It’s been a long standing principle of our democracy that government needs to set out what it intends to do so it can be held to account. Hard won processes should kick in which should allow the public, the media, administration backbenchers and oppositions to know what is happening and to consider the pros and cons before any major policy is implemented. So, how come H&F Council’s Conservative Administration has just introduced another brand new stealth tax and the Conservative Chair of the scrutiny committee meant to look at such policies was forced to admit that even she “didn't know about the charge”.
H&F Council has decided to now charge, £15 per item, to remove unwanted household furniture. This service used to be covered by the council tax payment and up until the beginning of this month there was no extra charge for using it. The charge is an interesting measure as on initial consideration it may seem to make sense to charge people for removing their old belongings. However, many of the councils that levy such a charge often end up spending more than the money raised because they have to deal with significant increases in unwanted extra fly-tipping – and regular readers will recall the Hammersmith and Fulham Council is currently £1million over its budget precisely because of unforeseen increases in the level of local fly-tipping.
The Cleaner and Greener Scrutiny Committee should have considered all of this and looked at the measure as part of H&F Council’s failing strategy for keeping our streets clean. However, when the committee last met on Wednesday, 8th April, Cllr. Eugenie White (Con), the Chair of the committee admitted that her Cabinet colleagues and council officials had even failed to inform her of what they were doing.
Cllr. Wesley Harcourt (Lab), the Shadow Cabinet Member for the Environment (pictured left) asked where and when details of this latest policy change had been published. A senior environment official responded by telling the committee that details had “not been explicit in the budget papers”. Wesley asked the official if he believed H&F Council’s approach was “conducive to transparent government?” The official didn't respond - his silence providing the answer.
Now, if there’s one department that could do with some scrutiny and advice it’s H&F Council’s beleaguered environment department. Their new garden waste scheme crashed and burned a mere eighteen months after it was triumphantly unveiled (a decision also kept from committee scrutiny); complaints about filthy streets and dog fouling have soared; and few local people have any confidence in the current planning regime.
I suspect that this new residents charge is more to do with the incompetent way this service has been privatised than anything else and that this is the reason the Administration was keen to hide its latest stealth tax from the public’s gaze. I know that when the street scene services were being handed over to SERCO much was missed out. SERCO have been back to H&F Council on a number of occasions successfully seeking many hundreds of thousand of pounds in extra funds.
I am sure the story behind this will all come out in the end. And, when it does, I will ensure that you can read about it here.