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‘Disappointment and upset’ over decision to pause service in Brent

A North London council’s decision to postpone a popular ‘community skip’ programme has been branded ‘disappointing and upsetting‘ by local residents. The scheme has been halted during the build-up to the general election over fears it risked breaching advertising rules, suggesting it is a party political event rather than a council service.

Since 2018, Brent Council has offered residents the chance to get rid of their bulky waste items for free by placing skips on set dates in neighbourhoods across the borough. The scheme is designed to give people the chance to dispose of unwanted household items, such as furniture, mattresses and small electrical goods, as well as to combat flytipping.

Four years ago, Amit Khare, 50, and his neighbour, Sunil Shah, set up the South Sudbury Residents Group to help support the local community. Amit told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that the community skip programme is ‘very popular and well used’, leaving the residents ‘disappointed and upset’ at its postponement.

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'Disappointment and upset' over decision to pause service in Brent Harrow Online
Cllr Anton Georgiou Attending A Community Skip Event. Cllr Anton Georgiou called the decision \’extremely disappointing\’. Image Credit: Anton Georgiou. Permission to use with all LDRS partners

Amit said: “It’s really helpful for the skip to be here because it serves a big purpose, especially for the elderly residents who find getting rid of bulky waste difficult. Residents are quite upset, I’ve told them already that the skip won’t be there and they are all disappointed and upset. That takes its toll on them.”

The scheme, which is funded through a grant paid to the council from the Department for Food and Rural Affairs, is often promoted using pictures of the Council Leader, Cllr Muhammed Butt, and other Cabinet members at the skip events across the borough. During the pre-election period – called purdah – the administration has taken the decision to postpone events in June and July to avoid any risk of breaching the code of practice.

Director of Public Realm, Chris Whyte, told the LDRS: “The grant which enables these Community Skip events to take place requires maximum promotion and community involvement, including from senior politicians and Ward Councillors to ensure their success. Community Skips are also a key part of the Labour Party’s Manifesto commitment.”

He added: “It is therefore likely that had the events proceeded as originally planned, which is now during the official pre-election period, the council would have risked breaching the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity and therefore a decision was taken to postpone them.”

However, due to the acknowledgement by the council that the community skip events could breach purdah rules, the local authority has been accused by some of using the grant for party political purposes throughout the remainder of the year – a practice which appears to be against the rules ‘at all times’.

Election guidelines for council’s state: “Local authorities in Great Britain have a statutory responsibility not to publish any material which appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party. […] This guidance applies at all times but during the pre-election period greater care is generally taken and goes beyond just publicity. Use of council facilities and resources should not be used for party political campaigning.”

'Disappointment and upset' over decision to pause service in Brent Harrow Online
Community Skip Programme. The \’community skip\’ programme has been paused during the general election over fears it risked breaching purdah rules. Image Credit: Brent Council. Permission to

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Anton Georgiou, called the decision ‘barmy’ and believes the scheme should still go ahead but without any photos or party political advertising. He told the LDRS: “We were extremely disappointed to get the news that the planned community skips were being cancelled. This will hugely disadvantage residents in my ward and across the borough who make use of this council service.”

He added: “This barmy decision by Brent Council makes no sense to us. It’s about time clear lines were drawn between the use of funds for council services and for party political reasons. I challenge council officers to make sure that council funds are never used to advantage the Labour administration. This is wrong and should never happen.”

Amit believes that there is ‘no need’ for council figures to appear in photos advertising the scheme and they are unnecessarily making it political, rather than simply a service that the council delivers. He said: “They’re just running a service so it should be good for the people, that’s it.”

He added: “We don’t get to see most of the [councillors] in the photos anyway. They don’t come here, they don’t know what’s happening in our area. For councillors to be showing to neighbours that they’re doing this for the community is nonsense. It’s not the truth.”

Brent Conservatives Leader, Cllr Suresh Kansagra, believes that the community skips are a ‘very good thing’ for the council to provide but thinks that postponing them during purdah is a ‘wise decision’ as Labour were ‘taking advantage of it’.

However, Cllr Kansagra believes that the service should be offered without branding or photo advertising throughout the year. He told the LDRS: “They are services run by the council. [They] should not be used for political purposes, not just during the election but throughout the year.”

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