NEW governments attempt to make their mark by announcing a series of policies that play to the public mood, some of which struggle to pass closer inspection. But the sheer number of coalition initiatives failing this test is alarming.
The standout example is the push to get councils to return to weekly general waste collections. It was a Tory pre-election pledge, and has become the pet project of Eric Pickles, the former Bradford Council leader who famously said “every English man and woman has the right to have the remnants of their chicken tikka masalas collected before they begin to rot”.
Yet the £250m plan has been derided by Tory and Labour councils alike as being ill judged, out of step and unworkable. Even the Government cannot name a single authority in Yorkshire backing the plan.
It is ill judged because at a time of financial crisis, the public have little support for an extra £250m being set aside for waste collection.
It is out of step because the vast majority of town halls have run fortnightly collections for some considerable time and it is expensive to reverse an established system. Furthermore, those councils that retain weekly collections, such as Leeds, Harrogate and Sheffield, want to switch to a fortnightly service in order to boost recycling and cut costs.
And it is unworkable because, as ever, the press releases came out long before the policy was ready. It was not until yesterday – 20 months since the coalition came together – that funding bids were invited. As a cabinet member on a Tory-led Yorkshire council put it: “This is extraordinary, bids now, funding in the autumn – how on earth are we supposed to include that in a budget which will be announced in a few days?”
Policy delays can sometimes be excused – Whitehall never moves quickly. Yet after more U-turns on the NHS bill than a pirouetting ballerina, delays to Regional Growth Fund funding, an empty office space plan for small businesses that fell apart under scrutiny and a referendum on elected mayors before it is known what powers they will have, it is credibility – and not tikka masala – that the Government should be worried about.