The Chamberlain Files | Homepage
The ins, outs and whereabouts of fly-tipping

The ins, outs and whereabouts of fly-tipping

🕔19.Feb 2019

On the day Birmingham’s latest bin strike starts up, Chris Game throws a political dead cat on the table – well animal carcasses to be precise….

Do you ever use Wikipedia’s ‘disambiguation pages’ – its aids to avoiding possible misinterpretation of names or terms appearing in its articles?  To stop you, for instance, if you really want to moan about this blog, from dashing off something abusive to the Los Angeles film casting director, or the car body repair guy in Camden, who happen to share my name.

Wiki itself acknowledges that its disambiguations can sometimes be redundant, but occasionally the reverse happens and you encounter something where a bit of extra guidance might be quite helpful. Like Birmingham City Council having dealt in 2017/18 with 125 ‘Back Alleyway Incidents’ – yes, capital letters, but no disambiguation in sight.

I can’t but feel there are some – not high-minded Files readers, obviously – to whom that phrase could easily sound like the kind of double entendre that Radio 1’s Innuendo Bingo or, increasingly, The Great British Bake Off, specialise in.

Helped by the fact that, rather than watching what passes as family TV entertainment, I was reading a recent statistical report from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), I grasped instantly that the passageways in question were those behind buildings, with the incidents perpetrated by fly-tippers, rather than anything to do with Wiki’s alternative suggestion.

Hey, don’t go away!  This blog isn’t – well, not chiefly – about Back Alleyways in any sense.  I’m not that weird (not quite that weird, Ed.), but there is a reason for staying with them for a further sentence or so, which is that Birmingham seems exceptional – not in having a lot of BA Incidents, or even its statistical share, but so remarkably few.

Plymouth, for example, recorded nearly 14,000 last year, Liverpool and Gateshead around 7,000, even Stoke nearly 4,000. Yet between all 1.1 million of us we managed – or, rather, the Council discovered and recorded – just 125 (see table above).

Given the Council’s regular bin collection crises, Birmingham’s figures are almost certainly distorted by disproportionate numbers of Highway and ‘Black bag – household’ Incidents.  But everyone has loads of those.  If Birmingham has a real speciality – ‘signature dish’ would not be the right label – it has to be animal carcasses.

It seems – to me, anyway – almost incredible in an area with not that many farms, but, according to DEFRA’s exhaustively detailed records, Birmingham was responsible for over a quarter of all England’s animal carcass dumping last year: 1,527, or over four a day.

There’s loads more of this stuff, as you’ll see from the table, but what prompted it in the first place was neither BA nor AC incidents, but simply the apparent glut of fly-tipping stories in the news recently.

Perhaps they’re always there, but, if a boost were needed, it may have been DEFRA’s introduction last month of new penalties of up to £400, directed at householders as well as actual fly-tippers, and its accompanying ‘guidance’ to councils about not using them as a “means for raising money” – or, as they didn’t say, cash cow.

Plus the smug-sounding note about how “the government’s crackdown on fly-tippers is delivering results, with no increase in 2017/18 in the number of incidents for the first time in five years.”

Consciousness raised, within the week Coventry residents were complaining that their bulky waste collection charges were more expensive than Birmingham’s – and that, whatever DEFRA said, their incidents of illegal dumping were way up on last year’s stats.

Then came Wolverhampton Council – first threatening to crush and recycle a fly-tipper’s captured car, followed by the Cabinet Member for City Environment being tagged ‘Town Sheriff’ for contemplating using some of the council’s fine income on cash rewards for fly-tipping snitches.

More recently it was Birmingham’s turn, with the Council’s post-consultation budget revisions.  These included – in addition to, you understand, only the most “marginal” dimming of street lights – increased bulky and green waste collection fees (which should please Coventrians) and reduced funding for fly-tipping enforcement.

This was accompanied by Council Leader Ian Ward’s assurance that there would be an increase in the number of staff who can issue fixed penalty notices, and therefore no drop in numbers of prosecutions.  However, when, as shown in the table, our modest 89 prosecution cases seem to cost over £1,100 each – well over three times the national average and nearly eight times that of Manchester’s 275 @ £140 each – that may be a mixed blessing.

What actually got me turning to the DEFRA stats, though, was the Mail on Sunday’s decision to make “fly-tipping crimes” its latest “shocking’ revelation with which to trash the nation’s councils and councillors: “Just one in 450 fly-tipping crimes end up in court, only 25 sent to prison”.

As you started reading, you sensed this was yet another of those stories, dealing with headline national statistics, where Birmingham is just bound to be pilloried for the sin of simply being bigger than anywhere else.

But, surprise!  This time it was Leeds, with our mention limited to our “more than 1,500 dead animals”, against Leeds’ really rather paltry 43.  Overall, though, Birmingham’s 15,993 reported incidents seemed almost tame alongside Leeds’ 26,831, boosted by over 20 times as many Back Alleyway Incidents.

By my reckoning, Birmingham’s total barely made the national Top Ten and didn’t even head the Midlands’ list: adrift of six London boroughs, Leeds, Liverpool and, rather surprisingly (to me, anyway), Northampton.

The Mail on Sunday, though, has a mission.  If they break the law, they’re criminals, who certainly aren’t going to be bothered by warning letters, or fixed penalty notices and fines – “often less than the cost of paying to use a licensed tip or waste disposal site”, and even when issued they covered fewer than 7% of offences.

Never mind any la-di-da cost/benefit calculations: charge them, convict them, and lock ‘em up – well, far more of them, anyway, and presumably in our famously half-empty prisons.

I’ve no idea if Government departments are normally as sensitive, and responsive, to media alarm stories, but on this occasion the DEFRA Press Office bloggers were immediately on the case.

First, far from being on the increase, as the Mail’s outrage seemed to imply, fly-tipping incidents had actually fallen in 2017/18 – true, not by much, but, helpfully for DEFRA statisticians, to below the mortifying million. Second, local authority enforcement actions had increased, and those fixed penalty notices had shot up by 20% – the issuing, that is, not the payment.

No response, though, to the Mail’s tricky stat of the 171 (41%) of English councils who didn’t bring a single prosecution between them, and indeed the whole riposte sounded a bit half-hearted. There had to be more than this.

Of course there was. There was DEFRA’s “recently published, AMBITIOUS Resources and Waste STRATEGY to OVERHAUL our waste system”, setting out “a NEW STRATEGIC APPROACH to tackling crime, focusing on preventing it from happening in the first place ……. etc. etc.” (caps sarcastically added). They sure can talk the talk.

However … while I never imagined myself typing these words, even when I started this blog, I couldn’t help wondering whether, at least this once, just maybe the Mail on Sunday has a case.  Fly-tipping has fast become a minor industry, costing English local authorities over £12 million p.a. in clearance costs alone (see table).

Add in reductions in weekly rubbish collections and closures of recycling centres, and local councils – particularly any about to cut enforcement funding – could be losing the plot.

Main photo: Environment Agency

Similar Articles

Mayor 2020: on the right track?

Mayor 2020: on the right track?

The race to win the West Midlands mayoralty may be the election contest to watch

Just when you thought the election was over…

Just when you thought the election was over…

As Members of Parliament began to be sworn in yesterday, the long campaign for Mayor

The Day of Truth

The Day of Truth

So, here it is. The polls will open in a few minutes. Contain your excitement

PM: gave unlawful advice; frustrated Parliament

PM: gave unlawful advice; frustrated Parliament

"Scenes." As young people would say, writes Kevin Johnson. "Unlawful." "Unequivocal." "Historical." These words are not,

WMCA: Nothing to see here…move along

WMCA: Nothing to see here…move along

As the Prime Minister prepared to address leaders ‘up North’ gathering for the Convention of

About Author

Chamberlain Files Weekly

Don't miss a thing! Sign up for our free weekly summary of the Chamberlain Files from RJF Public Affairs.
* = required field

powered by MailChimp!

Our latest tweets

Published by

Published by


Our community