The menace of fly-tipping has been hitting the news headlines once again in recent weeks with the release of new data from Government on the number of incidents waste being dumped on public land across the country. In the East of England alone there was a staggering 61,000 incidents in 2019/20 according to the figures.
I have been interviewed by the media multiple times about the issue and the reason it is of such interest to journalists is because it is a story that has an impact on us all and is a crime that comes at significant cost.
Our local authorities are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds clearing waste that is dumped on public land - money that could be far better spent on other essential services if this crime was not so prevalent.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. What the latest statistics don’t tell us is the number of incidents of fly-tipping that have occurred on private land. Thousands of incidents take place on fields and in farm gateways with tyres, asbestos, fridges, building waste and many other types of rubbish regularly found. A CLA survey found that two-thirds of farmers and landowners had been affected by fly-tipping.
If the landowner doesn’t clear the waste, at personal cost, they can risk prosecution. A cost that can be around £1000 per incident on average. Landowners are effectively paying the price for being a victim of crime. And we should not forget the wider impacts of this waste on wildlife and the health and safety concerns of clearing rubbish that could potentially contain hazardous products.
We believe that if a landowner removes the waste from their land, they should then be able to dispose of it free of charge at a local authority disposal site. They should not have to pay the cost to clean up the crimes of others.
The punishments for those caught fly-tipping do not go far enough – it is often just a fine of just a few hundred pounds. Until this changes and large fines are handed out to those caught committing this crime there simply won’t be a deterrent to stop it taking place. The seizure of vehicles used to carry our fly-tipping should also be a default penalty.
It is crucial that the police, local authorities and the Environment Agency work collaboratively to tackle this issue. Only through a co-ordinated and collective effort can we push back against this scourge that is damaging our countryside and rural economy.
In other news, the latest Budget saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak announce that the 5% reduced VAT rate for the hospitality industry will be extended until September 30, followed by an interim rate of 12.5% for another six months extension. The news is a lifeline for many small tourism and hospitality businesses in the East of England who have faced crippling consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. It will allow those businesses breathing space to begin their recovery in 2021, further boosted by hopes of a bumper summer season as lockdown restrictions are eased further.
But the extension is a short term crisis response. Government should now begin thinking of how the UK’s tourism and hospitality sectors can thrive in the long term. If we are to compete with other major tourism destinations in Europe – all of whom have VAT rates far below 20% - the UK’s VAT rate should remain at 5% permanently. We estimate this move would significantly boost rural tourism, leading to more demand, more investment and more good jobs being created.
The Chancellor also announced in the Budget that the business rates holiday will be extended through to the end of June. The past 12 months has led to huge changes in the performance of many rural businesses especially in the leisure, hospitality and tourism sectors, with reduced turnover combined with extra costs of sanitisation. Therefore, an extension of the business rates holiday until the end of June is welcome news for the sector and is something the CLA has been lobbying intensively for.
On climate change, we welcomed the announcement of plans for significant funding to help finance critical projects to tackle climate change and other environmental challenges. Many of our members are leading the way on this important issue and are already making significant steps towards supporting net-zero emissions targets.
We will also be studying the proposals for £4 million investment in a biomass feedstocks programme in the UK to identify ways to increase the production of green energy crops.
As the Covid-19 crisis hopefully begins to ease over the next few months, and the rollout of the vaccine continues, there are reasons to be optimistic. But we are not out of the woods yet and rural businesses must be given the support they need to get back on their feet following this particularly turbulent time.