Waste Watch, Keep Britain Tidy (our parent charity) and local government representatives recently came together to listen to local people and work with them to develop solutions to reduce litter and improve the local environment.
Keep Britain Tidy is going through a challenging period of rapid change. Our central government grant has been discontinued and while we have funding challenges, we are hugely optimistic about becoming more accountable to our supporters (and future funders) – the British public.
This process is mirrored across local government as central government grants are cut and power or responsibility is devolved to a local level. We’re rising to this challenge and will have to change the way we work with citizens. This means going from delivering services for people, to working with people to deliver services more efficiently and effectively together.
To kick this process off we conducted a citizen’s jury in Preston alongside our local authority network as part of a project called the Big Litter Inquiry. A citizen’s jury enables people to work with and question expert stakeholders to explore and set priorities (in our case for reducing litter), while developing practical ideas for meeting those priorities.
Sixteen individuals representing the people of Preston and the surrounding area spent two days together, initially developing their expertise and hearing different perspectives on litter before developing those ideas and solutions.
Litter continues to be a widespread issue, especially prevalent in more deprived communities. This is not just a problem for the environment but it also has a detrimental impact on people’s wellbeing and has links to the state of the local economy and costs local authorities close to £1bn each year to clean up.
Participants were shocked by the cost of litter and its environmental impacts, especially on the marine environment. Many people felt that we needed to shift our attention from cleaning to prevention. “Why are we wasting our council tax on street cleaning when it could be spent on other things like education or social care? People don’t understand the cost of what they drop,” one participant said.
The participants also felt more could be done by businesses, for example funding return deposit schemes for bottles and packaging. Finally, there was a clear feeling the government needed to demonstrate more leadership on improving litter and the local environment, especially as it can produce clear local economic benefits.
The second day looked at how priority needs could be developed into practical programmes or campaigns that local authorities and Keep Britain Tidy could deliver.
This included getting kids into good habits through working with parents, formal and informal education and after school activities. Another idea focused on building communities – for example by asking what if local neighbourhoods could win funding to spend on local community projects, chosen by the community for demonstrating improvements to litter in their community?
A second citizen’s jury is taking place in April in Croydon, south London and the ideas will be captured and developed further for local authorities, charities and other stakeholders, such as the police or local health and wellbeing partnerships, to utilise in the future.
The Big Litter Inquiry is only a first step to co-producing solutions and ideas with local people and our local authority partners simultaneously. We would recommend it to any local authority trying to change the way it works with its local citizens and with ever tighter budgets it is almost inevitable for changing the culture of how people and their council view each other and work together.
Most importantly it builds trust, leadership, innovative solutions where they are most needed, and at the same time fun for all involved.
This article first appeared in the Guardian Professional.