Half way through the trial of a new anti-litter drive in Leeds, Neil Hudson took a look at the effectiveness of the new on-the-spot fines system.
In April, Leeds City Council appointed a private firm to lead a new “zero tolerance” approach to littering in the city centre. Three months down the line and it appears that the policy is paying off (in more ways than one).
Local authorities have had the power to impose on-the-spot fines for littering since the Environmental Protection Act was introduced in 1996, but until recently those fines have been doled out by council officers with other responsibilities.
The new army of private enforcement officers are purely focussed on cracking down on litter louts.
There are five at present and they are focused just on the city centre. If they see someone deliberately littering they have the power to issue £75 fines.
Coun Mark Dobson, the member who has overall responsibility for the scheme, he is undeniably upbeat about the scheme’s apparent success, even through it is only officially half way into a six month trial period.
We meet him at the top of Briggate, where we are joined by one of the new breed of privately-funded litter enforcement officers, whose multi-pocket vest carries Leeds City Council branding.
The figures make for impressive reading. From April 21 to July 13, the council officers issued 69 fixed penalty notices for littering. During the same period, private officers doled out 587 litter fines.
While council officer imposed fines generated £5,175, those issued by the privately funded officers have totalled £44,025.
A little bit of maths reveals that, based on the trial figures, such fines could generate up to £176,100 a year and that is just with five officers operating in the city centre. There are five privately funded officers issuing litter fines and, based on the figures so far, each has issued an average of 1.3 fines per day.
It’s not just litter in the form of food wrappers and so forth the officers target, dog fouling is also part of their remit – out of the 587 fines issued, 15 of those have been handed to irresponsible dog owners.
Litter-related complaints received at Leeds City Council have more than doubled in 12 months from 1,115 in 2011 to 2,800 in 2012. The number of public complaints about dog fouling has increased almost eight-fold from 115 in 2011 to 827 in 2012.
It’s not difficult to see how the scheme could generate a lot more if it were extended and introduced to other areas.
Granted, the council doesn’t get all of that money – part of the deal with 3gs, the firm which is providing the new litter officers, is that they get a cut of the profits, the quid pro quo being that it costs the council nothing.
Leeds City Council refused to reveal the precise percentage of the deal it has struck with 3gs and would only say the firm was paid “a percentage” of each ticket issued.
It is also unclear just how many tickets have been challenged and have resulted in court cases.
Previously, Paul Buttivant, boss of 3gs has said his wardens would be paid a salary and not be driven by targets, incentives or commission.
He said: “I set 3gs up because I felt there was an opportunity to make a difference. It’s about encouraging people to do the right thing.
“It is a chain reaction. The likelihood is that Leeds City Council will tender for a longer term contract. If it works out, the likelihood is that they’ll tender it or employ us on a longer-term basis.”
Still, the council is at pains to point out it’s not in this for the money.
Coun Dobson said: “We’re a modern city, we have a new arena which is about to open, we’re going to have lots of people coming here, many who have not been before, so we want it to look its best. We want people to be impressed by the city and to be able to enjoy it and to want to come back.
“We’re only half way through the trial and we don’t want to draw any conclusions yet. We’ll assess if the patrols have had an impact on levels of cleanliness at the end of the trial in three months.
“When the trial started we were clear that this wasn’t about making money from fines. This is still the case. We’d much prefer it if people used the bins available for litter and dog mess so we wouldn’t have to issue fines or continually use resources clearing up after others.
“What we can say at this stage is that the people who have been stopped know they are in the wrong. It begs the question that if they know what they are doing is wrong, then why aren’t they using the litter bins available or picking up after their dogs?”