COUNCILS have been accused of complacency over rubbish collection amid growing public anger that bins in some areas have not been emptied for up to a month.
Local Government Minister Bob Neill has written to all English council leaders warning that taxpayers regard regular bin collection as "one of the most basic services" they provide.
He also told local authorities that piles of refuse sacks being left for weeks in the streets were "potentially unhealthy" and that taxpayers who have been told to store uncollected rubbish in their homes were right to wonder whether their council sees emptying the bins as "a favour, not a right".
The Minister criticised the leader of Labour-run Exeter City Council Pete Edwards for saying he did not see the issue as "a major problem", insisting: "The public deserve better."
Heavy snowfall which prevented collections ahead of the Christmas and New Year period has been blamed for the backlog of rubbish in some council areas including Birmingham, Merseyside, north London and Exeter, at a time when bins are traditionally heavily-laden with wrapping paper and food leftovers.
Some areas saw council staff working over the New Year weekend – including Bank Holiday Monday – to make inroads into the problem.
But Councillor Edwards has said he did not think it was necessary to ask binmen to work bank holidays during the Christmas period.
Asked about fears over rubbish piling up in the streets, he said: "I do not see it as a major problem."
Bin collections across Yorkshire were disrupted by the snow last month as ungritted roads become inaccessible to council lorries.
Authorities across the region, however, told the Yorkshire Post they had worked hard to ensure the backlog of collections were dealt with.
A spokeswoman for Hull Council said: "We had extra collections out to ensure the majority of houses were reached before Christmas.
"We have been playing catch-up but we have been playing hard. We have also used social media to keep people informed and this technology helped us to map the areas we needed to focus on through complaints or people thanking us for collecting the bins."
Elsewhere, an East Riding Council spokesman said some collections were missed during the worst of the winter weather but refuse collectors were then used to help clear snow from roads.
A Calderdale Council statement on its website yesterday said the authority was still dealing with a backlog of waste and recyclables caused by the Christmas season and the disruption caused by snow.
The region's authorities appear to have escaped the level of criticism from residents being faced in councils areas such as Birmingham, North London and Merseyside.
In his letter to all council chiefs, Mr Neill wrote: "It is clear that there is widespread public concern at the extent of the disruption to collections.
"It is particularly troubling that some press reports could appear to suggest a level of complacency and a failure to address the seriousness of the issues.
"Families who have been told to stockpile their rotting refuse inside their own homes by councils are entitled to wonder if their council views the rubbish collection as just a favour, not a right.
"And the public deserve a better answer than, 'this is not a major problem'."
Mr Neill said he recognised that the severe weather, combined with festive holidays, created "a major headache" for many councils and paid tribute to those binmen who braved the cold and ice to complete their rounds. But he added: "A regular bin collection is one of the most basic services council taxpayers pay for."
Authorities blame the weather
COUNCIL chiefs facing the worst criticism over their failure to collect rubbish have blamed the extreme weather.
Exeter Council's spokesman for environmental issues said: "We are doing everything that is practicable to catch up. Many roads were snowbound and we could not risk putting 26-ton trucks on them. Two of our workers broke bones slipping on the ice and we had to consider the risk not only to them but to the public."
Councillor Timothy Huxtable from Birmingham Council has apologised to taxpayers and said the rubbish backlog was caused by a "triple whammy" of extreme weather, increased waste and strike action over the festive period.
He said a casual workforce collected more than 500 tonnes of black bag waste per day from the city's streets during the bank holiday weekend when regular staff were not working.