Having been a Councillor for 11 months I know that where Council policy is concerned the devil is always in the detail. This is particularly true of the plan to charge Edinburgh residents for the collection of garden waste.
I argued strongly against this policy, but ultimately lost the argument. However, I feel that if people knew then about the policy what we know now then the implementation of this regressive charge could have been stopped.
A key argument against the “garden tax” is the uncertainty around what will happen to garden waste from those that choose not to pay the charge. We now know that 67,000 households are predicted to choose to opt out. Although the Council does not expect any problems to arise from this, I don’t know anyone that doubts that there will be more fly-tipping, a return of garden bonfires and the misuse of the other waste streams. Before anyone shrugs their shoulders at this, I know from work I have undertaken in Belfast that fly-tipped garden waste makes a significant contribution to culvert blockages, and so increases flood risk.
We also know that those that don’t pay the charge will have to return their brown bins to the Council. The cost of this, where the 67,000 bins will be stored and what will happen to them is not clear.
A further issue is affordability to low income households. Due to arguments I and others made, the Council has agreed to exempt those who qualify for the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. However, individuals will have to apply for this exemption cap in hand rather than it being automatically allocated. Indeed, this is expected to take the cost of administering the scheme to over £100,000.
I am therefore in no doubt that the implementation of this charge will come with significant problems and that many will find introducing this charge along with a rise in Council Tax is unacceptable.
However, we have to remember that the charge was proposed because the Scottish Government cut our Capital’s budget. That is perhaps the bigger problem. Yes, the Council can always be more efficient but the underlying issue is a Government that has other priorities.