John McCallister was sceptical about controversial four-weekly bin collections in Banbridge council where he lives, but found that they worked. The arrangements were abandoned too early, he argues here:
A worrying pattern has emerged in Northern Ireland’s politics and within government.
It goes like this: 1. no agreement can be reached on difficult issues by politicians;
2. Civil servants come up with potential policy solutions;
3. some politicians begrudgingly agree to limited proposals;
4. The policy is rolled out and meets pockets of localised and vocal opposition;
5. politicians row back on decision and blame each other for the policy in the first place (this happens regardless of party policy, expert advice, circumstances or evidence).
This pattern has been repeated from welfare reform, to Transforming Your Care, through to teacher training provision. There is now worrying evidence that the pattern will take hold in the new super councils.
The recent decision by the shadow ABC Council to halt Banbridge District Council’s policy of a monthly black bin collection is a real disappointment and a worrying example of the misplaced populism of much of our politics.
Banbridge District Council should be commended for implementing a comprehensive, challenging and innovative pilot scheme. Shifting to monthly bin collections resulted in a 35 per cent fall in the waste placed in black bins; a 35 per cent rise in dry recyclable waste; a 25 per cent increase in compostable waste and a kerbside recycling rate of 64.5 per cent, compared to a Northern Ireland average of 33.7 per cent. The trial saved Banbridge District Council £0.5million over the cost of the average performing NI council.
This evidence is a fantastic achievement for the people of Banbridge and the council; this evidence is proof that the policy was bought into by the local population and actually worked. £0.5million is coming close to 1 per cent of the rate bill of the new ABC Council area. At a time when businesses are battling revaluation and convergence into new Council areas, and in light of the fact that they already pay for waste collection separately, the decision to ignore such savings will seem, to many, ill-advised.
There was and is vocal opposition from some ratepayers in Banbridge who are opposed to the policy and have chosen to reject an independent survey carried out on behalf of the council. It found that 69 per cent of residents surveyed reportedly agreed that they would be happy to recycle more waste through the trial bin collection model if it helped save money that could be re-invested in other services and assist in minimising rates bills. It also stated that just 13 per cent of residents specified a preference to revert back to the previous fortnightly bin collection model, with only 1 per cent asking for the new system to be stopped altogether.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that this policy is broadly supported and in the interests of the common good, the new ABC shadow Council, under pressure from the DUP and others, decided to halt the policy and have no doubt killed it off going forward. Instead of being a shining light of progressive politics, Banbridge District Council’s and Banbridge ratepayers have been sacrificed on the altar of our shallow politics.
Being a politician cannot be about solely listening to those who shout the loudest; it must be about evidence-based policy, in the interests of the common good and showing leadership. If the pattern of Northern Ireland politics was the historical norm in the UK and Ireland we would be in a sorry state indeed.
As a ratepayer in Banbridge, with a family of five with three small children, I was initially sceptical about the once a month policy change – I was proven wrong and I am happy to fight for its retention because it is a good policy, regardless of the opposition.
John McCallister is South Down MLA