New coalition moves to bring back weekly bin collections

12:25am Saturday 19th May 2007

By DAMIEN HENDERSON

Scotland's first Labour and Conservative coalition yesterday promised to increase council tax to help pay for reinstating weekly bin collections.

In a warning shot to other local authorities considering scrapping weekly uplifts, Rhondda Geekie, the newly-elected leader of East Dunbartonshire Council, said voters had chosen overwhelmingly to reject the reforms.

The move was welcomed by local campaigners who successfully fought to oust the previous Liberal Democrat administration over the issue on May 3.

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Faced with a massive hike in landfill tax, 13 of Scotland's 32 local authorities have scrapped weekly collections of non-recyclable waste in a bid to improve recycling rates. Others are thought to be considering the move.

Ms Geekie, the Labour group leader, formed a controversial two-party minority administration with the Tories on Thursday night to keep out the SNP, the party with the largest number of councillors.

It is the first such two-party coalition in living memory between the traditionally bitter ideological rivals.

At a conference at the council headquarters in Kirkintilloch yesterday, Ms Geekie said the Tories and Labour had set out a 2.5% increase in council tax - as opposed to the LibDems' 1.9% rise - in their manifestos and were prepared to implement this to meet the £1m annual cost of reintroducing weekly collections of "gray" waste and removing special charges for one-off rubbish uplifts.

In the current financial year, East Dunbartonshire is expected to send 50,000 tonnes of waste to landfill and pay £1.2m in landfill tax. However, the tax is due to increase by £8 per tonne every tax year, placing a huge incentive on councils to up recycling rates and reduce landfill.

The previous administration introduced weekly collections of recyclable waste as it cut collection of regular waste.

But Ms Geekie said constituents had complained that the new service constituted a health hazard by giving off a bad smell, attracting rats and becoming too heavy for older people to move.

Billy Hendry, the council's new deputy leader, conceded the success of reimplementing the weekly service would depend on continued improvement in recycling rates.

But he said he had "every confidence" that moving back to a weekly service would not damage this. "This is something we are going to have to do together with the people of East Dunbartonshire," he said. "Recycling rates in East Dunbartonshire were going up before the fortnightly collection was introduced."

There will be a consultation on the new service and exact costs will become clear after a report to the council's policy and resources committee.

Ms Geekie said there would be further consultation should recycling rates deteriorate. When pressed on whether fortnightly collection would then return, she said: "We have to rule that out at this stage."

However, Vaughan Moody, leader of the council's LibDem group, said the move would be a "disaster" for household recycling, which had gone up from 26% to 33% after the changes to bin collections.

He said: "The cost of sending waste to landfill is expected to be £3.4m in three years. On their first day in power, Labour and the Tories have blown the council's projected £1m budget surplus. The question now is which services will be cut to pay for this."

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