Plans to pay councils to bring back weekly rubbish collections came under fire today for wasting taxpayers' money and imposing Whitehall control on local communities.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced a £250 million fund to help local authorities in England maintain weekly bin rounds or make the switch back from fortnightly collections.
More than half of councils in England now have systems in place in which rubbish is picked up only once a fortnight.
The Conservatives pledged to bring back weekly bin rounds in opposition, but the long-awaited waste review this summer did not include measures to force councils to increase the rate of collections.
A survey by the Press Association earlier this year revealed that no councils were planning to reverse the move towards fortnightly rubbish collections, claiming people were happy with their bin rounds and going back to more frequent pick-ups would undermine recycling efforts and cost millions.
Unveiling the move before the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Pickles said he believed every household in England had "a basic right" to have their rubbish collected every week.
"Weekly rubbish collections are the most visible of all frontline services and I believe every household in England has a basic right to have their rubbish collected every week."
The funding, from next April, will be given to English local authorities which guarantee to retain or reinstate weekly waste collections for at least five years, and which demonstrate the potential to increase recycling rates or provide other environmental benefits, such as reducing fly-tipping and litter, alongside weekly collections.
Liberal Democrat local government leaders welcomed the announcement of new money for waste collection and recycling, but criticised the requirement that councils had to commit to weekly bin collections at the behest of central government.
Keith House, Local Government Association (LGA) Lib Dem spokesman on the environment, said: "It's good news that the coalition Government is providing new money to councils for the vital frontline services of bin collection and recycling.
"Hard-pressed councils will be pleased to receive positive news amidst the general picture of severe reductions in spending.
"However, there is more than a whiff of old-fashioned 'Whitehall knows best' in Eric Pickles' dictat that only councils that provide weekly bin collection will be eligible for the new money."
Dorothy Thornhill, deputy leader of the LGA Lib Dem group, said: "Eric Pickles has revealed his true colours as an extreme centraliser.
"His statement flies in the face of the coalition Government's commitment to localism. It appears that local services must be provided according to Eric Pickles' demands."
She said bin collection and recycling arrangements should be determined by local people according to their wishes, not by the Communities Secretary.
Friends of the Earth's resource use campaigner Julian Kirby said a return to weekly bin collections was an "astonishing waste of taxpayers' money and will have a disastrous impact on recycling".
"More than half of councils in England have taken up fortnightly collections - the Government's own advisers say they are not unhygienic if food waste is collected every week.
"A U-turn on recycling is hardly the action of the 'greenest government ever' that David Cameron promised - any available money would be better spent on increasing recycling, reducing waste, and helping councils to cut carbon."
New Local Government Network (NLGN) director Simon Parker said: "At a time when councils are facing deep spending cuts, the Government's crusade for weekly bin collections is starting to look a little eccentric.
"The £250 million of new money announced today is the equivalent of a year's-worth of residential or nursing care for 9,335 elderly people.
"With social care costs going through the roof, most councils would prefer that CLG's money had been spent on looking after the vulnerable, rather than on providing extra waste collections which many residents are prepared to do without."
Shadow communities and local government secretary Caroline Flint said: "This announcement on the eve of the Tory Party conference is a desperate attempt by Eric Pickles to save face after failing to honour his promise to introduce weekly bin collections.
"Because of the cuts he has imposed, a number of councils have stopped weekly collections since the last election - including Tory councils such as David Cameron's local West Oxfordshire District Council.
"When Eric Pickles insists that there is no alternative to councils cutting spending by 28%, people will rightly wonder where he has suddenly found an extra £250 million.
"This is a policy for one week in Manchester - not a solution for the future of waste and recycling."
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance. welcomed the move.
He said: "Weekly bin collections are the number one service which council taxpayers expect to receive from their local authorities, so it is terrific to hear that councils will no longer have any excuse not to provide this to every resident in their area.
"Rubbish collection may not be seen as a sexy issue to the chattering classes in London, but it is one which is of great concern to ordinary hard-working taxpayers. It's good to see a manifesto promise delivered despite the difficult financial times we live in.
"Woe betide the councils who do not reinstate weekly bin collections or who persist with plans to scrap this basic service, causing misery to local residents."
Local Government Association chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said: "Local authorities will find the new money useful if financial considerations were holding them back from operating a weekly collection.
"As the Government has recognised by giving councils an option, the decision ultimately comes down to local choice.
"People want reliable, efficient bin collection which makes it easy to recycle. That can be achieved in different ways and councils have to find a system that works well for residents in their area.
"We know this local approach is working because it is the most popular service provided by councils, with 84% of residents saying they are satisfied with their bin collection.
"In the past decade household recycling has more than doubled to 40%, diverting millions of tonnes of waste from being put in the ground and saving taxpayers millions of pounds in landfill tax.
"Our aim is to build on this success by providing even better waste collection services which meet the needs of residents and increase recycling."