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On-the-spot litter fines and their reform

On September 3, 2019, in Litter fines, by PeterSilverman
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Councils employing private contractors are doing a massively more efficient job of deterring littering than those employing their own staff.

I am indebted to the Manifesto Club for the following information from their report on on-the-spot litter fines

The number of such fines issued by councils and the number of councils employing private contractors to issue them has increased as follows;

1997/8727
2002/312,820
2008/935,465
2011/1263,88313
2016179,976
2018250,67673

This link to the table in the report shows the situation with each council who responded to their FOI inquiry.

The 73 councils that employed a private company to issue litter fines in 2018 together issued 214,646 fines – an average of 2940 per authority.

The 230 councils that did not employ a private company together issued 36,032 – an average of 157 per authority.

The obvious conclusion

Councils employing private contractors are doing a massively more efficient job of deterring littering than those employing their own staff.

Biased analysis

The report refers to the personnel involved as “security guards” as well as “litter wardens”. They are not security guards. The Manifesto Club can only be doing this to give the impression that untrained strong arm personnel are being employed.

I agree with their contention that, as the companies are paid out of the fines they generate, their wardens will inevitably be incentivised to issue more fines. But I see this as a good thing. People should be rewarded for being more productive – provided there are controls in place to remove the bad apples.

They quote 10 or so cases that have arisen over the years where wardens may have acted over-zealously. Let’s say there were 100 such cases each year. That would represent an acceptable one case in 2,500. I do not know what the right figure is but then neither do the Manifesto Club.

Problems with using the criminal law

A fixed penalty notice is issued in lieu of a criminal prosecution. If you feel that it has been issued improperly and you cannot persuade the council to withdraw it you either have to pay up or go to court and risk aquiring a criminal record.

The reluctance of Magistrates to give 15 year olds a criminal record for dropping a packet of crisps and the added complexities of the Children’s Act means that litter wardens are usually instructed not to issue juveniles with on-the-spot-fines.

My proposals

1. The private companies should pay their wardens openly on a results basis.

2. There should be an independent body charged with licensing and monitoring individual wardens with the power to remove their license permanently if they act inappropriately. I understand that the industry is currently working with the Home Office and the British Standards Institute to bring about such a regime.

3. A civil law option should be introduced to obviate the problems arising from the risk of acquiring a criminal record and extend the regime to juveniles.

4. To increase productivity wardens should operate in plain clothes and be allowed to target hotspots i.e be exempt from the surveillance regulations.  

5. Councils should be encouraged to use this enhanced process to raise enough money to at least double their current spend on street cleansing.

6. This should be supported by a “You are being watched campaign“.

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Peter Silverman
3rd September 2019

 

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