possible for low-income families? Some councils don’t charge for this service – is that true, and if so, how do they do that?
We don’t what income will be until we start the scheme. We hope to set it at £50 based on what the consultation and survey came back with – if the survey is right then we are just going to make the £720k needed to run the scheme. If there is a change in that and we overachieve then we can look at other versions. If we achieve 17k bins this year in an overachieving budget we wouldn’t want to put the bins up the following year for those customers, we would try to balance the books. We shouldn’t overachieve anyway (we are not allowed to) and we don’t want to charge residents more than we need to run a service. When we rolled out the bins there was concern that we would lose a lot of customers but they in fact increased by 2000 people.
It would be difficult with the Civica system that we have to do monthly or quarterly payments but it’s something we could look at for the year after if we are overachieving. And, the year after, if we do overachieve we could possibly look at reductions for people on low incomes. the difficulty is that this year we won’t know the customer base and we recognise that an increase to £50 from £28 is substantial.
Did introduction of a low-fee bin reduce flytipping?
We didn’t see any negative effects in terms of flytipping. Changes in Waste services are always accompanied by the threat of flytipping that very rarely comes to the fore. People who flytip, generally, don’t use our CA sites or council services anyway, and are therefore rarely affected by the changes that we make.
Should we more actively encourage home gardeners to compost? If there were a surplus in the budget could we provide people with the necessary equipment?
We will certainly take this on board. We provide cost-price bins through our reuse shops and water butts but this could be a way of assisting further and making them below cost price. These are the kinds of ideas that we like to look at through the scrutiny process in the coming year.
Can the figures be further explained e.g. £6 per customer, additional customers, possible costs up to £850k, etc.?
The £6 subsidy is from all households: every household is paying £6 through their council tax towards 14,000 customers using the garden waste scheme (40,000 households at £6 = £240k). Additional customers is one of the options we looked at if we do nothing i.e. if we put the service out again at £28 this year, it is likely that we will see an additional 2,000 customers based on what we have seen over the last two years. Those extra customers will put an extra £200k cost on the service because we will need an extra vehicle, but they will only bring in £56k of extra income based on £28 per bin. The main point is to say that, currently, we have expenses of £720k and an income of £480k. To meet the expenses with 14,500 customers, based on their responses, we need to charge £50. if they all come on board it will achieve £725k. Back-office costs and management fees haven’t been included. If all 17,000 bins stay out in the service area, we could potentially achieve £850k but this is very unlikely given that 14% said they don’t want to see cost increases and would prefer to cease the service. But, hopefully, with a strong customer base we will land somewhere between £720k and £850k, reducing the council subsidy which can be put back into other services.
If there is a reduction in the number of people taking up the service then surely you won’t need as many staff and vehicles, thus reducing the costs? Is the 78% increase an over-estimate? If it’s not clear what the customer base will be could there be two payments of £25, with the second geared according to the actual number of customers and vehicles, so people aren’t paying more than is necessary?
Based on the 14% who said they didn’t want the service if there were a cost increase, pushes us back to the £50 fee, which comes out at £725k. The risk of two separate payments is that everyone signs up for the first one but if many drop out of paying the second then the remaining customers will have to pay a second payment that is greater than £25 to make the service viable. If the 14% lived in areas that are difficult to reach then we probably could lose a vehicle, but in reality, they will be spread across the county, so we will still need the additional vehicle – we would need to lose 25% of customers in order to then lose a vehicle.
Could there be a scheme for home composting bins in an active way and letting people know how to do it in a simple way?
We promoted compost bins heavily 7-8 years ago. 10% of the county has home compost bins and is an area that we would like to look at more – potentially, if there is an overspend, we could also look at water butts, which would be very helpful. We will certainly try to promote the compost bins with videos etc. that are more appropriate to how people now prefer to receive information.
There are several concerns that should be considered: Why should someone in a one-bedroom flat and no garden, or someone who composts at home, subsidise someone with a big garden who chooses to opt into the service? How wise is recommending that we should peg future increases to RPI when we don’t know if the cost of the service will go up with RPI? The timing of this report is also a concern – things should go to scrutiny before the final report is published.
We apologise for the route that this has taken, which was due to the timings of Scrutiny and Cabinet around Christmas, and getting the consultation document to where it needed to be. We will ensure that Cabinet knows what was discussed today – they will be added into the Cabinet report.
Do we also generate an income from the waste once it is composted, as fertiliser, and have those figures been considered?
The garden waste is treated at a farm in Abergavenny, where it is spread on the land. We purchase some of the material back and sell it through the reuse shops. Sending it to a plant that offered to give us some money back involved an extra £250k in costs but with the risk that we wouldn’t achieve that income, so we think we have the best deal for our residents. The cost of treatment can’t be included in the charges – it sits outside this. The only charge that we can make is for collection, so it doesn’t form part of the £50, though if a profit were made from selling the compost, we would look to reinvest it into services, including garden waste.
Regarding the Integrated Impact Assessment and Protected Characteristics, the service is important for those who are unable to go to a recycling centre due to their age, but the mitigation for that is for them to go to a waste facility and collect a home composting bin?
Yes, that’s an oversight, but we do have recycling wardens so for those that particularly struggle we could no doubt offer support by dropping the bin to them.
Increasing the cost this much is hard to swallow – can we explore winter collections? Can we look at neighbouring councils, where the average cost of green waste is £12 – how are they doing that and where are we going wrong? Newport and Torfaen operate the service for free, whereas Monmouthshire will be 4 times the average price in Wales. The number of returning customers in April is therefore a concern.
Alternative payment methods were discussed e.g. direct debit, splitting the payment. It was asked whether wheelie bins reduce flytipping, but people paying for them tend not to want to flytip in the first place. Home composting should be encouraged; further education for residents should be explored, along with the use of water butts – depending on the figures next year, we could look at offering these. Cabinet Member Catrin Maby noted that in the coming year she would like information to be shared on home composting, particularly for town gardens. Clarity was sought about costings. It was asked if we generate an income once the garden waste is composted. It was noted that the scheme is meant to make things easier for older residents or those with a disability, but it is expected that they come to the waste transfer stations to collect home compost bins – this should be addressed in the Impact Assessment.
Carl Touhig will provide supplementary information for the Cabinet report about how the costs were arrived at i.e. a further breakdown, and to include detail of the time constraints and an explanation as to why it’s come to scrutiny now – ACTION