Apropos of my last post on the subject of the ONS’s new Integrated Household Survey, I posed the question of where, exactly, the Tory’s Shadow Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, intended to obtain statistical information to support the policy making process in his department were he to ever find himself in government if not from the work of the ONS.
Well, today, I can answer that question as a very quick piece of research on They Work For You shows that in the last 12 months alone, Pickles has tabled 1292 written parliamentary questions, out of a total 2256 such questions tabled during the current parliament, i.e. the last general election.
With the average cost of servicing a written question estimated to be around £140, Pickles’ inquisitive approach to government has cost the tax payer an estimated £180,880 in the last year and a total of £315,880 over the course of the current parliament.
So how, exactly, is Eric putting the privilege of asking parliamentary questions at the taxpayers’ expense to good use?
Well to give a very recent example, on Monday of this week he asked:
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(1) pursuant to the answer of 30 October 2007, Official Report, columns 1180-1W, on waste management: fees and charges, what powers local authorities have to require payment for the provision of bin bags; and what steps local authorities may take in instances of non-payment;
(2) whether residents may utilise bin bags from other sources without incurring the local authority charge in areas where local authorities charge for the provision of bin bags as waste receptacles.
And got this following reply from Joan Ruddock:
As I stated in my reply of 30 October 2007, the Environmental Protection Act 1990, section 46, allows waste collection authorities to require occupiers to place waste for collection in receptacles of a kind and number specified. Bin bags are considered a ‘receptacle’ under the Act. Waste collection authorities may:
(i) provide the receptacles free of charge;
(ii) provide the receptacles and ask the occupier to pay for them;
(iii) require the occupier to provide the receptacles himself if he does not agree to pay for them within a specified period; or
(iv) require the occupier to provide the receptacles himself from the outset.
While last October he asked:
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if she will take steps to prevent waste collection authorities from making charges additional to council tax for providing bin bags.
To which the same Minister, Joan Ruddock, replied:
I have been asked to reply.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990, section 46, allows waste collection authorities to require occupiers to place waste for collection in receptacles of a kind and number specified. Bin bags are considered a ‘receptacle’ under the Act. Waste collection authorities may:
(a) provide the receptacles free of charge;
(b) provide the receptacles and ask the occupier to pay for them;
(c) require the occupier to provide the receptacles himself if he does not agree to pay for them within a specified period, or;
(d) require the occupier to provide the receptacles himself from the outset.
So that’s £280 of taxpayers’ money spent on asking the same basic question, twice, in relation to the provision of bin bags, an item that can be picked up for anything from less than a quid to a fiver in your local supermarket depending on how many you want, how think the plastic is and whether you prefer them ‘straight’, with handles or with a yellow plastic drawstring…
…and on both occasions, the answer to his question is one that a bag carrier could have looked up in a matter of minutes on the website of the Office of Public Sector Information.
The question posed by Pickles that immediately preceded Monday’s bin bag question was this one:
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to the answer of 30 October 2007, Official Report, columns 1180-1W, on waste management: fees and charges, what obligation there is upon the relevant waste collection authority to collect domestic waste put out in receptacles other than those provided by the local authority in those areas where local authorities make a charge for the provision of waste receptacles.
Which garnered this answer:
Under section 45 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, local authorities (LAs) have a general duty to collect household waste. Section 46 of that Act gives LAs powers to determine arrangements for collection, such as the size, number and placing of receptacles for collection. As DEFRA advised in a letter of August 2005 to LAs, where an authority uses its section 46 powers to prescribe such arrangements and a resident does not comply with those requirements, an LA has no further duty to collect their waste, other than the duty to keep relevant land clear of litter and refuse.
So, in all, that’s £420’s worth of written questions in order to find out that all the answers he requires are in two clauses of a piece of primary legislation, introduced by his own party back in 1990; one that he, or one of his bag carriers, could have looked up on the internet for free.
From last year’s figures on MPs’ allowances, Pickles claimed £91,962 under the staffing allowance, while the register of interests of Member’s secretaries and research assistants shows four entries for whom Pickles in their parliamentary sponsor, one of whom, Cllr Karen Sheehan of Brentwood Borough Council, is a member of the council’s environment panel – and this panel is, amongst other things, responsible for waste management and refuse collection.
Come on Eric, one of your assistants sits on a local authority environment panel, does she not know the answer?
In commenting on the Integrated Household Survey in the Telegraph, Pickles said:
People will be shocked that taxpayers’ money is being spent on intrusive surveys.
Do you think they might be equally shocked at the amount of taxpayers’ money that Eric Pickles is effectively pissing down the drain in order to obtain answers to questions that he and his staff are seemingly either too lazy or too stupid to look up on the internet?