To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the £250 million fund set up to help local councils in England maintain or restore weekly bin collections.
My Lords, the impact of the £250 million Weekly Collection Support Scheme is that it will ensure a weekly collection of residual waste for around 6 million households while recycling 400,000 tonnes of waste and saving more than 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. All successful bids will deliver environmental benefits and successful local areas have been truly delighted with this financial injection into one of their most important services.
I am grateful for my noble friend the Minister’s reply to my Question. On the Weekly Collection Support Scheme—the “Pickles fund”, as it is known—is there any evidence that having fortnightly bin collections leads to a fall-off in recycling? Further, the Minister will be aware that Liverpool City Council was awarded a grant but has since withdrawn its application. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government amended any of Liverpool’s grant conditions between: first, the council applying for the fund; secondly, the Government awarding the money; and, thirdly, the council deciding not to accept the grant?
My Lords, the short answer to my noble friend’s first question is no. I can amplify that a bit by saying that many of the successful bidders for the Weekly Collection Support Scheme are demonstrating that you do not need a fortnightly residual waste collection to generate high recycling rates. As I said, the scheme is set to generate 400,000 tonnes of recycling.
On Liverpool, I absolutely assure the House that the Government did not change any of the grant conditions between Liverpool City Council applying for funding, the Government awarding the money and Liverpool deciding to withdraw its bid. That was Liverpool’s option; it was not up to the Government.
How does the Minister assess the relative merits of the £250 million fund to help weekly bin collections against the £480 million cut in council tax benefit support which, as the Resolution Foundation publication today shows, means that three-quarters of councils will be forced to demand increases of up to £600 per year in council tax payments from 3.2 million of the poorest households in our country? Does the Minister recall the poll tax?
My Lords, the £250 million found by the Department for Communities and Local Government was found from within its own budget. We are dealing with a very important area—that is, to ensure that people who already pay for their bin collections have the opportunity of having weekly collections. The analogy which the noble Lord is trying to draw and the trap he is trying to drag me into are not relevant to this particular discussion.
But if the department can find £250 million from what the Minister describes as its own resources so easily, would it not be an act of generosity and kindness to transfer £650,000 of it to the department of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, so that he will not have to get so upset at Question Time when he is questioned about cutting legal aid services?
My Lords, I am inclined to stick to my Question, which is about weekly collections of bins. I reiterate that householders value a weekly collection very much. It had gone out of favour with the previous Government and we see it as being of genuine benefit to local people.
My Lords, is it not time that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government spent more of his time fighting for the interests of local people and local authorities within Whitehall, rather than his apparently weekly attempts to micro-manage the local decisions of local authorities on matters such as bin collection and the level of the council tax?
My noble friend knows perfectly well that the Secretary of State has been at the forefront of ensuring that local authorities are able to manage their own affairs. They have devolved funding, are able to manage their own budgets and now have the business rates staying with them. The whole way that local government finance is going is to ensure that local government can answer for itself.
My Lords, the noble Baroness was a very distinguished leader of an important local authority, so she knows the role played by Shelter, the housing charity, in helping local authorities and ordinary people. Is she aware that this week it is being considered that Shelter will have to close 10 centres around the country because of the cuts in government spending, in particular in this regard in the legal aid spend? Does she know that to save those 10 centres would take about one-tenth—or perhaps a good deal less than that—of the £250 million set aside by the Government for this task? Is not that a ridiculous set of priorities?
My Lords, this supplementary question only came back to relevance in the last sentence. I understand the problems of Shelter and know that many organisations are having to make very considerable decisions. The Question today is about this money. We believe that it is a good use of funds for local residents to have a proper weekly rubbish collection service. That is what this money was allocated for.