A BBC investigation has revealed some London councils using private firms to target littering — with a massive increase in fines being issued.
Bromley, Hillingdon and Enfield councils used XFor, a private company whose website states that its wardens will issue enough fines to cover their pay. Which sounds to us rather more of a case of setting a target and then ensuring enough fines are issued to hit it.
Civil liberties group, the Manifesto Club, who highlighted Newham's £376,620 earnings from fines last year, say some councils are using them to make money. The private policing of London's public spaces and on-the-spot fines have become increasingly commonplace since they were introduced in 2004. Like parking charges and fines (which councils are also accused of using to boost revenue), it's pretty easy to wheel out the adage that if you can't do the time, don't do the crime, but when punishment rather than prevention becomes more lucrative, it all looks slightly less reasonable.
Smokers appear to be top of XFor's hit list with 94% of Bromley's fines being issued for dropping cigarette butts — the BBC investigation witnessed wardens hiding before handing out tickets — but the Manifesto Club say few councils provide cigarette bins.
The question of who private firms are accountable to is one of the biggest problems, along with the fact that the only way to appeal the fines is before a magistrate — an option few would be willing to risk. Magistrate's Association chairman John Fassenfelt said:
"Magistrate's Court is much more transparent and consistent. It delivers justice over and above what the private company can deliver. Private companies don't report to anybody, the public can't question it - there's very limited appeal provisions."
Photo by The Green Odyssey in the Londonist Flickr pool.
Update: Newham council did not use XFor to issue fines for littering and say they earned £376,620 from all fines issued.