Selling off refuse service will hit lower paid users, council meeting told

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

South Tipperary Co. Council chiefs have been accused of securing a raw deal for people on low incomes in the sale of the local authority’s domestic refuse collection service to a private company.

Co. Council management have come under fire from some councillors for selling off the refuse collection service to Clean Ireland Recycling and only securing as part of the deal a commitment from the company to continue the refuse charges waiver scheme for people suffering hardship for 12 months.

They have also been criticised for not consulting with the elected members of the Council about the deal.

Councillors opposed to the sale voiced their anger at the Co. Council’s monthly meeting in County Hall last week but County Manager Billy McEvoy said the bottom line was the Council had been “bleeding” refuse collection customers due to the competition from five private waste collection companies operating in the county and it couldn’t afford to continue the service.

Under questioning from Cllr Bobby Fitzgerald, he refused to disclose how much the Council secured in the deal on the grounds it was “commercially sensitive”.

Fianna Fail Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan expressed disappointment that the sale was “done and dusted” before councillors were informed and complained that they weren’t consulted at all.

She warned of an increase in illegal dumping around the county in 12 months time as she believed Clean Recycling Ireland wouldn’t continue operating the waiver scheme beyond that.

Labour Cllr Bobby Fitzgerald declared he was “totally disgusted” with the way the sale was conducted.

“We should have been privy to the contract and should have known the terms of the deal. I looked at this company’s accounts. They had operating profits of nearly E1m on December 31, 2001 and they had cash in hand of E 1.4m. The only person being effected here is Mr Joe Public,” he said.

“It’s a bad, bad deal. You have treated the general public like rubbish. They demand better of this council and to be respected more.”

He said the agreement to continue the waiver scheme for another 12 months was a “cop-out” by the local authority and he didn’t believe central government was going to step in to introduce a national refuse charges waiver scheme because other local authorities were still operating these schemes.

“Could you not have done a better deal than 12 months for the waiver,” he pleaded.

Cllr Fitzgerald also said he didn’t believe the sale made any economic sense as the biggest cost of providing of refuse collection service must have been the employees but they were being redeployed to other areas.

Workers and Unemployment Action Group Cllr Pat English called on the Council to reconsider its decision and he was “very disappointed and shocked” with the manner in which public representatives were informed.

“I think the local media knew before the councillors knew”.

He also criticised Council management for not heeding councillors request to put a public representative on the committee that reviewed the refuse collection service.

WUAG Cllr Shoer said the introduction of the pay-by-weight system five years ago was the “death knell” for the Council’s refuse collection service and asked why the same environment restrictions were not imposed on private collectors.

Independent Cllr Tom Wood, whose motion about the Council’s exit from refuse collection sparked the debate, said his fear was that after two years there will be a monopoly situation and the private sector will hike up refuse charges

But several Fine Gael councillors defended the sale. Cllr Joe Brennan said it was a good move by the Council. The refuse collection service lost E150,000 last year and the redeployment of its staff would take pressure off other areas, he argued.

Cllr Michael Murphy said if he was a rate payer he would be concerned if his rates money was funding a loss making service.

Responding to the criticisms Mr McEvoy said he took exception to Cllr Fitzgerald’s use of the term “cop out”, which he considered very unfair.

He refuted suggestions that the Council failed to keep the elected members informed about the situation. There had been a lot of discussion about the service over the last few years, he insisted.

“This has been a very difficult decision for us but the figures speak for themselves. Our customers base has declined by 40% over the last three years and the number of customers on waivers has increased from 33% to 50%.”

Director of Environment Services Denis Holland said he shared the disappointment of councillors that it had come to this but the Council hadn’t any option but to sell the service. He pointed out that there were only a handful of local authorities around the country left operating refuse collection services.

Mr Holland said the Council introduced pay-by-weight because it was the most environmentally friendly system and while it would be admirable for private collectors to also do so, by law they were regulated to operate the pay per use system.

He paid tribute to the Council’s waste collection crews and the loyalty of its refuse collection customers.