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Highland Council fails to fine a single litter lout in the last year

By Ally Tibbitt

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Litter has attracted hundreds of complaints.
Litter has attracted hundreds of complaints.

Despite receiving hundreds of complaints from the public over dog fouling and litter each year, Highland Council issued no fines to litter louts in the last year, official figures reveal.

The lack of enforcement action on environmental crime has led campaigners to accuse the council of “giving up” on the issue.

People can be given an £80 fine for dropping litter or failing to clear up after their dogs. The penalty for fly-tipping has been raised recently from £200 to £500, a move supported by council officials for its “deterrent effect.”

Yet official figures show that Highland Council has cut the number of staff able to issue these fines, and failed to take any action at all if people simply ignore them.

Although the council website warns dog-owners that failing to clear up their dog mess can lead to a “Fixed Penalty Notice of £80 which increases if it is not paid,” figures obtained from the local authority show that the council issued just nine fines for dog-fouling in the last five years – of which only three were paid.

No action was taken against those who did not pay.

Meanwhile, the council has not issued a single fine for littering in the last four years.

The last littering ticket it issued was on Inglis Street, in Inverness, but it was not paid, and no further action was taken.

Fines for dog mess have been raised.
Fines for dog mess have been raised.

Highland council issued a total of 31 fines for fly-tipping over the last five years, but 19 of these went unpaid and no further action was taken to deal with those that did not pay up.

This means that almost two-thirds of the people who were handed these fines were able to ignore them.

Together, the unpaid fines for littering, dog-fouling and fly-tipping were worth £4360.

If people don’t pay their fine then the council can, if it chooses to, refer them to the Procurator Fiscal who will then decide whether to issue a bigger fine or take further court action.

The council confirmed in response to a Freedom of Information request that no referrals had been made.

The total number of fines issued by council staff has also declined year-on-year to almost nothing. In the 12 months to April 2023, the council issued just one fine for fly-tipping. In the previous year, it handed out two fines in total.

The figures have led campaigners to claim Highland Council have given up trying to enforce these laws, whilst landowners said they were “hugely frustrated” with the council over the issue.

Fly-tipping blights many otherwise scenic areas.
Fly-tipping blights many otherwise scenic areas.

Dr Kat Jones, director of Action to Protect Rural Scotland (APRS), said: “Highland Council covers almost a third of Scotland’s total land area, so it is vital that they use the tools they have to prevent littering, dog fouling and fly tipping.

“This data shows they are failing to use Fixed Penalty Notices and, even when they did issue fines, most of them were ignored and then not prosecuted.

“The fines available for fly tipping have just been increased to £500, but that’s meaningless if councils don’t use the powers they have.”

The organisation has backed the introduction of a deposit return scheme for cans and bottles as one solution to littering. It has also called for a ban on particularly toxic sources of litter such as disposable vapes.

“APRS’s view is we need to deal with litter at source through policies such as deposit return and a ban on disposable vapes and other particularly harmful items,” Dr Jones said.

“However, the decision not to bring in deposit return on cans and bottles means the cavalry isn’t coming on that front. Council budgets are certainly hard pressed, but that’s no excuse for simply giving up.

“If the council doesn’t care about the state of their towns and countryside, why should they expect anyone else to?”

Figures provided by the council show that it has slashed the amount of staff time allocated to issuing these environmental fines from 1.7 full time equivalent posts, to just 0.15 full time equivalent posts.

Ian Wilson, Highland regional manager for the National Farmers Union in Scotland, said that his members wanted the council to take the issue of fly-tipping “much more seriously,” and that it should recognise that private landowners are bearing the brunt of the cost of cleaning up.

“Our members are finding dealing with the council on this issue hugely frustrating at best, and I think the council ought to take the issue of enforcement much more seriously, rather than just telling landowners it’s a private matter and you have to deal with it,” he said. “A lot of our members don’t bother reporting it at all now, they just clear up the mess.

“And of course if there’s no consequence to ignoring the fines, word soon gets out.”

Highland Council is not the first Scottish local authority to run into criticism for failing to use enforcement powers.

Moray Council was also criticised recently by local farmers after they learned it had also failed to take any action when local fly-tipping fines had not been paid.

In 2019, it was revealed Glasgow City Council had failed to take any further action over thousands of unpaid litter fines worth £1.5 million.

A Highland Council spokesman said: “The public and landowners are encouraged to report cases of fly-tipping, littering and dog fouling via the council’s website so that appropriate follow up can be arranged and useful information on local trends can be assessed.

“The council investigate cases of fly-tipping, littering and dog fouling and will pursue formal action where that is an appropriate and proportionate response and, crucially, where sufficient evidence is available. Often in cases evidence is not available to pursue formal action.

“The council welcomes the Scottish Government’s new litter and fly-tipping strategy and supports the objectives including the commitments to develop a more effective enforcement model and to improve guidance on enforcement approaches.”

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