Headlines: February 28th, 2006

Local authorities are being urged to toughen up over unpaid fines for environmental crimes such as littering and dog fouling. Local Government leaders have responded by saying some smaller authorities need help to tackle non-payers and the cost of court action to recover fines often makes the action wasteful. They claim, though, that all councils will be making improvements when their full powers to issue fixed penalty notices come into force in April.In a speech to the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign’s Cleaner, Safer, Greener conference, Mr. Bradshaw said he was disturbed to discover that of the 20,000 fixed penalty notices issued for littering, dog fouling, graffiti and fly-posting, 8,000 had not been paid. Details of the fixed penalty notices issued in 2004-05 by every local authority are now available on the Defra website.

Mr. Bradshaw went on, “Far too many local authorities are treating fixed penalty notices as some kind of voluntary fining scheme. What kind of message does that send to the litterbugs and vandals? People will only take these fines seriously if local authorities take them seriously.”

The statistics show that last year 354 local authorities had powers to issue fixed penalty notices. Of those that provided Defra with information only 78 achieved a payment rate of more than 75 per cent, 33 had less than half the notices they issued paid, five had a payment rate of less than 10 per cent and 142 councils issued no fines at all for littering.

Mr. Bradshaw is to write to local authorities with poor payment records to urge them to improve their performance and Defra will work with Keep Britain Tidy to provide support and training, as well as encouraging councils to make full use of fixed penalties and to ensure that they are paid.

Commenting on the announcement the Chairman of the Local Government Association Environment Board, David Sparks, said the powers given to authorities to issue Fixed Penalty Notices were both necessary and needed and some local authorities, such as Barnsley, were leading the way in testing out the system.

He added, “As a result of the findings councils have always been clear that there would be a gradual take up of the powers as they took into account local circumstances. There are many authorities, particularly the larger councils, who already have an excellent record on tracking down non-payers. But it is the smaller councils with fewer resources that need a helping hand to tackle fine dodgers.”

He said the costs of taking a fine dodger to court often exceeded the cost of the original fine and councils were acutely aware of the need to strike a balance between bringing offenders to justice and providing value for money to the council taxpayer.