Scandal of Defra's 'executive' wheelie bins - all because they look nice
Civil servants ignored the onset of recession and blew tens of
thousands of pounds on up-market “executive” waste bins because they
looked nicer for visitors, it emerged last night.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spent an extra
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Â£32,000 on the “aesthetically pleasing” bins, instead of opting for a
budget option which was “slightly larger”.
Last night critics claimed the largesse was symptomatic of a Whitehall
attitude apparently oblivious to the severe cost-cutting endured in the
private sector as the economic crisis unfolded in the summer of 2007.
Defra has previously been criticised for wasting public money on
expensive gimmicks during the recession. They included training caviar
inspectors, buying branded toothbrushes, wallets and pens and spending
Â£180,000 on redesigning its soil-coloured website because it was too
closely associated with farming – one of the departments main
But the revelation that officials deliberately opted for more expensive
bins is especially embarrassing for Labour, who again came under fire
from the new coalition government yesterday for increasing public
spending as the economy was plunged into recession.
New Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has been made aware of the
spending at her much-derided ministry, which occurred long before her
appointment, and has stressed the need for all departments to rein in
A senior source said: “Defra, like every other department, is going to
have to demonstrate very clearly the pursuit of value for money.
“There is a sense that within government they were behind the curve on the need to be as frugal as possible.”
However, under Labour’s Hilary Benn Defra had not been as “frivolous”
as other ministries, it was claimed. Defra officials ordered the bins
shake-up after discovering staff – in the ministry responsible for
recycling – were simply throwing away paper, cans and plastic in “desk
A 2007 report, released for the first time, set out the “Bin the Bin”
proposal to remove bins under desks and force staff to walk to
Under a section titled “customer engagement”, the report reveals
officials even examined the bins at large private firms including
Deutsche Bank and Virgin Media. They then settled on the range of
“executive bins” for separating paper, recyclables and waste for
landfill – costing Â£148 each instead of just Â£57 for the standard
wheelie bin – because they looked nicer for visitors.
The report said: “The Executive bins are specifically built for an
office environment and are aesthetically pleasing, but cost Â£32,273
more than the slightly larger and more cumbersome adapted wheelie bin
version, which offers a budget option for delivery of this project.
“Choosing the Executive bin option would maintain the professional
office environment that Defra look to maintain throughout their estate,
especially in their HQ buildings to which many important visitors come.”
Tory MP Neil Parish said extravagant spending continued across
government despite the worsening state of the public finances. The new
MP for Tiverton and Honiton, who is standing for election as chairman
of the Commons committee which probes Defra’s work, said: “They just
carried on spending money yet all other business, especially farmers,
had to cut back. It is just crazy. The idea that we cannot cut waste is
It was claimed savings could also be made from the cost of sacks and
bin liners, while cleaners would spend 13 hours less every week
emptying the desk side bins.
It would take almost six years to recoup the cost of the executive
range of bins, compared to just over two for the standard option.
George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Falmouth, said: “In
the real world, every day farmers struggle to make ends meet and to
make a profit and it is completely unacceptable that Defra was so
profligate with money. This is exactly the kind of thing that’s got to
It seems the “executive” bins have been well-looked after. In a
statement, a Defra spokesman said: “After careful consideration we
chose to purchase large executive recycle bins that are specifically
built for use in an office environment for use in recycling stations.
This was a one-off cost as the bins are extremely robust and three
years later they are still as good as new.”