Senior Councillors have given a robust response to a refuse and recycling report by the Audit Commission. Councillor Mrs Diana Collins, Leader of Epping Forest District Council and Councillor Mrs Mary Sartin, Environmental Protection Portfolio holder say that despite a one star `Fair` rating, Epping Forest District Council and its residents now have one of the best recycling rates in Essex. We don`t tick the Audit Commission boxes but we do deliver services our residents want. said Councillor Mrs Collins.
Councillor Collins continued: The Audit Commission looks at Council performance against a set of rigid criteria. It is a blunt instrument and I think they have struggled with our particular local circumstances.
She continued: New refuse and recycling arrangements were introduced three years ago. With hindsight, the timing could not have been worse as the system of alternate weekly collection proved extremely unpopular. It was a remarkably hot summer and many residents complained that the alternate weekly collection resulted in bad smells, maggots and flies.
Separately, our contractor was experiencing financial problems and struggling to remain in business. When he finally went into administration we acted extremely quickly and decisively. We put a temporary contractor in place without any interruption to services while adapting our service with a return to summer weekly collections.
Extensive consultation confirmed the public support for the changes we had made. As we went from interim arrangements to a new contractor, we honoured our commitments to maintain weekly summer collections.
Pictured above – Councillor Mrs Diana Collins, Leader of Epping Forest District Council and Councillor Mrs Mary Sartin, Environmental Protection Portfolio Holder join SITA refuse collectors Jamie Lee and Dave Harwood on a refuse collection round in Epping
There was an inevitable increase in costs as we drafted in a temporary contractor but our new long term contract is much more cost effective. The Audit Commission says that excluding a return to the original Alternate Weekly collection arrangements undermined value for money. We argue that we had a duty to listen to our residents who clearly did not want to return to the original system.
Our ability to exceed very high recycling targets in the new contract without passing extra costs to residents in Council Tax also seemed to cause the Audit Commission difficulty. They thought our rejection of Alternate Weekly Collection compromised value for money but in other discussions have also asked why we did not increase Council Tax by more. We have a strong financial position thanks to prudent management. It gives us the scope to invest in services based on the choices made by people locally rather than fitting a `one-size-fits-all` national model.
The Audit Commission also doubts the Council`s capacity for further improvements to refuse and recycling, saying the prospects are `uncertain`. However, Councillor Mary Sartin points to the major improvements already implemented over the past three years, high recycling rates and plans to consult residents about the next steps.
She said: We are about to consult everyone on how we move forward again. Every household in the District will receive a survey questionnaire during September, delivered as an insert within the Forester magazine. It will explain how the Council aims to increase recycling even further and cut the overall amount of waste going to landfill.
Mrs Sartin continued: Residents have three main options to consider. Each has its unique merits but the main improvement offered by all three will be to transfer kitchen food waste from landfill disposal to recycling while collecting it every week, summer and winter. We need as much public feedback as possible. Whatever option we adopt, it will only work properly if it has widespread public support. This is your chance to tell us what you want. Your comments will help us choose the final scheme and it is therefore vital that we get as many people to respond as possible.
Whichever option we choose, this will be another huge step forward. It really doesn`t fit in with the Audit Commission doubts about improvements. I believe our actions speak for themselves.
As well as The Forester survey which should be returned using the Freepost address, the survey will be available online on the homepage of the Epping Forest District Council website at www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk. Closing date for responses is 24 October 2008.