The Tory-led West Sussex County Council (WSCC) claims that the proposed changes to payments for 2019/20 aim to drive change in the amount and variety of material collected for recycling.
But Labour and Lib Dem councillors have criticised the proposed move, which would save WSCC around £1million next year, claiming the current credits system has helped district and borough councils afford and improve their recycling services.
The proposed decision has been called-in and is expected to be scrutinised by the backbench environment, communities and fire select committee in early 2019.
Labour county councillor Chris Oxlade, who led the call-in, said: “This has been pushed through by the council, we think without consensus, and certainly there are questionable legal grounds to be doing this. The loss of money will be damaging for the borough and district councils, who are much smaller than the county council.
“But what almost has been worse is the way this has been done. If the county council isn’t careful, they will have been found guilty of an outrageous district council rip-off which risks souring relationships with the boroughs and districts for months, if not years, to come.”
Although the county council’s estimates have been challenged they suggest Adur and Worthing would lose £138,000 in 2019/20, Arun £107,000, Chichester £84,000, Crawley £211,000, Horsham £66,000 and Mid Sussex £96,000.
The countywide budget of £331,000 for waste minimisation projects and initiatives would end.
The payments have a household allocation, based on the number of properties in each area, and a performance allocation, which is calculated by recyclate tonnages per household for the previous year.
Legislation from 1990 introduced the concept of waste disposal authorities, such as WSCC, incentivising waste collection authorities to increase recycling so that more material could be diverted from landfill, producing a net saving.
What WSCC is proposing to do is change its payments in 2019/20 so they are calculated on the total tonnage of recyclate collected.
According to a cabinet member decision published in mid-December: “The principal purpose of recycling credits payable to waste collection authorities is to compensate them for costs they incur which reduce the expenditure of the waste disposal authority.
“The payments should therefore lead to improved recycling levels as the expenditure should be aimed at meeting costs which achieve that aim.
“While the current scheme may have driven improved performance initially, performance overall, and on a council by council basis, is poor compared to comparator authorities.”
The report added: “At a countywide level the high level of financial support has had no discernible significant impact on performance over a long period. Therefore the enhanced level of payment through the current MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] cannot be justified.”
The opposition members have pointed out the statutory minimum payment should only be utilised where the actual net disposal cost cannot be calculated and this approach could leave WSCC open to legal challenge.
County councillor Michael Jones added: “It is right that this decision has been stopped in its tracks until it has been properly looked at. People of all parties and none have been dismayed by the way the county council has conducted itself on this matter.
“They have totally ignored many valid objections, even from officers who are strictly non-political and who have tried to make the county see sense.
“The worst thing is that I can foresee it will have a damaging impact on our recycling collection rates in many parts of West Sussex, and will deprive councils of trying out new, innovative ways of increasing it.”
The cabinet member’s proposed decision goes on to say the mechanism and funding arrangements from 2020/21 will be determined at a future date.