A WMTPA activist called today to draw my attention to the plight of his local council, Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, as reported in Friday’s edition of the Leek Post & Times.
So the story goes, central Government owe the council no less than £2.8million for their commitment to investing in recycling.
According to the article, councils all over the country currently have to pay £32 per tonne to send waste to landfill (to rise to £40 next year and £48 in 2010), but in 2003 the Government promised that any such costs over £14 per tonne would be reimbursed if councils invested in recycling.
So that’s what Staffordshire Moorlands District Council endeavoured to do, and thus spent thousands of pounds on the various paraphernalia that we associate with environmental investment. And backed by the LGA, who estimate that the Government owes £1.5billion in total, they now want their reimbursement of an estimated £2.8million.
This is just passing your money around, there’s no doubt about that. The general public have not only paid for the thousands of extra plastic wheelie bins, plastic tubs, green plastic refuse sacks (none of which sound incredibly environmentally friendly…) and the likes, but no doubt local residents have put up for a couple of climate change officers, or environmental advisors or similarly titled consultants. Having made these investments via council tax, ordinary working people will also be shelling out for the reimbursements too via general taxation.
But presumably if this refund – of almost £3million in this case - was used to lower council tax, this might ease the pain caused by having to stump up all the money in the first place? After all according Sybil Ralphs, the leader of the council, this money amounts to £68 per household. Getting that back wouldn’t hurt.
But Sybil has different ideas, and she and her council colleagues seem to have been lying awake at night, dreaming of what wonderful things they could spend this cash on once they get it back. Sybil thinks that ‘keeping council tax low’ would be a nice idea, but that’s not nearly exciting enough. It ranks third on her list of three in fact. Lowering taxes for local residents just doesn’t involve extravagant planning, consultants, land acquisition, a giant overspend and then an invite only party with council bought refreshments…
Sybil wants to erect her monument it seems, telling the paper:
“It could be a multi-storey car park or a community theatre, or anything residents felt was most needed”.
That’s right, Sybil wants to reward her adoring public, the people who will have spent (by her own admission) thousands of pounds investing in recycling and millions of pounds on reimbursing councils for this environmental drive with…a car park! A facility that means you don’t have to take public transport into town, or indeed walk. Something that actively cultivates cars. Classic.
Or a community theatre of course, hardly something of pressing necessity. As my activist friend pointed out, they’re actually very well positioned for theatre as it is. And what’s more, lots of people are particularly interested in such things. But then lots of people aren't particularly interested in climate change or recycling and they still have to pay for it...
If this money is awarded back, it should be filtered straight back in to the pockets of those who paid it out to start with, to do what they judge best with it. It certainly shouldn’t become a council honey-pot to be dipped in to fund frivolous projects, driven by legacy-seeking councillors rather than local necessity.