Croydon Council calls in ex-soldiers to fight dog poo and littering
Fines for dog poo and littering will be dished out in their thousands under council plans to hire a crack team of ex-soldiers to catch out culprits.
Nearly 5,000 people a year could be handed on-the-spot £75 penalties in proposals that will see the service outsourced to private company Xfor.
The firm will draft in six officers to pound the streets of Croydon hunting for offenders, billing the council £45 for each one caught.
But critics say a commission-based contract means officers will pursue easy targets to maximise profit rather than looking to prevent littering.
Twelve London boroughs have already enlisted Xfor, which was founded by ex-servicemen and former policemen, to crack down on littering. All subsequently saw a surge in the number of residents fined.
In most boroughs the company issue 300 to 400 penalties a month, mostly for discarded cigarette butts.
Croydon Council has issued only 100 penalties for littering in a matter of years.
Councillor Paul Smith, shadow cabinet member for crime and public protection, said: "Whenever you outsource these sorts of services there is always an inevitable shift from looking to enforce the regulation to making a profit, which of course is the need of the organisation concerned.
"It leaves the council open to the accusation that this is an opportunity to raise income rather than what it should be, which is about making the environment better."
But Simon Hoar, cabinet member for community safety and public protection, said: "The actual income from it will be pretty minimal and the idea is to stop people throwing litter on the floor.
"We regularly have problems particularly in the town centre with littering and we thought this had good potential to address that problem.”
Offenders who are penalised will lose the ability to pay early to reduce the fine to £50 and will have no right of appeal other than going to court.
But Mr Hoar insisted that residents would not be unfairly penalised.
He said: "When you look at parking there are always people who complain because a parking ticket has been issued incorrectly so you never know exactly what the picture is going to be, but the idea of this is to penalise people who throw rubbish on the floor.
“If people don't throw rubbish on the floor they won't get a ticket.”
Officers will also largely focus on the town centre, working just one day a week in other areas of the borough.
And the council expects dog fouling to account for fewer than ten per cent of the offences penalised, even though it says this is the most offensive form of littering.
Josie Appleton, founder of civil liberties campaign group Manifesto Club, said: "Ninety-nine per cent of people who get fined will be cigarette smokers who drop butts, which is actually the least problematic form of littering.
"I have heard stories of them hiding around corners near places where people tend to smoke and just jumping out on people. It is not dealing with serious street littering."
Offenders can escape paying the fines by completing ten hours of community service. The council would still have to pay Xfor £45, meaning it would be making a loss in these cases.
Subject to approval at Monday’s cabinet meeting, the plans will be trialled for six months to allow the council to cancel the Xfor contract should it fail to recoup enough money to break even.