Rationale for policy of encouraging weekly bin collections

The request was partially successful.

Dear Department for Communities and Local Government,

There has been much talk lately of the Minister's desire, and subsequent climbdown, for weekly bin collections. Naturally there has been a lot of hyperbole around this subject. To help me understand the weekly bin policy further, I wondered if under the Freedom of Information Act you would supply:

1. The reports, which give the rational case for (and or against) returning to weekly bin collections.

This may include internal reports, or those from councils themselves, research organisations, and/or business groups and may cover such issues as the apparent rise in rodent infestations, the popularity of fortnightly collections, and the impact of recycling rates.

2. Emails, memos, and any other correspondence, and minutes of meetings between the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for the Environment, debating this issue; and which finally conclude that weekly bin collections would not be forced on local councils.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Yours faithfully,

A Gilbert

Jeremy Hughes,

Dear Mr Gilbert

Ref : F0004907

Thank you for your request of 5 June seeking information about the
suggestion that DCLG is to put in place a scheme to incentivise weekly
waste collections. Your request was received by Communities and Local
Government on Monday, 6 June.

I am considering your request under the Environmental Information
Regulations 2004 and you may expect to receive a reply by 2 July.

In some circumstances a fee may be chargeable and if that is the case, I
will let you know the likely charges before proceeding.

If you have any queries regarding this letter, please contact me. Remember
to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

Here is a link to our [1]Access to Information leaflet which explains how
the Department handles formal requests for information. I hope you will
find it useful.

[2]http://www.communities.gov.uk/corporate/...

Yours sincerely

Jeremy Hughes
(LG) Productivity and Reform
Department for Communities and Local Government
Tel : 0303 444 3131

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Jeremy Hughes,

1 Attachment

Please find attached a response to your request for information in
relation to weekly bin collections. My apologies for the delay in
responding, we generally take longer to consider cases when the public
interest test has to be carefully weighed.

<<1 July 2011 - Gilbert F0004907.doc>>

Jeremy Hughes
(LG) Productivity and Reform
Department for Communities and Local Government
Tel : 0303 444 3131

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Dear Department for Communities and Local Government,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Communities and Local Government's handling of my FOI request 'Rationale for policy of encouraging weekly bin collections'.

I refer first to the source cited in Appendix A to support the policy of weekly collections.

The report from the World Health Organisation merely states that in temperate climates a weekly collection is “sufficient”. This I would argue is hardly guidance of a minimum "requirement". Moreover, the advice points out that much of the problem relates to uncovered waste. With the provision of wheelie bins, the issue of uncovered waste is not a major one.

Secondly, I’m surprised the government would place such emphasis on a trade body report which clearly has an interest in suggesting the rodent problem is getting worse. But, despite this, on the website of the NPTA, I note that the latest survey actually reports a 19% and 12% fall in rat and mouse treatments respectively in 2008/09 on the year before. So I’m not sure where this idea that rats are running rife in this country comes from. These figures suggest that the rodent problem is not getting worse – and therefore the DCLG’s reasoning for the weekly bin collection policy was flawed.

Finally, the MORI report. I wondered if you could forward me a copy of the report you mention? No doubt you have a copy. I’ve searched the Internet and can only find a 10-page version of the report (you cite page 13). The address for the version I can find is shown below. However, I note that even in the shortened version that I can find it states that when people are told that a fortnightly collection would result in improved “food waste collections and enhanced recycling”, then “reactions change markedly – support increases to 48% while opposition falls back to 23%”. This suggests that the policy to compel local authorities to return to weekly collections was not based as strong a favourable public opinion as we have been led to believe.

Mori report
http://extranet.ipsos-mori.com/newslette...

With all the above in mind, and apparent doubts as to the strength of the case for weekly collections, I turn to your use of the exception 12(4)(e) and 12(4)(d) of the Environmental Information Regulations to except some of the information requested from disclosure.

Firstly 12(4)(e), internal communications. You rightly suggest there is a public interest in promoting “lively public debate” and understanding how government policy is devised. This policy to demand weekly collections contradicted all the other statements from central government, and the Department for the Communities and Local Government in particular, about localism and allowing local communities to decide the nature of their services.

Therefore, the public interest in understanding why this policy came about and how it was thrashed around with the Defra is even more compulsive. You argue that confidentiality of internal advice is strong where it could ultimately result in a ministerial decision. Quite correct. But in this case a ministerial decision has been made – there is to be no compulsion on local authorities to return to weekly collections. As this is a decision that the Local Government minister clearly didn’t agree with, it is even more in the public interest in knowing how he was persuaded otherwise.

Moreover, as the decision has been made your argument that disclosure would have an “adverse effect on the Government’s ability to develop policy effectively” falls down. Again the policy has been decided – and cabinet collective responsibility is assured. Indeed you admit yourself that the government has published its Waste Review and so in effect undermine your own public interest arguments. If the policy has been decided and published, then I fail to see how disclosure of the emails, memos and other briefing papers within your government department and with Defra could have an adverse effect on the shaping of that policy. Surely it has already been decided. Moreover, as it was such a u-turn for DCLG, then there is a strong public interest in knowing how this occurred and why.

I turn to exception 12 (4)(d), material in the course of completion. You suggest that disclosure of the material requested would undermine the work that is going on with public authorities and so therefore this is all “work in progress”. However, I have requested material related to consideration of the debate on weekly ‘v’ fortnightly collections and correspondence related to the decision by DCLG to dump any policy to compel local authorities to return to weekly collections. These matters are now closed - the decision has been made. I fail to see how this exception can be of relevance as it relates to reports and documents which are in draft form, where disclosure would present an incomplete and inaccurate picture.

Therefore, if you remain unprepared to disclose the information I have requested, then I request an internal review of your decision. I am not convinced that exception 12(4)(d) is relevant at all. Moreover, in relation the exception 12 (4)(e) I remain convinced that the public interest in knowing how this policy came about and how the u-turn on weekly collections was decided on, is far stronger than any arguments which favour maintaining the exceptions based on the issues of ‘confidentiality of advice’ and the ‘formulation of government policy’.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ra...

Yours faithfully,

A Gilbert

FoI Requests,

Dear Mr Gilbert

REQUEST FOR INTERNAL REVIEW

Thank you for your email of 7th August 2011, received 8th August 2011, in which you seek a review of the response provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government to your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

The review will be considered under the Department's internal review procedures. A full re-evaluation of your request will be undertaken.

I will today allocate this request to an Internal Review Officer and you should receive a reply by 6th September 2011.

Yours sincerely

FOI Advice Team
Knowledge Management Division
Department for Communities and Local Government
Zone 2/A3, Eland House
0303 444 2222

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Miranda Abrey,

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Gilbert,

Please find attached a response to your request for an Internal review of
Freedom of Information request - Rationale for policy of encouraging
weekly bin collections.

<<110831 Response to Mr A Gilbert.pdf>>

Miranda Abrey

ERDF Policy, Strategy and Coordination
Zone 4/G6
Department for Communities and Local Government
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London, SW1E 5DU
Tel: 0303 4442691
e-mail: [email address]

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Communications via the GSi may be automatically logged, monitored and/or
recorded for legal purposes.

Dear Miranda Abrey,

Thank you for your full and detailed letter dated 31 August 2011. I apologise for the delay in responding to you.

There were a number of points I wonder if you, or Mr Jeremy Hughes, could confirm with me. Firstly, Mr Hughes quotes from page 13 of the MORI report. His reply to me is referenced: “Ipsos-MORI, Weekly or Fortnightly: Public Attitudes to Waste Collections, July 2008, p.13”. However, in your reply you say that the department only had “sight and access” to the 10 page version. I’m perfectly willing to accept that Mr Hughes’ letter included a typo on this, but wondered if you could clarify this.

Also could you confirm that the department did not consider any reports into the merits of fortnightly collections? I assume as you do not refer to any such reports, despite my request asking for reports which make the “case for (and or against)” weekly collections, that the department did not consider the other side of the argument when drawing up this policy. However, I wouldn’t want to make assumptions about the way policy is made in central government based on misinterpretation of your response.

More importantly, you make the case that the correspondence between the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for the Environment is excepted from disclosure under Regulations 12(4)(e) and (d) as to disclose this information before a ministerial decision has been made would jeopardise the policy making process and the “fundamental principle of maintaining cabinet collective responsibility”. Yet I awoke this weekend to headlines such as “Eric Pickles says English have right to expect their curry leftovers be collected weekly” and “Weekly bins are on the way back! Minister pledges £250m fund to PAY councils to dump fortnightly rounds”. These would suggest that the policy of encouraging weekly bin collections has now been decided (with cabinet approval?). Therefore, the public interest test for Regulations 12(4)(e) and (d) would therefore swing in favour of disclosure would it not?

Therefore, to save the bother of going to the ICO which I think we both would prefer to avoid, would you be so kind as to allow me to restate my request for the correspondence between the two departments. In addition (and this may mean that you consider this as a completely new request), please include any impact assessments (economic, social, environmental or whatever) which were carried out when this policy of providing £250m to councils was considered.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

A Gilbert

Miranda Abrey,

Dear Mr Gilbert,

Thank you for your e-mail.

My involvement as the independent review officer ended with the conclusion
of the internal review of the Department's handling of the previous
request.  I have, therefore, passed your latest e-mail and fresh request
to Jeremy Hughes, to consider.

Miranda Abrey

Local Government Revenue Funding Policy Team
Zone 5/H1
Department for Communities and Local Government
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London, SW1E 5DU
Tel:  0303 4442691
e-mail:  [email address]
 

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Jeremy Hughes,

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Gilbert

Please find attached a response to your further e-mail below

Regards

Jeremy Hughes
(LG) Productivity and Reform
Department for Communities and Local Government
Tel : 0303 444 3131

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