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Letter to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph

Dear Sir,

Hayley Dixon and Patrick Scott “The rise of the litter police”, DT 21st November, claim a public backlash is growing over the use of private companies to hand out litter fines on behalf of councils. I am not aware of any backlash in spite of the terrible things we are told are happening in the article.

The companies get up to 100% of every fine! Who is to say that this is not fair compensation for the service they provide. There is nothing sinister here. Of course Councils can never win in the eyes of their critics. If they keep a share of the fines they are accused of using them to raise revenue.

They are looking for a person who drops a cigarette butt or something! That’s called littering and should be deterred.

Officers hide in order to catch people! DEFRA’s guidelines say that the officers should be in uniform and be on patrol. This means that anyone contemplating dropping a serious piece of litter will delay doing so until after the officers have passed by. This is why so many of the fines are handed out for “a cigarette butt or something” i.e. for items which tend to be discarded without any forethought.

I would like to see the DEFRA guidelines changed to allow officers to operate in plain clothes and to be free to focus on hot-spots, hiding – yes hiding – where necessary. The more serious offenders would then be caught and in, hopefully, great numbers. Councils would then raise significant revenues from those causing the problem and use the money to pay for more street cleansing. The proverbial win – win scenario.

During 2016 the councils that used private firms issued an average of 3,100 fines compared 181 for those that issued their own fines! The former are therefore doing a far better job of deterring littering.

Recruits are told that they will get a “competency allowance”, described as a “bonus”, if they issue more than four tickets a day. It is inevitable that officers will be rewarded on the basis of their productivity. This can be done overtly or by increasing the basic pay of the high achievers. An overt process would be most transparent but should be tempered by the oversight of an independent scrutiny and accreditation body with the powers to weed out irresponsible officers.

The criminal ramification are greater with fixed penalty notices because you can be prosecuted with a criminal record! This quotation from human rights lawyer Professor Michael Ramsden is presumably contrasting on-the-spot litter fines with, for example, parking fines. The latter are dealt with under the civil law. I agree that it makes no sense for anyone who fails to pay an on-the -spot fine to be given a criminal record for dropping a packet of crisps. This is why most councils do not to issue litter fines to juveniles – a very major flaw in the system. I have proposed to DEFRA that the law be changed so that councils should be given a civil law alternative to the present criminal regime.

The article cites three cases where the fines were issued without due consideration. No other information is provided to indicate whether this is the tip of an iceberg or the whole of a rather diminutive one. If there were not 3 but 30 such cases and they all occurred in 2016 when 150,000 fines were issued by contractors, that would amount to a failure rate of only 2 in 10,000.

We should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. With some modifications the use of private contractors to issue litter fines could become a major contributory factor to getting our country cleaned up.

Peter Silverman
Clean Highways
23rd November 2017


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