A SENIOR Liberal Democrat has called on the council to refund the garden waste collection fees additional “digital surcharge”.
Oxton Cllr Stuart Kelly claims the fee – which sees those who sign up for garden waste collections online receive a £5 discount, paying just £30 instead of the standard £35 – is unfair on those who do not have internet access and impacts heaviest on those can least afford it.
A notice of motion calling on the authority to review the surcharge has been submitted and will be discussed by full council when they meet on Monday.
Cllr Kelly said: “Last year this Labour administration made the decision to charge for garden waste collection, it was not a popular decision.
“I was one of those who objected and used my vote to try and block the charge in its entirety. But if we are to have a charge the least it should be is fair.
“When the Labour administration made their decision to charge, they opted to operate different levels of charge for those who subscribed on line than for those who did not - effectively introducing a digital surcharge for households with no access to the internet.”
“It is worth also noting that the bin tax is the only chargeable service that operates such an unfair ‘digital surcharge’.”
Cllr Kelly added: “I asked for a breakdown, to better understand the impact of this differential in different parts of the borough. Residents from every ward have subscribed and are represented in the figures.
“Communities with the highest proportion of people subscribing in a way that they must pay the additional ‘digital surcharge’ match, almost exactly, those communities already identified by Wirral Council as the most deprived.”
“I would also be willing to bet that the extra falls heaviest on older members of the community who may be unable to deal with their garden waste without a collection being available.”
But Cllr Bernie Mooney, Wirral’s cabinet member for environment and sustainability, said the discount for those signing up online is to encourage people to use the “automated” service.
She said: “The more people who sign up online, the less the administrative burden is on council staff allowing us to keep the costs of the scheme as low as it can be. 86% of the 34,000 current subscribers did sign up online and paid just £30 for the service, so clearly this approach has paid off and we have kept the charges the same this year.
“Signing up online is incredibly quick and straightforward. Even if people do not have direct access to a computer personally, Wirral libraries have publicly-accessible machines where residents can get 30 minutes free internet access.
“We are absolutely committed to promoting digital inclusion in Wirral, particularly in the most deprived parts of the borough and I’m sure library staff would be able to assist anyone who had any difficulties accessing this service online, as well as signposting them towards organisations who would be able to provide more structured basic IT skills training.”
Council leader Phil Davies added: “The reason we are having to charge for this service is the unprecedented cuts by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition in Wirral Council’s budget which totals £127m between 2010 and 2016 – a 57% cut in Wirral’s grant.
“Cllr Kelly would be better spending his time lobbying the minister to reduce these disastrous cuts.”