Edinburgh councillors urged to keep £25 brown bin charge to prevent other funding cuts

Opposition councillors have been urged to reverse a pledge to bin the controversial £25 garden waste charge as it will result in other services being cut to bridge a £2.4m funding gap.

Wednesday, 19th June 2019, 1:14 pm
A motion had been passed to scrap the brown bin scheme. Picture: TSPL

Opposition councillors have been urged to reverse a pledge “in principle” to bin the controversial £25 garden waste charge as it will result in other services being cut to bridge a £2.4m funding gap.

Last month, Conservative, Green and Liberal Democrat councillors teamed up to defeat the SNP-Labour administration by agreeing a motion to scrap the charge in principle.

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But now, officials have warned that doing so would need to be decided in next year’s budget process and estimated it will cost around £2.4m a year to reinstate free collections – as well as one-off set-up costs.

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In their report to councillors ahead of Thursday’s transport and environment committee, officials highlight the service generates £1.4m for the authority. Five new collection routes would need to be installed – costing £750,000 a year. Additional brown bins would need to be bought for residents with a £100,000 price.

The motion, tabled by Conservative transport and environment spokesperson, Cllr Nick Cook, and agreed by opposition councillors last month, also called for investigations into combining food and garden waste into a single collection. But officers have warned this is “not technically possible for the council” currently.

If the council presses ahead with a combined collection, the authority would have to pull out of a 20-year contract for waste disposal services – “likely to be in the region of £15m”.

Cllr Cook said: “A majority of the council opposed introduction of the garden tax during the budget process. This was followed by the transport and environment committee agreeing my call to scrap this unwanted levy in principle.

“While the financial difficulty in scrapping the tax mid year are understood, it is essential that democratic decisions are abided by. To ignore them erodes trust in our politics. Conservatives will continue to work alongside Green and Lib Dem colleagues to have this environmentally damaging charge binned.”

Before being rolled out, the council estimated it would received applications for 56,700 permits - but 73,292 permits were applied for during the sign-up window - bringing in £1.4m for the authority.

“Cutting other services to the tune of £2.4m could have a very detrimental effect on residents’ experiences around a waste collection service which is improving every single week. This administration and council officers are working very hard to make future improvements across all the waste services inside the city.”

Green councillors are set to press for a review of continuing the service should be included in early budget discussions, including the cost impacts.

Green environment spokesperson, Cllr Steve Burgess, said: “I continue to be concerned about what is happening with the 55,000 households who are eligible for a brown bin but not registered for one. What are they doing with their garden waste: landfilling it, fly-tipping it or burning it?

“However, I have also been in discussion with other opposition councillors about next steps. At a time when the council is facing a £14m budget shortfall, adding another pressure of over £2m would have a big impact on other services.

“Decisions of that scale need to be made within the annual budget process. That is why we will be proposing that options for reviewing the garden waste charge, along with associated costs, are set out clearly in the draft council budget this autumn. At the same time some of the unanswered questions about the impact of the charge can be addressed.”