Ray Dawe: emphasis is shifting to more of ‘user pays’ philosophy

The fact that Horsham District Council can no longer collect garden waste without making a charge has understandably provoked a degree of comment and questioning.

There is of course a financial background to this: Horsham District Council (HDC) keeps just 9p in every £1 it collects in council tax (the rest goes to the county council and to the police).

All district council services together cost the typical (Band D) council tax payer just £2.61 a week – one of the lowest levels in the country!

Over the last five years we have shaved over £7m from our net costs while both maintaining existing services and introducing new ones.

Compared with four years ago, Government financial support to HDC in real terms has dropped by 36 per cent.

We have to assume a further 26 per cent reduction over the next two years.

So how do we fund this drop in income?

HDC is on a further efficiency drive cutting costs by over £1m.

The Government would have allowed us to increase council tax for all by up to about 3.5 per cent without triggering a referendum.

However, neither of these measures plugs the gap so instead we have decided to offer a paid-for garden waste collection but to freeze council tax for everyone.

Recently both in the HDC magazine and currently through leaflets dropping through letterboxes there is information on how to arrange for the collection of your garden waste and answering many of the questions.

We are not the first council to introduce a charge and we believe that by learning lessons from others we have got the process right.

One of the big differences is that all our surrounding councils have long charged for this service, at higher charges than £29!

Some fear that charges may follow for other services.

The council provides both statutory services – the services it has to provide by law – and discretionary services - those services it chooses to provide but is not obliged to eg. swimming pools, theatre, parks.

The council must collect household waste but can decide whether or not to provide a collection service for garden waste and how much to charge for this service.

There are no plans to make any other new charges.

Various correspondents deplore this garden waste charge altogether and point out that next year HDC looks to make a small financial surplus, ignoring the fact that we would then have a bigger hole to fill in subsequent years.

If we believed we had the money to still provide a free garden waste service and had it been financially sensible then we would have done it!

The choice to have your garden waste collected in future is yours and so far nearly 7,000 households have already opted in, with the rest receiving a leaflet this week giving the details of how to sign up.

While certainly the emphasis is shifting to more of a ‘user pays’ philosophy, will the new charge pick up all the costs of collecting garden waste?

I doubt it.

But then we charge for use of things like swimming pools and do not cover all the costs there.

So for me it becomes a question of trying to achieve the best balance between the various ways we receive income and the ways that we provide services.

There will always be different views but councillors are the ones elected by you to make the decision!