Council chief’s fury at claim

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SCARBOROUGH’S council leader criticised a Government minister after he accused local authorities of complacency in collecting refuse over the Christmas period.

Local government minister Bob Neill wrote to all council leaders in early January, asking them to show how services will be run better over the Easter holiday.

He described the piling up of rubbish over the festive period as “disappointing” in some areas, adding: “people might wonder if their council views the rubbish collection as just a favour, not a right”.

However Cllr Tom Fox responded with a furious email, in which he accused Mr Neill of delivering a “slap in the face” to council staff who laboured in impossible circumstances.

Some local authorities, including Scarborough Council, cancelled or delayed bin collection services because of the freezing weather while others were suspended due to bank holidays.

Cllr Fox wrote: “The letter takes no account of what individual councils have done to maintain a high level service in terrible weather and conditions.

“Your letter and the media response is a slap in the face to those people who have in the majority of situations, delivered services well in abnormally difficult circumstances aggravated locally by difficult terrain.

“Your letter, less than 12 hours later than it is sent, is news headlines as chastisement to all councils.

“I find it hard to believe it is beyond the wit of a government department to accurately assess where the issues are and then challenge them. Not undermine those that have reflected on the issues presented, and in timely fashion been responsive to how they will deliver their services.”

Cllr Fox went on to defend the council’s response to the weather conditions.

He added: “Respect is most important in all our agendas. Locally, thanks for effectively undermining staff morale and maybe public confidence with your ill thought out broadcast letter.”

In his reply to Cllr Fox, dated January 31, Mr Neill acknowledged that the combination of the holiday break and sub-zero temperatures had caused challenges for local authorities.

However he added: “Regular bin collections is one of the most basic and universal services that council tax payers pay for.

“Against that background, all councils including those who coped well over this period still need to take notice of public concerns and should do everything they can to ensure disruption to bin collection services do not happen in the future.

“I am sure that your council, like the government, wants public services to be user focused. That must mean being constantly prepared to review the way we do things.”

He concluded the reply by stating: “the principle of reflecting local expectations is a legitimate one for government to comment on.”

The email from Cllr Fox, made public after a Freedom of Information request was submitted by the Evening News, proved to be the second time in just five days that he criticised his Conservative colleagues in Westminster.

In an email to communities secretary Eric Pickles, Cllr Fox also called into question the government’s frontloading of spending cuts and a lack of cohesion between government departments, saying they could lead to a postcode lottery for council services.