Time to bin Keep Britain Tidy
Nearly three years ago Parliament produced a damning reportsaying England was one of the worst developed countries in the world for litter and fly tipping. Worse than most of the rest of Europe, worse than Japan and worse than the United States and Canada.
Furthermore this situation has remained the same for 12 years under successive Labour, Coalition and Tory governments. And this is despite tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers money being poured into the former quango Keep Britain Tidy to provide leadership to tackle this problem.
The deregulatory coalition government of Tories and Liberal Democrats thought they would find a solution by abolishing the quango and turning it into a charity which now has to raise funds from cash strapped local authorities and big business.
The knee jerk reaction of a Left minded blogger might be to persuade an incoming Labour government to push taxpayer's money back to Keep Britain Tidy. But after an investigation looking at its precarious finances and its rather lacklustre approach to tackling the problem this would be the worst thing it could do.
The real problem is that successive gutless ministers of all parties (perhaps they have at the back of their minds that they could take lucrative directorships after leaving politics) won't tackle the real cause of much of our litter - the products of big multinationals like McDonalds and Wrigley's and the tobacco companies - who take no or little responsibility for the problem.
There is a parallel here with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs - who connive with big multinationals to avoid paying their fair share of tax which would go a long way to providing better public services and a cleaner public space.
There is a simple solution here either these companies pay up for a clean up or the Government levies a tax on them ( not us) to employ someone else to do it. I bet the firms would come up soon with some innovative solutions to avoid either.
Now why have I concluded that Keep Britain Tidy is a no no solution despite being told by some people that its new director,Allison Ogden-Newton is much livelier than her predecessor, Phil Barton.
The charity has a guilty secret. It has a pension deficit of £4.5m for a closed scheme on a turnover of just £5m and assets worth £2.5m. For some private companies this could lead them to cease trading.
The 2015-16 accounts lodged with the Charity Commission say :
The report reveals that the trustees - who would be liable if Keep Britain Tidy went bust - certify it is a going concern. But to do this they have had to put aside £2m - equivalent to six months operating costs -to ensure that it stays afloat.
When I put this to the charity - who first ignored my request - I got this reply from Ms Ogden-Newton.
"Our Annual Accounts have been audited by RSM UK Audit LLP and a clean audit opinion has been given. Standard audit procedures include an assessment of Keep Britain Tidy as a Going Concern and this specifically includes an assessment of our ability to meet the agreed pension scheme contributions. No issues were raised in this respect.
"We have an agreed schedule of contributions between Keep Britain Tidy and the Pension trustees in order to address the pension deficit and this has also been submitted to the Pensions Authority whom have accepted this plan.
"To that end we and the relevant authorities consider our agreed repayment programme to be satisfactory and sustainable for both the fund and Keep Britain Tidy."
Now that is all well and good - but I don't believe it doesn't restrict its activities. It has got some income from the 5p levy on plastic bags ( notably £500,000 from Lidl) but as a Defra paper reveals most private companies use the levy to fund other worthy causes whether it is the Alzheimer's Society, the Woodland Trust, animal welfare or Kew Gardens.
The other major reason why Keep Britain Tidy does not seem to be working well was shown up when MPs questioned the former chief executive at the Commons communities and local government committee.
He was taken apart by MPs of all parties in an evidence session.
He produced figures which he couldn't defend, evidence that MPs found flawed and finally admitted that Keep Britain Tidy refused to talk to the tobacco industry. Given cigarette stubs are a source of litter MPs found this extraordinary.
Clive Betts, the Labour chairman of the committee, also made this observation.
" Frankly Keep Britain Tidy was not a main part of our report or inquiry,. We were more interested in some of the innovative work down by local authorities to tackle fly tipping and litter."
Now this is really damning with faint praise given Keep Britain Tidy was meant to be the leadership body.
Since then nothing has improved much. A House of Commons library briefingon litter last July said this :
"Levels of litter in England have hardly improved in over a decade and 81% of people have said they are angry and frustrated by the amount of litter in the country. Local government net expenditure on street cleaning (which includes but is not limited to clearing litter) in 2015/16 was £683 million."
It also clear that by dividing up responsibility between four Whitehall departments doesn't work. Perhaps the Cabinet Office should take over responsibility for a national litter strategy. At the moment neither Keep Britain Tidy nor the various ministries seem capable of negotiating with a paper bag.