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Councillor Apologises and Pays for Waste Collection

A South Hams District Executive Councillor has publicly apologised for an error of judgement when trying to act in the best interests of her residents and has agreed to pay £3,105 for the waste collection out of her own pocket.

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When South Hams District Council suspended the collection of Garden Waste, Cllr Hopwood, Ward Member for Woolwell, wanted to arrange a one-off collection for her residents.  She asked officers if this would be possible, but misunderstood the advice she was given.

Cllr Hopwood then arranged for a private contractor to make a one-off collection of garden waste within her Ward, funded by her Localities' fund. Each Ward Councillor within the South Hams is allocated £2,000 in each financial year to support community projects that benefit their Ward or the wider local community, but this Fund cannot be used to replace any withdrawn public sector funding (withdrawn within the previous two financial years).

This arrangement was actually in breach of the Council's requirements for the use of her Localities' fund and a breach of the Code of Conduct for Councillors.  Upon realising she had acted in error, Cllr Hopwood offered an unreserved apology to residents, Members and officers.

At the beginning of the meeting Cllr Hopwood gave a full and unreserved apology. She said: "Members and officers may be aware that I organised a collection of brown bins within the Woolwell Ward which I represent.

"I sought officer advice about paying for this to be done out of my Locality budget after misunderstanding the advice given and went ahead with what I had organised in all good faith.

"I have since been contacted by the Monitoring Officer and subsequently met with him. He advised that not only was the organising of waste collections within my Ward against what the Executive had agreed, which was to suspend the garden waste service, but I informed residents that this would be paid for out of my Locality Budget as I genuinely misunderstood the advice given by officers.

"I offer an unreserved apology to both officers and Members and have assured the monitoring officer that this will not happen again."

The Council's Monitoring Officer accepted the public apology. He was satisfied after speaking with Cllr Hopwood that the councillor was aware of her wrongdoing and this would not be repeated. Cllr Hopwood subsequently agreed that she would pay the contractor's invoice personally.

Although this was an error of judgement by Cllr Hopwood, South Hams says that the collection in Woolwell has also demonstrated to them, why employing small private companies to collect garden waste from the whole district is not an option.

The one-off collection organised by Cllr Hopwood was for 1,300 properties, in a Ward that is suburban and not typical of the South Hams. In Woolwell, houses are closer to together over a smaller geographic area. 

The South Hams garden waste service is provided to 43,350 households in the District at no additional charge to residents.

In September, an operational decision was taken to suspend the collection of garden waste collections. This was so that other statutory services, such as recycling and general household waste could be prioritised.

A number of factors contributed to this decision, including staff sickness, the direct impact from the round review undertaken in October 2020, as well as the highly publicised national HGV shortage.

In October, the Executive made the regrettable decision that this suspension should remain in place until Spring 2022.

South Hams District Council officers continue to look at options for improving the service they are offering and are constantly taking on board ideas being put forward by other councillors.

For information about the suspension of the garden waste collection, please visit:  www.southhams.gov.uk/waste-service-updates

Issued 11 November 2021

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