Magazine article Public Finance


Magazine article Public Finance


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'Savings' more spin than reality

The comments from a Scottish Executive spokesman on my advice to the Parliament's Finance Committee regarding progress with Efficient Government are sadly typical of the Executive's preference for spin over rigour on this issue ('Scottish efficiency savings information "still flawed'", June 30-July 6).

This began with the first minister claiming that the Executive would go further with savings than Whitehall, followed by the finance minister triple-counting savings to boost the total in his Efficient Government Plan.

Despite the political rhetoric, the reality is that the Scottish target is still lower than Whitehall equivalents, and the current estimate itself cannot be guaranteed delivery.

While the new Efficiency Technical Notes are certainly an improvement over their predecessors, a significant number are still unable to demonstrate that their targets are realistic. Moreover, most ETNs do not identify how the 'savings' will be used to improve frontline services, and thus the growth in output cannot be quantified.

Announcing the initiative was the easy part. Designing a convincing, robust programme of efficiency savings that will give independent analysts confidence in the finance minister's figures has proved to be much more difficult


Institute of Public sector Accounting Research

University of Edinburgh

Charges would be a waste

I read with interest the article 'Sorting the rubbish' by Stephen Cirell and John Bennett, which discussed the possibility of a Statutory Instrument to enable councils to charge households that exceed an agreed level of waste per week (Point of Law, June 23-29).

While the merits of this are clear - punishing financially households that are not doing their bit to recycle -I am intrigued as to how it might work in practice. The authors discussed two approaches: weighing bins then charging over an agreed level, and selling special bags for non-recyclables.

Along with many other local authorities, we use wheeled bins, which are left out in the street for collection. If households are being charged based on the weight of their bin, what is to stop them depositing their rubbish in someone else's bin?

The bins are left out unguarded for potentially several hours, providing sufficient opportunity for a bit of crafty tax evasion. Conversely, how could households stop others 'fly tipping' in their bin? I can't see it happening in reality.

The article says the idea was based on a model pioneered in other European Union states. I would be interested to see how these countries have addressed this issue.

It seems to me that, even if there was a secure way to stop tampering with bins, if each crew had to weigh all bins and record sufficient detail to enable an invoice to be raised, this would lengthen the time each collection round took, thus increasing the cost to the council taxpayer.

The excess charges would probably have to be guite hefty to cover those additional costs, let alone raise new finance.

Similarly, after investing millions of pounds in wheeled bins, I cannot see councils reverting to bagged collections, with all the health and safety issues that brings.

Since introducing a three-bin system for non-recyclables, garden waste and recyclables, our local recycling figures have increased substantially. …

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