It has been a year since the borough council contracted ‘litter police’ Kingdom Services Group Ltd to clean up Northampton. But has penalising litterbugs been good for the town?
In Kingdom’s first weeks, the Chron received dozens of calls from residents confused why they were stopped for dropping a cigarette down a drain.
A Kingdom officer can stop litterers for their details. They even have the right to walk after them all the way to their front door.
Kingdom is delivered at ‘zero-cost’ to taxpayers, meaning they pay the council to work in the town and recoup their costs through the Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) they issue.
To stop any fining-for-profit practices, the borough contract forbids setting targets or paying staff bonuses for the number of tickets they issue.
Payslips shown to the Chron by a former Kingdom enforcer showed a full third of their pay cheque was accredited to a bonus under ‘salary enhancement’.
When this was put to Kingdom, a spokesman said the salary enhancements were only awarded for timekeeping, performance, low levels of complaints and FPN quality... not for the number of tickets issued.
So what have the fines been handed out for in the town centre?
Out of 6,855 FPNs issued between January and November last year, a staggering 95 per cent of them were for tossing cigarette butts. That means out of 11 months in Northampton, only 300 tickets were handed out for dropping litter and food.
So, is the approach working?
The tickets handed out have been on a steady, sharp decline. FPNs handed out in a month by Kingdom reached a high point of 1,145 in April – and ended on 269 in November. It would initially seem to suggest Northampton’s residents really are dropping less litter (or, at least, cigarette butts).
But there is another factor. Kingdom’s team strength fluctuated over the year. They began the year with 12 officers and reached a low point of three in October. Fewer officers would mean fewer eyes to spot litterers.
The opinion in many ways is split. People who get ticketed will not be happy, of course. And residents who don’t drop litter will be happy if the officers’ presence is keeping the town tidier.
‘I’ve been spat on, been hit and seen people crying over tickets’
A former Kingdom enforcer has spoken of the difficulties he faced during his time ticketing Northampton’s residents for littering. The former employee, who was dismissed in October, says he found fining people difficult, seeing them ‘bawl their eyes out’ to him in the street.
The enforcer, who asked not to be named, said: “I received a lot of abuse. I’ve been spat on. I’ve been hit. I’ve had milkshake thrown over me. I’ve had people bawling their eyes out in front of me over a ticket.
“Litter like food wrappers barely came into it. I handed out 1,972 FPNs in my time with Kingdom [10 months]. 97 per cent of that was to smokers.”
Councillor Mike Hallam for NBC has consistently defended the contract with Kingdom. He said: “We continue to advocate a no-tolerance approach to littering and the lion’s share of incidents involve cigarette ends, which are a blight on our streets.
“The vast majority of residents have told us they welcome enforcement against the small minority of people who seem to think it’s okay to litter.”
Chair man of BID: Litter enforcement has ‘acted as deterrent’
The man in charge of Northampton’s Business Improvement District (BID) believes Kingdom has acted as an effective litterbug deterrent in the town centre.
Rob Purdie said the work of the enforcers was particularly noticeable when BID members carried out a litter pick of the town centre last year - a few months into the Kingdom contract.
“We noticed that although there was still a lot of cigarettes being dropped, there weren’t as many,” he said.
“People were clearly trying to use the litter bins more - which I think is because they were aware people might be watching.
“In principle, anything that keeps the town looking clean and tidy certainly gets our support.”
Kingdom has contracts in 30 councils across the
UK, though its contract with Liverpool City Council ended this month after a number of criticisms were made by the council leader.
The contract that operated in Liverpool is different to that which Kingdom has with Northampton Borough Council.