Dept for Local Government criticises private security fines

Julian Huppert MP has asked a parliamentary question about the private security company Xfor, which issues a growing proportion of on-the-spot fines. The excellent and thorough response from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government argues that 'councils should not be using residents as cash cows and should not be persecuting people for petty or insignificant breaches'. The full answer is below...

Dr Huppert: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what assessment he has made of the behaviour of Xfor in giving on-the-spot fines. [142675]

Brandon Lewis [holding answer 11 February 2013]: My Department has not made an official assessment, but I am aware that this issue has attracted widespread public concern. I would make the following observations:

Those who harm the environment by shamelessly littering and fly-tipping should be brought to book.

However, councils should not be using residents as cash cows and should not be persecuting people for petty or insignificant breaches.

It is not in the public interest to issue a fixed penalty notice where there is not clear evidence that the individual intended to cause litter.

Enforcement action is better targeted at problem areas, rather than applied across a whole local authority area.

The issuing of fixed penalty notices or fines is a quasi-judicial matter. Commercial contracts which are based on the volume of penalties issued, or on a fixed amount of revenue to be raised, are likely to undermine public confidence in a fair judicial system and potentially undermine the quality of justice itself. Indeed, this principle is recognised in guidance to councils on parking fines: 'Performance and rewards/penalties should never be based on the number of Penalty Charge Notices, immobilisations or removals' (DFT, ‘Operational Guidance to Local Authorities: Parking Policy and Enforcement’, November 2010, para 4.12).

Where external contractors are used, ultimately, the responsibility still lies with the local authorities to ensure that legal powers are exercised fairly and reasonably and civil liberties are respected; councillors should regularly scrutinise the operation of such contracts; and the broader use of such powers must command and continue to command public support.

There are many other ways for councils to tackle litter, such as the use of warnings, education campaigns, the helpful provision of litter bins and the regular collection of rubbish bins by the local authority.