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People are being punished not because of the grievousness of their offence, but because the council wants to issue as many fines as possible  – so says Josie Appleton director of the Manifesto Club in her report:

The Corruption of punishment: How litter fines became a business

She is concerned with the use by councils of contractors, such as XFOR, to levy on the spot fines for littering. I disagree most profoundly with her anaylsis.
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Her  report does however contains some interesting figures:.
  • English councils fined 727 people for littering in 1997. This rose to 63,883 in 2011–12.
  • However of the 375 authorities who responded to her FOI request 157 councils issued under 10 fines a year.
  • My own council, the London Borough of Hillingdon, employ XFOR and  issued 3,048 fines in 2011/12

She does not mention in her report the strongly felt feelings people have about litter.  The number one environmental concern of the British public is the tidiness of their neighbourhoods and the plague of litter.  Litter is not only unpleasant to look at but helps breed a sense of insecurity and even crime” . Boris  Johnson 29th March 2010.

Nor does she provide any information on the support for the measures now being taken by councils.  In Feb 2009 the London Borough of Hillingdon carried out a survey to “gauge residents’ opinion on whether the council should take a tougher stance against those who drop litter and commit other enviro-crimes”. 92% of respondents were in favour of a tougher stance.

Lets look at some of the  key points she makes in her Introduction.
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“Councils have always used fines to punish serious instances of public littering. Fines tended to be used as a last resort, to discipline wilful offenders when other methods – public awareness campaigns, provision of litter bins, and so on – had failed”.
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No. Councils have not always used fines to punish serious littering. Only 727 such fines were issued in 1997 by England’s 300 or so councils –  that’s an average of 2.4 per council per annum which is as good as zero in my book.
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The littered state of our amply binned High Streets  is clear proof of the failure of public awareness campaigns. The intentional dropping of a crisp packet is a wilful offence. So why does she object to the perpetrator being fined?
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“People are being punished not because of the grievousness of their offence, but because the council wants to issue as many fines as possible.The reason for this is that fines are not being issued in the public interest, but as a money-making operation for cash-strapped public authorities, and for their growing army of private contractors. Some councils are using fines to fund their own budgets. With the relaxing of rules governing the use of fixed penalty notices, environmental enforcement officers’ salaries can be partfunded by fines. Other councils are employing private companies to issue litter fines, either on a commission basis, or on an understanding that a certain number of fines will be issued. Such financial incentives have led to a corruption of punishment. The official issuing the fine has a (direct or indirect) financial interest in punishing people. Their concern becomes not to discharge a public service, but to look for people they can fine. There is no room for leniency, or for issuing a warning, since every missed fine is missed income”.

I am not concerned about what motivates our councils – only about the cost and benefit to the law abiding citizen. 63,883 fines p.a. are a greater deterent than 727 p.a. As the cost of levying the fines come out of the pocket of the perpetrators then I see that as a “win-win” for law abiders.

If councils are recouping even more money that is excellent news.  Why not go further and increase both the level of fines and the number of self financing (properly trained, uniformed  and controlled) contractors out on our streets with the aim of raising enough money to cover all of the councils expenditure on street cleansing.  Why should the law abiding pay to clean up after the litter louts.

The lack of activity by salaried council enforcment officers before the contractors were employed shows that financial incentives are necessary. Most of us are incentivised by money in one way or another.  In any private sector job you have to produce tangible results if you want to go on receiving your salary   A Police Constable is not going to make Sergeant if he doesn’t make enough arrests.

In my book the  official/contactor with a financial interest in punishing litter offenders is discharging a public service by doing just that.

It would be a “corruption of punishement” if innocent people were wrongly fined but this is not waht Josie Appleton is saying.

“Increasingly, fines are being used in a way that serves no observable public purpose. People are being fined, not for the most serious offences, but for the most trivial, which are common and easy to catch. Several members of the public have been fined for dropping things by accident, or which they were in the process of picking up.
Litter officials have been reported for kinds of behaviour we would not expect of public officials. Members of the public have reported litter wardens hiding around corners, following smokers around, or chasing elderly women – behaving in a way that looks suspiciously like entrapment”.

The observable public purpose of the fines is to punish the perpetrators and discourage others who might contemplate similar acts.

Most littering is trivial – be it a cigarette end or drink carton –  and it is not surprising that such offences predominate.

My understanding is that the contractor/officials do not approach offenders until they have walked away from the litter they have dropped. Also, accidental littering is still an offence.  In the unlikely event that you accidentally drop litter and walk away from it then, I am sorry,  you run the risk being fined. Any other arrangement would be unworkable as authorities would have to prove intent before issuing any fines.  “Several” out of 63,883 is in any case not a a very high percentage. Why all the fuss?

I think litter wardens should be encouraged to hide round corners if this leads to more litter offenders being caught.  Following smokers, or indeed anyone consuming products such as burgers etc, also seems to be a sensible tactic.  “Entrapment” implies encouraging the perpetrator to committ the offence. This is not what is happening here.

Elderly women being chased by burly officials!makes you proud to be British!

“The report recommends that litter fines be used proportionately, for significant and intentional offences. It also questions the wisdom of fining-by-commission arrangements, and of local `authorities’ retention of fine income. Finally, the report recommends local authorities using more positive and public-spirited methods, such as adequate bin provision and encouraging pride in local areas, as alternative ways to keep the streets clean”.

Where does she want to draw the line between a significant and an insignificant offence. Is she proposing it would be acceptable to drop a match box but an offence to drop a drinks carton and how would you prove intent?  Private sector contractors are producing results because their people are paid on results. There is nothing here to be ashamed about. The process is working. We should be celebrating a success and looking for ways to build on it.

Both the companies and their council clients have an incentive to make sure that the people they employ on the ground do a good job. The companies want to their contracts to be renewed and the councillors want to be re-elected.

Even where there are adequate bins the mindless minority still litter.  If there is no convenient bin  to hand then you take your litter home with you.

Fining litter louts is public spirited.

All posts on Fixed Penalty Notices

BBC – Manifesto Club says Newham Council earned £600k from litter fines

Peter Silverman
updated
26th
  November 2012 
 

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