Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson has defended this week’s decision by Scottish Borders Council to hike the charges it levies on businesses for collection of trade waste.
“The fact is that, compared to other parts of Scotland, our trade customers have been getting an excellent service on the cheap,” Mr Paterson told the Hawick News.
He was commenting on Tuesday after Scottish Borders Council’s executive committee agreed that a hike of 15% should be imposed from Saturday, April 1, this year for the collection of bins of various sizes.
An additional increase of 13% for such contracted collections will be introduced in 2018-19
Also from April 1, the cost of the special sacks provided to trade clients by the council will rocket by 39%, and the size of those bags will be reduced from 120 litres to 70 litres.
For an average business putting out three sacks of general trade waste for collection each week, the cost will go up by 17% from £104 to £122 over the coming financial year.
The raft of increases was criticised at the meeting by Gordon Henderson, the east of Scotland’s development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses.
Mr Henderson, a non-voting member of the committee, described the rises as “staggering” and he questioned how wise it was to impose them without any assessment of their projected impact on local businesses.
He took particular issue with the recommendation of council waste manager Ross Sharp-Dent that the colour of general waste sacks should be changed every year to ensure “robust control of what is essentially a currency”.
“The requirement for businesses to buy new sacks at prohibitive prices every year begs the question of what is reasonable and what is profiteering,” said Mr Henderson.
“It seems you are holding local businesses to ransom.”
Councillors heard the rises had been recommended in a review of the service, a non-statutory function of the council, carried out by a firm of private consultants.
“The review outlined that the majority of current fees and charges are well below the Scottish local authority average and require amending,” said Mr Paterson in his role as executive member for environmental services.
“The proposed fees and charges will ensure the council is making a reasonable charge and recovering its costs.
“A new post of trade waste officer will be created to liaise with customers, minimise costs and ensure regulatory compliance.”
Chief financial officer David Robertson said the trade waste service is currently subsidised by the council to the tune of £1.2m a year.
The increases agreed this week are expected to defray that subsidy by £226,000 over the next two years.
Other Hawick councillors have voiced disquiet about the proposed price rise, however.
Fellow Hawick and Hermitage councillor Ron Smith, the authority’s executive member for planning and environment, voted for the move, but said he did so only reluctantly and after raising concerns.
He said: “It is essential that the collection and disposal of trade waste by the council does not run at a loss.
“We were informed that it currently does make a loss.
“Charges therefore must be set at a level which recovers these costs.
“Much is made in the accompanying reports that Borders charges are below the national average. I do not accept this as a reason for increase.
“Full cost recovery is always defensible, but chasing a market-average return is not, as it does not recognise our own particular situation.
“I am also concerned by the combination of increased price and reduced size of trade waste sacks. This will be a heavy burden for traders.
“Once again, I can only support this as it helps the council break even on the associated costs.”
An outright critic of the decision is Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall.
He added: “This is a huge percentage hike for these businesses, and to add insult to injury, the proposals to reduce the size of both trade waste bags and bins will only add to that burden.
“While I fully appreciate that the council has to recover costs for the services that it provides, my concerns are that such measures may only add to an increase in fly-tipping within my ward and our region.”