Pickles to ‘devolve’ EU fine payments to local government

by David Hencke
Friday, March 18th, 2011
A little noticed section of the Localism Bill, now going through the House of Commons, includes a plan by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to “devolve” EU fine payments from central government to local council taxpayers for breaches on air quality and waste.

This extraordinary measure means councils may have to impose extra cuts to public services to pay the fines. It  has angered Labour and Conservatives alike and as Labour tries to reverse part of the measure by tabling amendments to the bill with the backing of the Tory dominated Local Government Association.

Greg Clark, Minister of State for Decentralisation, promised the Government will publish a detailed code on how this will happen and said that ministers will negotiate with councils on the proportion of the fines – but this has not allayed their  fears.

The reaction of Boris Johnson, Tory Mayor of London, to the possibility of up to £300 million in EU fines – because of poor air quality caused by traffic pollution – is to press the Government to delay the stringent guidelines. A reply to a question from Murad Qureshi, Labour’s environment spokesman, revealed the Mayor is lobbying the Government for an extension from 2011 until 2015 for the introduction of pollution controls in the capital – and David Cameron and Eric Pickles are minded to approach the European Commission to do so.

This has caused a row in London with Labour accusing Mr Johnson of putting people’s health and lives at risk by not cutting down on hazardous traffic emissions and breaking Tory promises on the environment.

Murad Qureshi said: “London’s air is literally killing thousands of people prematurely every year, but Boris Johnson doesn’t appreciate this. Improving air quality is one area where the mayor can make a real difference to people’s lives and especially to the lives of children. The statistics obviously haven’t had much effect on Boris – hopefully the threat of a big fine will.”

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About The Author

David Hencke is Tribune’s Westminster Correspondent

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