Worse than people who drop stuf are those who pounce on them to make money, says Larry Neild

If visitors to Liverpool were navigating mountains of fag ends en route to the nearest Beatles statue, it would be easy to understand why the city council had recruited an elite special litter force.

Ever ready to pounce, they’ll slap an eye-watering fine on anyone daring to tarnish the gum-covered streets of the city,

Few people will champion a litter lout, but dragging people through the courts over something like a cigarette end smacks of taking a sledgehammer to crack a grain of salt.

Councillor Steve Munby, who has taken on the role of Litter Marshall with his posse of 14 deputies from a private company, talks of Liverpool’s zero tolerance to offenders, but then reveals that 24 people were taken to court this week and fined for dropping cigarette ends.

Each was ordered to find more than £300 for failing to cough up the original fixed penalty of £80 and, the council insists, it serves them right.

Litter Liverpool

At a hearing at Liverpool Magistrates Court, on Tuesday 15 August,  23 were found guilty in their absence following evidence presented to the court by the city council. They were fined £150 plus £125 costs and an additional £30 victim surcharge, bringing their total liability to £305 each. One other person pleaded guilty and was fined £100 plus £70 costs and a £30 victim surcharge.

All of the cases, for the 14 men and 10 women, relate to dropped cigarettes, with most of the offences taking place in the city centre, as well as Norris Green and Old Swan.

Most of those taken to court were from the Liverpool area – but there were also people from as far afield as London, Worthing and the Isle of Man.

The one thing I dislike more than people who drop litter, is hiring a company to pounce on them as a way of making money. After all, they are not a charity like Keep Britain Tidy.

This is how it works. A private firm of enforcers, in Liverpool’s case they are called Kingdom, offer to patrol the streets for free. In fact not only do they do the job for free, they actually weigh the council in on their cash haul.

If they don’t issue any tickets, there is no payday for anyone. It proves the old adage, where’s there’s muck there’s brass.

Rich pickings for Liverpool's new litter police

The council talks of the millions it spends on street cleaning, £8.5m last year. But what proportion of the 6,500 tonnes of refuse are cigarette ends? You would need a staggering six billion of them to make up that amount.

Despite what the official communique from the Cunard Building says, dropped fag ends are not blighting this city. It’s just easy money for a private enterprise and a nice little earner for the council.

Google "litter patrol" and there are legions of criticisms and complaints.

I’d sooner have a friendly city where people who do careless things are politely spoken to and sent on their way with a lesson for the future.

Yet while Munby’s men and women are eagerly awaiting their prey, real litter, and particularly, fly tipping, are major problems. 

Recently the council’s own litter bins down at Otterspool Prom were overflowing. Did the Kingdom enforcers shoot down there to write a ticket on the mayor? Maybe not. 

Steve Munby reiterates the city's zero tolerance policy on dropped fag ends

Councillor Munby, cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said:  “Our residents deserve to live in a clean and green environment and not have it trashed by people who think it is someone else’s responsibility to clear up their mess.

“We have now got a zero tolerance approach to people dropping litter, and I hope this court case sends out a strong message that it is far better to pay the fine, rather than simply ignoring it and hoping we will go away. There will be more hearings in the coming months and my advice to anyone who receives a summons is to pay up now - otherwise you risk a much bigger bill if it comes to court.

“Our clear message to people is that dropping litter is anti-social behaviour and blights communities.”

Munby says the council’s share of the income from fines is contributing to the wider environmental budget from which the council is funding a range of improvements from larger litter bins to extending street cleansing hours and cleaning alleyways to tracking down those responsible for fly tipping.”

Yet in a more sensible approach the council has approved plans to introduce an environmental crime hotline and a crackdown on late night takeaways that don’t clear litter from outside their premises.  There has also been a doubling in the number of staff tackling flytipping and cleaning alleyways, with four new teams working seven days a week.