MOST residents will have received their annual Council Tax bills by now – and there are two concerns that I want to address.
Before doing so, I must start by agreeing wholeheartedly that the way we explain the breakdown of your Council Tax increases is confusing.
The first query that has been raised is why the published overall increase (including levies and precepts – see below for explanation) was 3.5 per cent, yet the Council Tax bill states the total increase is 3.7 per cent?
The difference between these two figures is simply due to the slightly-higher increases that have come back from precept authorities: in this case Greater Manchester Police and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue.
The second query I’ve been asked is why the Oldham Council element of the increase was published as being 2 per cent, yet it is shown as being 3.5 per cent?
This is because the Council Tax element also includes charges from the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority and Transport for Greater Manchester.
The actual increase in Oldham Council services was 1.9 per cent.
It’s understandable that residents believe ‘the council’ has increased the Council Tax by 3.7 per cent, because that’s exactly what the bill says, but in cash terms that isn’t the case.
If you look at your bill you will see mention of ‘precepts’ and levies’. In layman’s terms, ‘precepts’ are the charges from the police and fire services. Both are separated from the ‘Council Tax’ element when it appears on your bill.
The ‘levies’ are the Greater Manchester charges for waste and transport services. Both are included in the ‘Council Tax’ element when it appears on your bill. These are collected and then passed on – they are not used for Oldham Council services.
All of which now brings me to the main point of this week’s blog – waste disposal.
The Local Government Association has been campaigning to freeze the landfill tax which local councils pay.
This isn’t because councils don’t want to recycle – we do, but it takes massive investment to increase recycling rates.
That might have been possible when times were good, but it’s extremely difficult when our budgets have been slashed to the tune of over 30 per cent, and with more to come.
We have a record to be proud of here in Oldham.
From a low starting point in 2008 we have increased recycling from 15 per cent to 40 per cent through a combination of ‘alternative weekly collections’, plus investment in new bins and campaigns.
The landfill tax has increased from £24 a tonne to £80 a tonne since 2008.
Simply taxing the local councils without investment in campaigning is nonsense.
It‘s quite ironic that the Local Government Minister, Eric Pickles, is so keen to return to weekly ‘black bin’ collections when there is strong evidence that this doesn’t actually encourage diversion of waste from landfill or recycling at all.
Surely a far better use of the £250m grant on offer would have been to freeze the inflation busting 11 per cent increase in landfill tax – and allow councils to instead invest in increased recycling and work to support the reduction of greenhouse gases?
This isn’t a political point but of the 326 councils in England just one has applied to restore their weekly bin collections. That means 325 councils with varied political control all thought better of the idea.
Mr Pickles needs to work harder on a coherent plan for dealing with waste and increasing recycling.
Yet when local councils take the initiative – such as the nine members of the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority – we come under attack from the very same government department.
As part of our plan to create a sustainable waste plan for our City Region a £3.8bn investment was needed to replace our crumbling waste infrastructure.
This included the construction of 43 new facilities plus a new Combined Heat and Power Plant to be built at Runcorn.
Under this contract we are guaranteed at least 50 per cent recycling rates and the diversion of 75 per cent of waste from landfill.
To fund this we knew that upfront investment was needed, which created a 14.15 per cent increase in the waste element of Council Tax in Oldham.
This, however, is ‘upfront’ so that by 2015 the increase is forecast to be 1.98 per cent. As landfill taxes continue to increase, the investment would then pay off as it means we don’t need to pay a premium for waste treatment.
Rather than acknowledge the foresight in planning ahead and investing in facilities for future generations that reduce landfill costs and environmental damage, the plans came under what I believe was a misjudged and poorly-briefed attack.
Mr Pickles’ labelled the Waste Disposal Authority increase as “forced up by a botched PFI deal signed by the unelected Waste Authority”. This “shoddy” deal, he claimed, by a “shadowy, unelected body” had caused a “double whammy of both fortnightly bin collections for some of its residents and higher taxes”.
That is wrong.
Each of the nine councils in Greater Manchester who are part of the Waste Disposal Authority all have elected councillors on the board.
All the papers are published online and a copy is included on the main council agenda here in Oldham.
Residents can attend the meetings and have done so to present petitions.
That is a level of transparency that others could perhaps learn from.
As ever on recycling, though, it’s ultimately over to the people of Oldham to continue to do your bit.
Your efforts have already taken us to an impressive fourth in Greater Manchester in terms of our recycling rates.
But if we could all increase our recycling further by just 10 per cent each, we could all save an estimated £1.6 million a year.
That’s a significant sum that would help to fund vital frontline services at a time when budgets continue to be slashed.
Thanks for listening,