I really want to believe in local government. I really do. Then I read stuff like this.
Says The Guardian:
Overall, local government spends 18% of council tax revenue on dealing with rubbish, but that masks a lot of variation between regions and councils. The English district councils spend 32% of their council tax take on waste, while Aylesbury Vale in Buckinghamshire spends 36%, Cambridge City Council 43% and Berwick-on-Tweed 37%.
The UK currently landfills 57% of its waste, recycles 34% and incinerates the rest. Landfill is expensive, almost full and contributes to climate change. The landfill tax paid by councils to central government is currently £40 per tonne of waste, rising to £48 in 2010, and the methane emissions from organic waste breaking down in landfill account for 3% of the total UK greenhouse gas emissions.
A spokesperson for the [Local Government Association] added that councils would prefer to keep the money they pay to the Treasury in landfill tax and spend it on better recycling services.
Of course they would, but that ignores the fact that this is the Government’s chosen policy. The fact that there is such a high (and rising) tax on landfill is deliberate. It’s to make the cost advantage of recycling, incinerating, or otherwise doing something other than burying household waste greater. Asking for a policy to be rescinded because you haven’t found a way of taking advantage of it is petty, weak, and deserving of contempt.
It’s like complaining that you can’t afford to pay more money to buy cigarettes, but if your local corner shop dropped their prices, you’d so totally spend that saved money on patches.
My mate Jamie, when running a game for us, would dole out experience points at the end of a session and ask if anyone had any reason for getting any extra. The more self-serving justifications he’d rebut with “that’s its own reward”. In circumstances where an island nation can no longer afford to wastefully bury what could more efficiently be re-used or turned into energy, complaining that, despite Government-led distortions of the market, you cannot find a way to accomplish what policy has made artificially cheaper, well, that should be a matter for all to despair. To decide that the solution to your inadequacies is to pay PR flacks for a random trade body, well, it fills me with no great confidence.
Also? I want to believe in journalism. But on checking the figures for Glasgow City Council, I find that I cannot.
I downloaded the latest financial statement from glasgow.gov.uk, which detailed expenditures of £16m for refuse collection, and £16m for street cleansing. Now, total income from government grants and local taxation was £1.393bn, which makes the amount of money spent on waste etc. look laughable. Confused, I double-checked the document, and then realised that only £168m of revenues was council tax, which made waste expenditure a far more expected ratio of 19%.
OK, so the Guardian’s story sounds like it makes sense. Except that the whole point of the landfill expenditure divided by council tax revenues metric is wrong. It implies that councils are only funded by council tax, which is clearly not the case (council tax is the third lowest of the 8 revenue sources listed by Glasgow City Council, of which “Rents (after rebates)” is lower by an order of magnitude than any other revenue source). So the metric of expenditure on x vs revenue on y is artificial, lazy, and misleading.
I despair again.