Government accused of 'paralysing' councils on waste

By Dan Peters | 20 September 2023

The Government has been accused of leaving frustrated councils ‘paralysed’ by ‘painfully slow’ progress pushing through its waste strategy.

In a fresh intervention, council place directors said the Government lacked a ‘clear plan’ for its strategy and the resources that were required, with little communication or joined up thinking across Whitehall.

The uncertainty has meant councils have held back procuring new waste vehicles, commissioning new contracts, and investing in depots and sorting facilities.

Speaking to The MJ, chair of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport’s (ADEPT) waste group, Steve Palfrey, said: ‘The direction is right but what’s been frustrating is that progress on providing the detail and implementing key strands of it has been painfully slow.

'It’s left councils in a position where they’re paralysed.

'Councils don’t have clarity and certainty, and that’s preventing improvement.

‘Authorities are having to extend treatment and collection contracts.

'Councils can’t extend their contracts indefinitely so they’ll need to go back to procurement and if there’s a risk of uncertainty contractors will price that into the contract.

'More and more councils will need to come to market at the same time.

‘Councils are frustrated at being unable to take decisions to improve services.

'With the continued uncertainty around future funding I’d call on the Government to provide clarity.

'There’s a fear as well that the window for implementation is shrinking.’

Mr Palfrey said Whitehall had failed to give any ‘definitive timescales’ for plans to introduce consistency across waste collections, with ADEPT warning ‘perpetual delays’ to the Government’s consultation response were a ‘direct barrier to successful implementation’.

Responding to a call for evidence from the Public Accounts Committee, ADEPT wrote: ‘The continued delay in publishing the Government response to its 2021 consultation on consistency is creating a growing problem.

'Councils’ plans to improve their waste services have effectively been placed on hold.

'Many councils know their current depots cannot accommodate the increased fleet required to comply with anticipated consistency requirements, but lack the clarity and certainty to justify investment in expansion or new facilities.

‘There is little evidence to support that DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs] is on track to deliver any of its proposals as set out in the original programme in the 2018 strategy.

'While there have been many consultations on a number of policy areas, there have yet to be any firm timelines for implementation of any changes or any new policy actually implemented.

'There appears to be a lack of political support to actually make the required changes to how waste is managed in England.

‘While there has been much consultation on proposed policies there has yet to be any firm plans on implementation and timescales have slipped.

'Investment in any changes by councils and industry to deliver new waste services require clarity and certainty – both are currently lacking.

'As a consequence, transformation of waste services is in limbo and will remain so until there is confidence in what is required and when.’

The District Councils’ Network has continued to press the Government for clarity on waste reforms, pushing for as much local discretion as possible, a reasonable implementation period and full compensation for all costs incurred.

It has called on the Government to establish a ‘clear timeline for achieving its resources and waste ambitions,’ adding: ‘Local authorities need certain, realistic timelines to implement changes to waste collection and disposal.’

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