Croydon tackles flytipping – a progress report

By - Wednesday 18th February, 2015

We all want cleaner streets. Robert Ward listened in as the council grappled with flytipping

Fixed penalty notices issued. Data source: Croydon Council.
Image author’s own.

For those of us with an interest in the vexed subject of fly-tipping, these are interesting times. A Croydon Council press release was followed up with a cabinet discussion in January. Since fly-tipping was a big issue in the last year’s council elections, I thought a review was due so I listened in via the excellent Croydonlive.

To put the problem simply, we would all like cleaner streets. To get there we must either reduce the amount of litter being dropped, or clean it up quicker. The council has sensibly chosen to try to attack both.

Easier reporting of flytips, a 48 hour target for their removal and changes to the Veolia company’s street cleaning contract are some of the measures designed to improve clean-up. These measures should bring an immediate improvement in the appearance of our streets and make a start on increasing pride in our borough, contributing to a longer term reduction in the amount of litter being dropped.

The disadvantage of getting better at cleaning up is that it risks encouraging the bad behaviour of those who drop the litter. Why should they change their behaviour if the problem is apparently solved? Unless we reduce the amount of litter being dropped, we risk ending up with higher costs and no improvement. Indeed things may even get worse.

Without enforcement the campaign will be a high cost failure

Increasing the number of bins can help in some areas, but to make a significant and longterm improvement, we need culture change. Poor recycling, dumping on the street and forgetting to put the bins out on collection day all need to change. Here we have seen the Don’t Mess with Croydon hearts and minds campaign being conducted in schools and elsewhere. An excellent example was mentioned at the cabinet meeting of a local group in Thornton Heath whose members are making a real difference.

But without enforcement the whole campaign risks becoming a high cost failure. Businesses have been targeted through business licence inspections and others mainly through the issuing of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs). There have been a very limited number of prosecutions.

Not a bad strategy, but there are serious gaps

Managing this overall strategy needs performance measures to tell us how we are doing, presented in council meetings in a one page ‘dashboard’. The council tracks the number of fly-tips cleared, the percentage of fly-tips cleared within 48 hours of being reported, the number of FPNs issued and the number of environmental investigations and subsequent prosecutions.

Not a bad list, but one with serious gaps. All are ‘inputs’ with no measure of the ‘output’ – whether the streets are actually cleaner. This is admittedly hard to measure objectively but as we saw at the cabinet meeting, without it we are reduced to swapping anecdotes in an ‘oh-no-it-isn’t! oh-yes-it-is!’ fashion. There is also no mention of cost.

Newham council claims to issue 500 penalty notice a month. Last November, Croydon recorded three

So how are we doing? The last available figures for December 2014 showed the percentage of fly-tips cleared within 48 hours running at 87.9% on a steadily improving trend. Very good, and cause for cautious optimism. Only worrying trend is that the number of flytips is twenty percent greater than the previous year, which could be due to better reporting but might also be a consequence of reinforcing the bad behaviour mentioned earlier.

Very much weaker is performance on enforcement. Flytipping FPNs fell from twenty in October to only three in November and none in December. This is getting towards the low figures achieved during 2012/2013 under the previous Tory administration. Stuart Collins, the cabinet member responsible, responded via Twitter that this was due to the impact of new staff inductions and the overrun of an IT system upgrade. These issues are both now resolved. Stuart King, the deputy cabinet member responsible, confirmed that the total number of FPNs issued in January was seventy-nine. Worryingly this is the total number, rather than those issued only for flytipping. These statistics are no longer collected separately; it is claimed that this is for legal reasons related to prosecutions.

To put this into context, Newham Council claims to issue more than five hundred FPNs per month with even Kensington and Chelsea issuing around thirty a month. Stuart Collins has asked his team to get in touch with Newham to see whether we are comparing like-for-like, and if so whether there is anything to learn from Newham on more effectively issuing FPNs.

Some other nuggets from the cabinet meeting are that the council intends to display a (crushed) car that had been used for flytipping in the town centre. They may also name and shame some culprits.

So my verdict after six months of this new council is that credit is due on improved collection and the hearts and minds initiatives, but there are shortcomings on enforcement action, hopefully now addressed, although the change in FPN statistics is concerning. Cost implications and the lack of objective measures on whether all this is having a positive effect are also causes for concern. I will look again in a few months, just before the general election.

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Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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