Environmental issues jump as councils slash community warden posts

Photo: Ian Georgeson
Photo: Ian Georgeson
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Civic campaigners have blamed a reduction in ­community wardens across Scotland for a dramatic rise in environmental problems, including dog fouling and ­littering which have reached their “highest levels for a ­decade”.

The number of fines handed out in Scotland’s capital has plummeted to just 20 last year from more then 600 a few years ago, a Freedom of Information investigation by The Scotsman has revealed.

Enforcement action to maintain the upkeep of local environments across Scotland is diminishing, with the number of fines and amount of cash seized over breaches all down.

The overall money collected by wardens through enforcement action has slumped from £1.6 million to £970,000 over the past three years, while the number of wardens in communities across the country fell from 320 to 288.

Pete Leonard, operations director at charity Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: “Our annual nationwide assessments of local environmental quality, including litter and dog fouling, show that these problems are at their highest levels for a decade. With this in mind, it is unfortunate that the ability to take enforcement action seems to be declining when we need it most.”

The Scottish Government published its national litter strategy entitled Towards a Litter Free Scotland four years ago, which included provision to improve enforcement action. Scots face fines of £80 for failing to clean up after their dogs and the same for littering. Fly-tipping offences incur a penalty of £200, while breaches of the smoking ban will mean a fine of £50 (reduced to £30 if paid within a fortnight).

The information is based on a Freedom of Information request submitted to councils across Scotland seeking details on warden numbers and enforcement fines for offences. It drew responses from 20 out of 32 councils across Scotland, although several others said they do not employ wardens.

The fall in the number of wardens has been most marked in Glasgow where they went from 74 in 2015-16 to 51 two years later, a decline of almost a third. The number of fixed penalties dished out by wardens in the country’s biggest city almost halved from 17,773 to just 9,954.

Across Scotland, the number of fines issued for dog fouling has also declined over this period from 2,219 in 2015-16 to 1,213 two years, the figures indicate. There has also been a slump in the number of fines issued for littering from 17,044 to 9,238 over the same period.

Mr Leonard insisted it is now time to “get serious about Scotland’s litter problem”.

He said: “We need to remember that, although enforcement is an important part of the solution, it’s only part of the picture. The most effective way to turn the corner on litter is to engage and educate those who act irresponsibly to encourage them to change their behaviour. This is where the third sector can help local authorities by mobilising ­community action and building civic pride.”

The littering problem in Edinburgh has met with a dwindling response from the capital’s beat wardens in recent years. There were 612 fines imposed in 2015-16, but this fell to 144 the following year, and to 20 in 2015-16.

The number of wardens in the capital fell from 38 to 33 over the same period. Fines for dog fouling in the capital also saw a marked decline, from 65 issued to 18 in recent years.

In Aberdeen, the number of wardens has fallen from 65 to 55. The number of fines issued for littering and dog fouling has slumped by more than half from 343 to 154 over the past three years. It meant that just £12,320 was collected in enforcement fines in the Granite City last year, down from £27,120 three years ago.

Taxpayers in Scotland spend £53m every year to clear up litter and fly tipping, according to Zero Waste Scotland.

A study carried out by the body four years ago found around half the population admit to having littered “at some point”, whether deliberately, accidentally, or simply without thinking.

A spokesman for local government body Cosla said: “The employment and deployment of community wardens is rightly and properly a matter for individual councils. What I can say more generally is that cuts to local government funding do have an adverse effect on our ability to provide all of the essential services that we would like.

“Sadly the demand for our essential services outstrips our ability to pay for them all.”

Labour’s communities spokeswoman Monica Lennon said local neighbourhoods are feeling the impact of Holyrood austerity.

“Wardens provide a valuable service, helping to protect the local environment and keep Scotland beautiful. Under the SNP government £1.5 billion of council cuts over the past seven years have sacrificed 30,000 council jobs. Our local communities are paying the price.

“At the very least the SNP should urgently give councils tourist tax powers, as that would help put investment back into our communities.”

But the Scottish Government insisted councils get a fair deal despite ongoing Westminster austerity cuts.

A spokesman said: “Despite continued UK government real terms cuts to Scotland’s resource budget, we have treated local government very fairly. In 2018-19, councils will receive funding through the local government finance settlement of £10.7 billion. This will provide a real-terms boost in both revenue and capital funding for public services.”

The national litter strategy unveiled by the Scottish Government in 2014 sought to focus on prevention instead of clean-up, and encouraged action based on specific types of interventions and collaborative efforts to drive change. This included “strengthening the deterrent effect of legislation and improving enforcement processes”.