To Charge or not to Charge?

Can councils make better use of their resources by charging for waste services? Gwyndaf Parry of the Welsh Local Government Association blogs for us on an event that they held with the Wales Audit Office.

Public services are coming under more and more pressure, with local authorities expected to deliver more with less. To deliver a wide range of services to residents and maintain that high quality of service, Councils in Wales have the legal powers to charge for a wide range of services, including Garden or green wastes, Bulky waste collections and replacement bins or recycling containers.

The event was hosted by the Welsh Local Government Association and facilitated by the Good Practice Team from the Wales Audit Office, to encourage and enable Welsh local authorities to share good practice when introducing a charge for waste collection services. Delegates were encouraged to participate in discussions and learn from others, helping to avoid making the same mistakes and to save costs and time.

Andy Phillips from the Wales Audit Office introduced the day and interestingly showed the income gained from waste services per resident, showing the difference between Wales, Scotland and England. Income earned in England has steadily being increasing since 2008/9 whilst reducing in Scotland and Wales.

A graph that shows that charging for Waste services has dropped in Wales and Scotland since 2008/9, but grown in England

Di Bradbury from Wirral Council shared her experience of introducing a charge for collection of garden waste, and how Wirral managed the introduction of a charge back in 2013/14. One of Di’s key pieces of advice was ensuring a robust IT system was in place from the outset, ensuring your IT system can handle customer registration, manage the customer database and manage payments. Di stressed that this was one of the most time consuming elements of introducing a charged service – people expect a high quality of service when they pay for a service. Missing a collection should be avoided, when building a reputable charged collection service.

Wirral acknowledged the importance of public consultation, as part of their waste planning they consulted with the public to gain their thoughts on charging. 51.7% of the respondents said they felt having to pay for a garden waste collection was completely unacceptable. However budget constraints meant the council had to push forward with a charge. However they ensured alternative options to residents including:

  • Online subscription discount of £5 (89% of customers use this option),
  • Shared bin option with neighbor, and
  • Promotion of home composting bins

A valuable lesson learned by Wirral was to offer a 14 day cooling off period, residents under law must be offered a 14 day period where they can receive a refund. In Wirral they only offered this refund if the resident had not received a collection.

As would be expected the tonnage of garden waste collected at the kerbside reduced in the Wirral, however the HWRCs saw a considerable increase in garden waste throughput. Overall garden waste tonnage reduced by 11% over a two year period. Contribution to overall MSW recycling rate decreased for two years post introduction of a charge, however in the third year the rate is seen to be increasing to just under its original state. Interestingly over the same period number of fly tipping incidents have continuously decreased.

Is the future green?

This first Workshop breakout session was hosted by Jim Espley from Denbighshire Council. Having introduced a charge for garden waste service on 30th March 2015, Denbighshire are the latest LA in Wales to charge, therefore had some valuable tips for other councils.

Since getting approval to introduce a charge in September 2014, Denbighshire had relatively short time period to introduce the service, key activities to ensure success were:

  1. Communicating with residents – introducing the new service available,
  2. Setting up a suitable IT system including payment processing system,
  3. Dealing with complaints and setting up suitable processes, and
  4. Buy suitable barcode and scanners for the bins.

12,500 (30%) properties signed up to the new service initially, by the end of the year this went up to 17,000 (40%) properties. Customers could sign up online (with a discount) or face to face, over the phone and at One Stop Shops. Denbighshire worked closely with their IT department to ensure a fit for purpose system was in place. A purpose built Database allowed them to capture, address details, collection day, assisted collection info, as well as other collection history. Every bin is issued with a barcode sticker and this is linked to the customer database. The database is also liked to a ‘Trackyou’ software system that has in-cab technology allowing the crew to monitor and record customer details in real-time. Helping Denbighshire offer their residents a top quality service.

A photo of the Track You device used by Denbighshire County Council

A valuable lesson that Jim shared with the group was that on-line subscriptions would ensure high quality data was fed into the IT database. Whilst a number of errors were experienced in customer details when hard copy paper work was completed. Therefore Denbighshire is working towards encouraging more and more to subscribe online.

How green is your valley?

A second workshop hosted by Carl from Monmouthshire was all about sharing lessons learnt, Monmouthshire have a well-established charged garden waste collection service. From July 2013 Monmouthshire have been charging for the collection of Garden waste. Having an initial charge of £8 per collection of a 90litres hessian reusable sack, by 2016/17 the charge has increased to £14 per sack.

Residents are issued with a free sack and must pay for the permit that is tagged on to the sack. Once again Monmouthshire reinforced the importance of having an IT system that was fit for purpose – this can make or break a successful service.

Number of residents signing up to the charged service has increased year on year in Monmouthsire, with households that tend to have larger gardens purchasing an increased number of bags. Carl also emphasized that an increased tonnage of garden waste was going into their HWRCs, therefore having suitable HWRCS in place that could manage the increased capacity was important.

Top Tip

A key message from the day was to invest and allocate time and resources into a suitable and fit for purpose IT system that can manage payments and manage customer data and information, making it easier to know who is signed up for the service and if their collections have been delivered or not. Customers expect a high quality service when they pay for it.

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