Streets get dirtier as wardens fail to fine culprits

Rubbish Piles up on Lochend Avenue. Picture: Toby Williams
Rubbish Piles up on Lochend Avenue. Picture: Toby Williams
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ENVIRONMENTAL chiefs have been urged to get tough with litter louts after it emerged wardens in the Capital are issuing only a tenth of the fines handed out in Glasgow.

According to the latest Edinburgh People’s Survey, city streets continue to get dirtier, with dog mess listed as the number one gripe in more than half of council wards.

But fresh figures obtained by the Evening News show the number of on-the-spot £80 fines for dropping rubbish has plummeted to just over a third of the 2013-14 level.

Each of the Capital’s wardens is handing out only one fixed penalty notice (FPN) for dog fouling every six months, it has emerged.

Litterbugs are also getting off lightly, with each warden issuing a fine around once every three weeks.

Today, calls were made for Edinburgh’s cleanliness staff to follow the example of counterparts in Scotland’s largest city and ditch their uniforms in a bid to catch offenders.

And it is understood plain-clothes wardens are among a package of possible measures being considered in an effort to close yawning gaps in the Capital’s enforcement operation.

Pip Wallen-Priestley, 59, who was nominated for the Neighbour of the Year award after locals noticed his dedication to combating litter in Leith Links, said: “I think they’re needed – the situation in Edinburgh is dire. When you see someone in uniform, you’re always going to make some effort because there’s a presence there. Undercover officers who can issue some sort of fine are necessary when people are relaxed and thinking they’re going to get away with it.”

Edinburgh currently has around 35 uniformed wardens, who handed out 2049 FPNs worth around £324,000 in 2014-15 – down from 4058 during the previous 12 months and dropping to a five-year low.

This compares to Glasgow, where a squad of 70 staff slapped litterbugs, fly-tippers and lazy pet owners with more than 20,000 fines worth £1.6 million in 2014.

The operation includes a dedicated city centre “response team” and eight plain-clothes officers tasked with cracking down on problem dog walkers.

It is believed the Capital could double the number of wardens employed and cover the hiring cost with the additional £1.3m likely to have been paid out by offenders in 
Glasgow.

Community leaders agreed there were lessons which could be learned from Scotland’s biggest city and said the impact of wardens across Edinburgh was inadequate.

Neil Davidson, correspondence secretary at Kirkliston Community Council, said: “[The number of fines] started out not too badly about a year ago but has certainly gone down. The fines for general litter were zero last month and the month before I think there were only three. But the dog’s dirt is still on the pavement and it’s still on the grass.”

He added: “I think the dog owners are out before the wardens are around or the wardens are not around when the dog walkers are out.

“I don’t know if they have enough personnel to cover all the places in Edinburgh. And if plain-clothes is going to stop dog-fouling and litter then, yes, I think it would be a good idea.”

According to the latest Edinburgh People’s Survey, the percentage of residents satisfied with measures to deal with dog fouling has more than halved in six years – down from 62 per cent between 2009-11 to 30 per cent in 2014.

Residents have also given changes to bin collections the thumbs down, with ratings falling from 86 per cent in 2009-11 to 62 per cent last year and recycling satisfaction dropping from 80 per cent to 65 per cent.

Opposition leaders said most residents would back tougher enforcement action, including monitoring by under-cover wardens.

Councillor Cameron Rose, Conservative member for Southside-Newington, said: “There are two sides to this.

“The council needs to get its house in order in terms of fulfilling its part of the bargain – efficiently collecting waste and efficient cleaning of streets. But where people are flagrantly fly-tipping or depositing rubbish on the streets, action should be taken against them – even if it’s plain-clothed. I think people would welcome that.”

City bosses in Glasgow have hailed figures showing the number of fines slapped on litter louts and fly-tippers has soared by more than 85 per cent over the last three years.

And a total of 1883 dog-fouling FPNs – worth more than £75,000 – were issued in the city last year, compared with 680 in 2012.

Councillor Gordon Matheson, Glasgow City Council leader, said: “The Clean Glasgow initiative has made outstanding progress since its introduction in 2007 in addressing the issues of litter, dog fouling, fly tipping, graffiti and flyposting throughout the city.

“Our figures show a significant increase in the number of fixed penalty notices issued throughout 2012, 2013 and 2014.

“This is thanks to the introduction of two key factors – one being the City Centre Response Team, whose members issue a significant number of FPNs, and the other being the increase in the number of Community Enforcement Officers to ensure enforcement action is fully implemented in all 21 ward areas.”

He added: “This all stands testament to our long-standing commitment to make every neighbourhood in Glasgow a cleaner and safer place.”

City officials in Edinburgh said their decision not to introduce a permanent plain-clothes enforcement squad was based on a strict interpretation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIPSA) 2000 Act, which limits “covert surveillance” of citizens. But they admitted concern over litter, dog fouling and general cleanliness had resulted in a growing push towards bringing in a Glasgow-style undercover operation.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, environment leader, said: “Tackling issues like dog fouling and littering remains a key priority for the council and we are always looking at ways to improve street cleanliness and encourage people to do their bit to keep Edinburgh clean and tidy.

“We have conducted awareness campaigns to try to highlight these issues and are lobbying the Scottish Parliament for more severe penalties for dog fouling.”

Stressing that city-wide litter scores were on the up, she added: “Overall street cleanliness is improving and we have seen a reduction in the number of complaints we receive about this.

“However, it is clear that in parts of the city some people continue to behave irresponsibly when disposing of waste or walking their dogs and so we are exploring other options to crack down on this.”

ANALYSIS

By Chas Booth, Green environment spokesman, Edinburgh City Council

Concerns about litter, street-cleaning and dog-fouling are the most frequent complaints I get in my in-box so it is no surprise to see that echoed by the Edinburgh People’s Survey this year. The council is simply not doing enough.

Part of the reason may be that the culprits think they can get away with it without penalty.

The dramatic fall in penalties issued for dog fouling and litter, in particular, are alarming.

That is why Green councillors put funding for extra environmental wardens in our budget this year, sadly not supported by other parties.

But penalties are only part of the story. It’s a lot better to prevent problems in the first place. I still get too many complaints about waste collection services leaving debris behind, sometimes to be cleaned up by other council teams. That needs to be more joined-up.

As the council moves to enhanced neighbourhood services, local task force teams to prioritise dirty streets and hotspots need to be a priority. And we need to keep investing in the long term through work with schools and community groups to change attitudes to litter and dog fouling.

So a three-pronged approach of penalties, priority hotspots and prevention is needed.

East v West.. who is best?

Total number of fines issued for dog fouling, litter and fly-tipping over the last 12 months:

Edinburgh: 2049

Glasgow: 20,944

Monetary value of fines issued for dog fouling, litter and fly-tipping over the last 12 months:

Edinburgh: £324,000

Glasgow: £1.6 million

Total number of fines issued for dog fouling over the last 12 months:

Edinburgh: 68

Glasgow: 1883

Total number of wardens in Edinburgh: around 35

Total number of wardens in Glasgow: 70, including a city centre response team and a group of eight plain-clothes officers dedicated to cracking down on dog walkers who fail to clean up after their pets.

Fine levels for . . .

Dropping litter: Fixed penalty of £80

Dog fouling: £40 rising to £60 if not paid within 28 days

Fly tipping: Fixed penalty of £200