05:00PM, Wednesday 05 May 2021
Opposition councillors have questioned the effectiveness of using a private company to issue fines for littering and similar offences in Windsor and Maidenhead.
Since October, the council has tasked District Enforcement with enforcing environmental misdemeanours, giving out fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for littering, fly-tipping and dog-fouling.
The company generates its income from the fines, making it cost-neutral for the borough.
But the service has proved controversial, with councillors clashing over the methods used by the company and arguing whether fines were being favoured over warnings in November.
Questions have also been raised about the transparency surrounding the service, with Lib Dem opposition leader saying he found it ‘impossible’ to get more information at council meetings.
The Advertiser has also made repeated attempts to speak to District Enforcement directly, without success.
Earlier this year, a Freedom of Information request by the Advertiser found that more than 1,300 fines were handed out in the borough over the course of its first three months in operation.
Between October 1 and December 31, 1,309 FPNs were given out – and 188 of them were contested.
In total, 964 of the 1,309 fines were for dropped cigarette butts.
Around 60 of the fines have been for inadequate paperwork – such as failing to provide a correct waste transferral notice, which has caused grievances for some small businesses.
Fly-tipping accounted for 58 cases of fines, while more than 100 FPNs were issued on private property such as supermarket car parks, and land owned by parish councils and housing associations.
Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Councillor Simon Werner (Pinkneys Green) said:
“I don’t know why we’re using them – it’s clear they’re dealing with the easy issues, not the messy ones,” he said.
He also questioned the fact that the process brought no money back into the council, at a time when extra cash is much needed.
“There could be an income for the council which could be used to do more street cleaning and cleaning up graffiti, creating a circular system,” said Cllr Werner.
“The litter problem is getting so bad. It’s the ‘broken windows’ theory – if a road already has litter on it, people won’t think twice about dropping litter.”
Leader of the local independents Cllr Lynne Jones (OWRA, Old Windsor) said she was ‘not surprised’ by the figures of cigarette butt offences.
She expressed doubt that the figures for fly-tipping fines represented the true picture.
“I think of fly-tipping as rubbish dumped in an open space, but if you dug down into the figures, I think you would find that wasn’t always the case, she said.
“Sometimes it’s just that a piece of cardboard has been put down next to a bin.
“If it has someone’s address on it, they get fined – but it might not be their fault. Someone could have taken it out of the bin so they could fit their rubbish in.
“I think there needs to be more education, rather than jumping straight to fines,” she said.
On transparency, she added: “Unless you know what the administration wanted them to do, it’s hard to hold them to account.
“It’s all about the detail in the contracts.”
A council spokesman said: “The council has given clear and defined delegated powers, with officers following current legislative guidelines.
“Officers receive intensive introductory training and ongoing professional development to maintain the high standards required by us.
“District Enforcement is fully accountable to the council for its actions and this is reviewed monthly.
“A report covering an update on its work has also been presented to the council’s communities overview and scrutiny panel.
“The council is determined to address residents’ concerns about litter and will continue to take a robust approach.
“Littering in our borough is wrong and will not be accepted, including the dropping of cigarette butts.
In context: The council's direction with District Enforcement followed complaints principally about the level of fly-tipping.
The Royal Borough had 944 incidents of fly-tipping recorded in 2019-2020, according to latest statistics by DEFRA.
This calculates out at around six incidences of fly-tipping per every 1,000 people in the borough.
The neighbouring borough of Wokingham was about the same, while High Wycombe and Bracknell Forest fared slightly better with 5.7 and 4.9 fly-tips per every 1,000 people respectively.
Things were worse in South Bucks, with around 10 incidents per every 1,000 people. This was about the same in Slough.
For a full breakdown of fly-tipping stats for Local Authorities in England, see the interactive map below, or click here.
Police were called to the River Thames between Cookham and Bourne End yesterday at about 3pm, to reports that a teenage boy had entered the water but hadn’t been seen to leave.