05:47PM, Tuesday 21 December 2021
Despite a switch to fortnightly general waste collections in October, residents in Windsor and Maidenhead will see more of their council tax spent on waste management next year.
The news emerged during an expanded corporate overview and scrutiny panel on Monday evening, where councillors discussed the proposed budget for 2022/23.
Three Conservatives, one Liberal Democrats and a Local Independent joined existing panel members to discuss the budget and decide which areas would need further scrutiny by the relevant committees.
Having introduced the panel members, the meeting began with Andrew Vallance, head of finance at the Royal Borough, providing contextual information on the budget.
Mr Vallance also shared the responses to the ongoing public consultation, and said: “In terms of whether people thought the council was good value for money, 50 per cent of people disagreed, even though we have the third lowest council tax in the country.”
“25 per cent of people agreed [over value for money], and 25 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed.”
Although he did not delve into the reasons behind the figures, the budget comes after a year of reductions in services such as bin collections and opening times of libraries.
Council tax is once again increased in next year’s budget, and although a residents' parking discount has been included, the offer does not extend to all car parks across the borough, and is only accessible via the RingGo app.
A switch to fortnightly black bin collections was expected to bring £175,000 savings to RBWM. However, on Monday evening, councillors discovered that there would be at least an additional £500,000 cost to fund the new agreement.
Costs could even be higher, as that figure did not include the purchasing of waste vehicles which the council has set aside a further £395,000.
Officers explained that the rise in costs came from the configuration of the vehicles the council used before the changes were implemented.
Alysse Strachan, head of neighbourhood services at the council, added that ‘twin pack’ vehicles the council used prior to the changes collected general waste and food together, whereas recycling and garden waste were also collected simultaneously.
She said: “The new model with the fortnightly waste collection [while] continuing the weekly recycling and food waste collections and maintaining the fortnightly garden waste [meant the council] needed to move to a different configuration of vehicle.
“Food and recycling are collected together, but because residual waste and garden waste [are] very heavy, they need to be collected on separate vehicles.”
She added that some of the vehicles were being hired by the council, although the idea was the council would purchase them in the near future.
Cllr Lynne Jones (OWRA, Old Windsor), said that she ‘wasn’t aware’ of these increasing costs before the budget and backed a suggestion raised by Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) that the issue go to a relevant scrutiny panel.
Later in the meeting, Cllr Werner proposed a motion recommending that a future panel 'analyse the evidence and mechanisms' that led to the increase in cost for the waste contract; and 'satisfy the panel' that those increases in costs will not be repeated for the length of the contract.
However, managing director Duncan Sharkey said that he 'wasn’t quite sure how that recommendation would help anyone' with commenting on the budget.
“These figures are the figures; whether a panel decided they thought it was an appropriate set of figures or not, that is the figure that has been agreed, and will be the figure in the budget,” he added.
“I’m not quite sure how there’s a rush to do that [recommendation], the way it's being described at least.”
This response prompted Cllr Jones to reiterate her concerns, adding: “I think what’s caused the issue is that, for a lot of us, this is the first we’ve seen of the increase.
“Whereas Duncan is saying that a decision has been made, I think we were thinking this is a decision to be made.
“I’ve not been able to source where members were told of this, so I think that’s kind of put it into a grey area.”
Chair of the meeting Cllr Phil Haseler (Con, Cox Green) said that scrutiny panels could do a scoping document and bring it in themselves if they felt it was necessary to scrutinise the issue.
Cllr Chris Targowski (Con, Riverside) supported his colleague’s view to make other panels aware of the discussion at the meeting rather than formally recommend work for other committees.
The recommendation – proposed by Cllr Werner and seconded by Cllr Helen Price – was voted down by six votes to four along party lines.