Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Waste operators to challenge local authorities

A CASE taken by waste management firm Panda against the control of Dublin’s waste collection by the local authorities begins today in the High Court.

The four Dublin local authorities earlier this year varied the Dublin waste management plan, adding a clause which would allow a local authority to put its waste collection service out to tender, or decide that waste would be collected by the local authority only.

The change, if implemented by a local authority, would end private firms’ freedom to operate anywhere in Dublin and could force them to bid for a contract to collect waste and work within the council’s terms and conditions.

Panda and rival waste firm Greenstar are taking separate High Court cases against the local authorities. The waste companies have alleged the councils are abusing their position as both regulator and competitor in the domestic waste collection market.

The Panda case will be heard first, followed by Greenstar. Dublin City Council, which is defending the case on behalf of the four local authorities, said it wants to stop private operators from moving in on the council’s waste-collection service.

However councillors in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown said they want competition between private operators to continue in their local authority area and their county manager Owen Keegan has admitted that private firms are offering a better service.

More than half of the 66,000 homes in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown have switched to private collection. Fianna Fáil councillor Gerry Horkan said competition from the private sector had improved prices and service for the consumer.

“It would be very difficult to say to people who have switched to Panda, which is 20 per cent cheaper than the council, that you can’t use that service any more.”

Dublin City Council had argued that private waste operators didn’t provide services such as waivers for those on low incomes, but Mr Horkan said Panda had offered to collect from those with waivers in the Dún Laoghaire area.

“In theory the council should be able to operate cheaper than the private operators because there is no demand to make money, but it doesn’t. The old style public sector days are gone, the idea that Panda should no longer be able to collect waste is a throwback to the 1940s and 1950s,” he said.

While he was opposed to local authorities having a monopoly on waste collection, he also thought it was a bad idea for the service to be put out to tender to one operator. “I have no interest in turning a public monopoly into a private monopoly.” Former PD councillor Victor Boyhan said private collectors had kept council waste charges in check and said a waste management regulator should be introduced to stop local authorities form being service providers and regulators. Mr Keegan in a recent letter to councillors private operators offered “a significantly better service at lower cost to households”.

Fingal County Council is taking the same line as the city council and believes the local authority offers the best service. “We provide a better service than Panda, Greenstar or CityBin,” Fingal’s director of environment PJ Howell said.

South Dublin County Council were contacted for comment but did not respond.

The Irish Times


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