SOUTH Gloucestershire’s controversial green bin ‘tax’ is to be reviewed following a heated three-hour debate between the authority’s political parties.
A petition signed by nearly 6,000 people, collected by Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore, sparked the lengthy discussion by the council’s communities committee on Wednesday (June 4) with Conservatives calling for the £36 annual charge for residents to have their green bins emptied to be scrapped.
They argued the opt-in charge, which was introduced at the end of April, was nothing more than a ‘stealth tax’ which dealt a blow to already struggling families and hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
Cllr James Hunt (Con, Emersons Green) said: “This is a very regressive tax. It hits the poorest people, the elderly, those who can’t drive.
“It comes down to whether you want to scrap the tax or not. This is not a publicity stunt but a principled stance.”
Cllr John Calway (Con, Longwell Green) said it was time the council apologised to residents.
“This is a stealth tax and everybody knows it is,” he said. “The consultation was sham and our option for a nine-monthly service was not put to residents. Why not?
“Now we have an opportunity to go back to our waste contractor SITA and say we expect you to find efficiency savings and renegotiate our contract like every other department has done.”
He said the committee’s eagerness to save a required £350,000 from its budget had led to hasty decisions.
“We were in a rush and panicked and didn’t look properly at the efficiency savings that could be made.
“We didn’t do that and should apologise to the residents of South Gloucestershire.”
The scrapping of blanket fortnightly collections of green bins will save the council £1.1million a year and the Tories were heavily criticised for failing to come up with alternative equivalent savings, although the group argued at the time the decision was made only £350,000 of savings were required.
Cllr Ian Boulton (Lab, Staple Hill) told his Conservative counterparts: “We are working to a very fine budget so let’s see the maths.
“If this was an O-level you would fail for not showing your workings out.”
Residents also appealed for the charges to be dropped.
John Hopes, of Siston Common, said he had reluctantly paid the charge but his green bin has not been emptied since the service was introduced without him calling the council.
“Your system is an utter shambles,” he told the committee. “I feel completely taken advantage of.”
Sheila Bennett, of Bridgeyate, said: “I believe this should be part of our Council Tax as it always has been.
“I have seen more flytipping in the area although it is harder to spot now the council has stopped cutting our grass as well.”
But the council’s waste officers said the rate of missed bins was less than one per cent and the number of incidents of flytipping year on year was marginal with 117 in April 2013 compared to 89 in the same month this year.
Cllr Ruth Davis (Lib Dem, Yate) said: “Whether right of wrong I believe it was necessary to find a sustainable way forward.
“We have brought this system in although most people didn’t want to, they felt they needed to. If we get rid of it there will be additional costs just to change back and if we renegotiate a contract which is signed and sealed we will see SITA in court.”
She added: “Even if we did revert back we would be looking at this again because we need to find a further £2.7million savings in the waste budget over the next six years.
Cllr Shirley Holloway (Lib Dem, Thornbury South and Alveston) said: “Everybody is very proud of recycling rates in South Gloucestershire and are very said to see the charging of green bins.
“I made a lot of complaints and had to be convinced but at the time we didn’t have any other answer as to how we would save the money.”
A bid to scrap the charge was lost and after numerous amendments, the committee voted to review the full implications of the new system including financial impacts and social consequences such as increased flytipping and lower recycling rates nd to investigate efficiency savings with SITA..