Neil Wholey: Are the public concerned about bin collection any more?

Neil Wholey, LGinsight, 30 September 2011

The Government’s revival of plans to provide funds to help some English councils return to weekly bin collections raises the question of whether this is in tune with the public’s priorities. Over half (56%) of people living in England have alternative week collection of their rubbish, with recycling one week and other waste the next week, covering 181 local councils. Taking this data and comparing it with the LGinsight/Populus national poll into views on local government we can see the difference in attitudes between the two groups. In general it isn’t bins that are worrying them but roads and pavements. Of course in some local areas views may be different. The fact that the majority of the population does not appear too bothered by having alternative week collections probably hides individual situations. This in turn highlights the importance of local councils in carrying out their own work to understand resident opinion before implementing any change in policy. The implication is that it could be that in changing the service back to weekly collections council may anger more residents than they please.

Four in five (80%) of those being targeted by this government initiative are currently satisfied with their refuse collection service. Indeed, this is the street scene service they are most satisfied with and those living in weekly bin collection areas in England are only four percent more satisfied with their service (84%). Of far greater importance to residents who live in an alternative week bin collection area is the standard of road maintenance. Only two in five (39%) are satisfied, some four points lower than the national average. As with the national picture this is the service most in need of improvement locally, along with pavement maintenance.

Satisfaction with street scene council services: based on all residents in England

Live in an alternative week bin collection area (England)

Live in a weekly bin collection area (England)

Refuse collection



Street cleaning



Pavement maintenance



Road maintenance



There also does not seem to be any impact on the overall rating of the local council. This may in part be due to the length of time that has progressed since many alternative week collections were introduced. Since 2007 there have been numerous elections that have given voters the chance to vent any anger over their bin collection. Road maintenance has arisen more as an issue following some harsh winters and cut backs in maintenance cycles and spending.

Rating the council based on all residents in England

Live in an alternative week bin collection area

Live in a weekly bin collection area

Satisfied with the way your local council runs things



They keep local residents informed about the service and benefits they provide



Gives local people good value for money



They are efficient and well run



They take account of residents’ views when making decisions



Back in June 2011 YouGov asked some questions around the frequency of bin collections. Over half (57%) of Britons said that domestic rubbish (i.e. not recycling) should be collected by councils at least one a week, two in five (40%) said it should be fortnightly (3% said don’t know or once a month). At the time the poll was in reaction to the fact that the government had dropped plans to force councils to collect domestic rubbish once a week. Half (50%) of Britons said they were wrong to drop the plans, 39% said they were right and 11% didn’t know. We don’t know how views change depending on whether they have such collections or not already. What we can see is that consistently around two in five members of the public support fortnightly collections. This will be higher in some areas, and lower in others.  Greatest support for fortnightly collections comes from those who vote Liberal Democrat (51%), but there is support in the other parties; Conservative (42%) and Labour (40%).

As with the introduction of alternative week collection of rubbish in the first place the issue overall highlights the importance of listening to the public about what they want. It is unlikely that either policy, be it weekly or fortnightly collection, will gain universal support. What is a basic right to weekly collection for some will be considered a costly luxury to others. Furthermore, the survey evidence suggests that for many the world has moved on. The four percent difference in satisfaction on refuse collection equates to around a million people who might otherwise be content with their service. This is a sizable proportion not to be ignored – it is half the two million in the country that reads the Daily Mail - but it is outweighed by the 19 million people in this country who have a fortnightly collection of rubbish and are satisfied with the service (10 million are very satisfied).

Technical note: The 181 English councils identified as using alternative week collection methods was taken from two sources: WasteDataFlow dataset for 2009-10 and a newspaper article highlighting the authorities that had introduced this change since the start of 2010. The survey data is provided from three waves of the LGinsight/Populus National Poll findings for July-September 2011. Around 1,000 Britons aged 16+ were interviewed each month by telephone. Data is weighted to the known demographic profile. The data presented here is for England only and comprises 2,587 interviews.  YouGov/The Sun poll findings are of 2,691 GB adults between 15-16 June 2011

Neil Wholey is Chair of LGinsight and Head of Research and Customer Insight at Westminster City Council. You can follow him on Twitter @neilwholey

Posted on 30th September 2011