Fenland District Council has reviewed the first eight months of its contract working with Peterborough City Council to provide private environmental enforcement.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting of its Overview and Scrutiny Committee, chairman Cllr Alex Miscandlon said: “The arrangement with LA Support/Kingdom Group was approved in January 2017, allowing for a pilot project to be delivered between June 2017 and February 2019.
“That was followed by council approval of a contractual partnership between FDC, PCC and LA Support/Kingdom Group to provide private environmental enforcement with bespoke services throughout the FDC region.
“In Fenland, LA Support officers have undertaken town centre street patrols to support the council’s ‘Tidy Fenland Campaign’, and offenders have served with fixed penalty notices (FPNs) where offences have been witnessed.
“Part of the contract offers 10 per cent of officers’ patrol time to be devoted to non-income generating activities such as patrols outside hot-spots, support for community issues such as dog-fouling, and the option to support community groups and locally-run campaigns that were in line with council prevention and intervention policy.
“The pilot programme has released capacity within the council street scene team to enable our officers to tackle other environmental issues in rural areas such as fly-tipping and dog-fouling.
“Since the contract commenced, more than 600 hours of additional patrols have been undertaken by LA Support officers, and 263 FPNs have been served.
“The contract is based on a ‘cost neutral’ enforcement service, and it is entirely funded through the issuing of the FPNs, and current payment of those fines (£10,552 income) indicates that a very near to cost neutral model (£11,160 expenditure) is actually being achieved.
“Where the FPNs have not been paid, the fines are eventually passed through to our legal team for prosecution through the court’s single justice procedure, and to date 46 cases are outstanding and being processed for the period February to September 2019.
“Peterborough City Council has made a decision to cease working with LA Support from February 2020 and decided that they can deliver similar services and levels of enforcement from within their own in house team of officers.
“Needless to say this will impact upon the ability of LA Support officers to deliver in Fenland under the current contractual arrangements, and we are therefore assessing our options of how to continue this valuable and successful service.”
Members heard that the numbers of FPNs issued in Fenland were: Chatteris – 9; March – 39; Whittlesey – 29; and Wisbech – 186, making 263 in total. Of these, 212 were for cigarette littering, eight for food littering, 34 for spitting offences, one for a dog off of its lead and eight for littering (non-food or cigarette).
Vice-chairman Cllr Anne Hay added: “Complaints about the service are monitored by both FDC and LA Support themselves, and there were five within the period in question.
“Of these, two were against an officer whose conduct was deemed incorrect for not showing sufficient ID or explaining their role before attempting to enforce an offence. These both resulted in the officer concerned being retrained, and in each case an apology was issued.
“One complaint was made on behalf of an offender who, it transpired, was underage and so the FPN was withdrawn, and again an apology was issued with the council reimbursed.
“The final two complaints were for FPNs issued against persons on private land. These were immediately withdrawn, apologies issued and again the council was reimbursed.”
Members of the committee were also told that as part of the ‘Tidy Fenland Campaign’, since the introduction of the LA Support officers Whittlesey has seen a significant drop in litter levels, with smaller drops in March, Chatteris and Wisbech.
However, cigarette litter in March, Chatteris and Wisbech remains a significant problem, partly because it is being more closely monitored than ever before, partly because would-be offenders have altered their littering activities the minute they spot an officer in their vicinity, and partly because the act of dropping a cigarette needed to be actually witnessed for a FPN to be issued to the offender.
Cllr Miscandlon summed up: “During September 2019, a customer survey was taken in each of the Fenland market towns focussing on gauging the level of awareness of the Tidy Fenland Campaign, and the effectiveness of the LA Support officers.
“Feedback shows that in June 2017, 79 per cent of people were aware of environmental offences and the penalties they incurred, but this had risen to 96 per cent in September 2019.
“Just 68 per cent of people in June 2017 were aware of the campaign and the patrols, but this had in fact fallen to 66 per cent by September 2019. Yet 92 per cent of those asked were supportive of FDCs enforcement work, and 65 per cent agreed with the level of fines (£65-75 typical).”
With Peterborough City Council ceasing its contractual arrangement with both LA Support/Kingdom Group in 2020, members of the committee agreed that further discussions need to take place with the private enforcement services and FDC to see if continuation of the enforcements process can be arranged, and this will be put to Full Council in the New Year.
Robert Alexander, Local Democracy Reporting Service