Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Stop littering streets and help councils save millions

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association is right behind the Belfast Telegraph's Big Clean-Up campaign, says Jenny Palmer

If you had woken up this morning and found you had just won £1m, what would you do with it? Some might save it, or use it to pay off their mortgage (and their credit card bill from Christmas!). Others might give a donation to a worthy cause.

But most of us probably have, in the back of our minds, a wish-list in the event we suddenly come into a windfall.

Local councils in Northern Ireland currently spend £30m-a-year cleaning up litter.

That averages out at more than £1m for each of the 26 local councils - although, of course, some will need to spend much more and others considerably less.

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association is in full support of the Belfast Telegraph's The Big Clean-Up campaign, which reflects local government opinion on the problem posed by litter and its disposal.

Local councils would dearly love to be able to use this £30m annual spend in a much more positive way.

First, let's have a look at the facts.

The 26 local councils in Northern Ireland currently perform a range of functions. Some of those functions are statutory - ie they are 'must-do' - while other functions are discretionary - these are the 'can do'.

Litter clear-up and enforcement of the Litter (Northern Ireland) Order 1994 are some of the statutory functions that councils must do - and which have to be prioritised over discretionary functions such as economic development or support for the arts, for example.

Local councils work hard to balance the allocation of resources and the finances they access through the rates system, but councils will always try to keep rates as low as is possible in order to minimise the cost burden on their local residents.

In the past year we have seen a raft of different issues impact on the rates charged by local councils.

These include flaws in the Land and Property Services administration systems, the economic crisis, unrecoverable debt, the cost of modernising our waste management infrastructure and 'clawback' following re-evaluation of MoD and BT premises.

The system of finance which local councils are required by law to use is volatile - it does not allow councils to plan for longer than a year-on-year basis - and this year, in particular, most councils are faced with a cold, hard, difficult decision - either to increase the rates, or to cut services.

What a difference that £1m I mentioned earlier would make.

If we could redirect the money we spend on clearing up fast-food packaging, chewing gum and cigarette butts, we could use it to reduce your rates, help local small businesses ride out the recession, fund that arts festival you enjoy or, perhaps, even build that neighbourhood playground your children would love.

We at the Northern Ireland Local Government Association would like to encourage everyone in Northern Ireland to think a bit smarter when it comes to dropping litter.

Use the bins your council or local businesses provide for you. If there's no bin where you are, take your rubbish home and use your bin there.

Also, if you can, use recycling bins. It helps us cut costs if we can recycle drinks cans and plastic bottles.

Landfill is an increasingly expensive way to dispose of our waste and, unfortunately, it's the only option for litter we pick up off the streets.

If we can stop litter being dropped, councils won't need a lottery win to begin checking things off our wish-lists.

So let's all give it a go in 2010.

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