Furious businessman slams Ashfield's new litter crackdown policy
A furious businessman, who was wrongly fined, has slammed Ashfield District Council’s new policy on litterbugs.
The council is three months into a year’s trial of working alongside a private company, Wise, that dishes out fixed penalty notices of £100 to anyone caught dropping litter.
Its enforcement team patrols town centres, parks and busy areas and, already, a total of 1,431 fines have been issued as part of a zero-tolerance approach to environmental crime.
But Huthwaite man Gary Eyre, who runs a plumbing and heating business, is angry that 90 per cent of the money is going into the company’s coffers, rather than to the council who could then spend it on improving services.
And he feels that the system for appealing against fines is “not fair or honest” because it is overseen by Wise themselves.
Gary, 55, who spent more than 20 years in the Army as a medic, fell foul of the new approach one lunchtime last month when he parked his van at the Aldi store in Sutton.
As he got out, a bottle of hand-sanitiser accidentally dropped from his door and rolled under the van. Two members of Wise’s enforcement team saw it and deemed it a litter offence, even though Gary insisted he hadn’t realised what had happened.
So annoyed was Gary that only after the police were called did he consent to give his details. The £100 fine (which is reduced to £75 if paid within ten days) was confirmed two days later.
He complained and was told by Wise that they were happy the fine had been issued correctly. But when he went directly to the council, the fine was cancelled after being reviewed.
Now he is on a mission to make others aware of the new litter policy, which he claims is too heavy-handed and benefits no-one but Wise, which stands for Waste Investigations Support and Enforcement.
"When the fines are issued, there is no video evidence and there are no corroborating witnesses,” said Gary.
"I was prepared to go to court over it. But how many more people have been frightened and railroaded?
"I understand why the council wants to take action over litter, but the way it is being done, it is all about money, not about doing the right thing.
"Wise say if you don’t pay the £100 fixed penalty notice, they can take you to court, where the fine could be as much as £2,500. These are bullying tactics.
"I have discovered that 90 per cent of the money collected goes to Wise, and only ten per cent to the council
"Why isn’t the council enforcing this themselves, and collecting the money to pay for more bins and litter-pickers?
"The private company must be swimming in cash. The amount of profit they are making beggars belief. The figures are staggering.”
Gary went as far as to make a freedom of information request to the council to find out those figures.
"Apparently, of the hundreds of fines issued, 168 were contested, of which 31 were successful,” he said.
"But if you contest it, there is no incentive for Wise to turn you down.
"If Wise don’t issue fines, they don’t get their revenue. They would be running at a loss as a company. Where is the common sense in that?
"In effect, they are policing themselves. I think all appeals should be looked at by someone independent.”
The council stresses that the partnership with Wise “involves no financial outlay”. It does not employ the company, nor any of its enforcement officers, and yet ends up making money through its share of the fines imposed.
When the trial was launched, Theresa Hodgkinson, director for place and communities, said: “We are committed to making Ashfield a cleaner and greener place to live.
"This zero-tolerance approach should make residents think twice before they choose not to pick up after they drop litter.
"We want residents to be proud of where they live, and we all have a responsibility to keep the district clean.
"This new pilot scheme with Wise will come down on those who think they can commit environmental crime and get away with it.”
Wise works with many other councils up and down the country. John Dunne, the firm’s managing director, said: “We deliver a wide range of enforcement services on a national basis.
"As a result of our efforts, we have contributed to a reduction in street litter and the associated cost of cleaning it up.
"Our aim is to reduce environmental crime for the long term. We focus our controls on hotspots identified by complaints and feedback from the general public.
"We operate in a robust, but always proportionate, way, using 4G body-worn cameras and a hand-held computer.
"Our officers have been instructed to communicate openly with the community.”
The crackdown by the council and Wise includes dog-fouling. But so far, the dropping of cigarette ends has been the most prolific offence, being responsible for 1,316 of the 1,431 fines imposed.
The council says that, given there are 1,200 litter-bins across the district, there is no excuse for environmental crime.
In response to Mr Eyre’s criticisms, Theresa Hodgkinson said: “The council is working with specialist private-sector enforcement provider, Wise, on a 12-month pilot.
"So far, this has seen more than 1,400 fixed penalty notices issued to those caught committing environmental crime in our communities.
“The dedicated environmental enforcement team has been created to further tackle littering and dog-fouling across the district.
"The new scheme comes at no additional cost to the council. In fact, ten per cent of all revenue received is paid back to the council.
"This money is intended to be put back into Ashfield’s green spaces, as well as assisting with council resources, equipment and signage.
"We estimate an annual income of about £25,000 from the contract.”