A Christmas tree ‘call-in’ to overturn a “mean-spirited” decision to end the free collection of trees in Pembrokeshire after the festive season probably cost more to host than the £10,000 savings mooted, councillors have heard.

At the November meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, members backed a proposal to introduce a £5 charge for the collection of real Christmas trees after the festive season, previously identified as a potential cost saving of £10,000.

The council introduced a free Christmas tree collection service – backed by grant funding – in 2016, subsiding the cost when funding ended in 2020.

After making the decision to introduce the charge to save council funds, Cabinet members heard trees could still be disposed of free-of-charge at any of the council’s six waste and recycling centres.

A special extraordinary services overview and scrutiny committee meeting, taking place on November 20 considered a ‘call-in’ on the Cabinet decision, made by Councillor Huw Murphy, supported by councillors Vanessa Thomas, Anji Tinley, Alan Dennison, Elwyn Morse, Michael James and Iwan Ward.

Cllr Huw Murphy
Cllr Huw Murphy (PCC webcast)

In his submitted call-in, Cllr Murphy – who appeared to have entered the festive season early by sporting a Santa-like beard – asked for the decision to be referred to full council at its December 14 meeting for further discussion, with the hope of stopping a charge.

Cllr Murphy – in his ‘call-in’ – said: “This service most benefits lower income households, and its implementation gives the impression of an authority that is mean-spirited at a time of the year when we should be extending goodwill to our residents.”

Describing the service as “possibly the cheapest we provide,” he warned: “The inevitable consequence of the introduction of a tree collection fee will be more littering and fly tipping of Christmas trees by people who may have no means (transport) to dispose of at a waste recycling centre.”

Cabinet Member Cllr Rhys Sinnett, who had presented the item at its meeting, said the council was facing unprecedented financial challenges and, despite “emotive language in the press and social media” the collection service was only used by three per cent of households in the county, “the vast majority from areas of low deprivation”.

Cllr Tony Wilcox felt the ‘call-in’ was done for political reasons by the former council leadership contest hopeful, adding: “How much has it cost in officer time to bring this spurious thing here? It’s mainly here because of political expediency; it’s purely party politics.”

Cllr Mike Stoddart expressed similar sentiments: “Faced with a [council] funding gap of several million pounds it is amazing that the Cabinet felt it worth discussing.

“There’s 20 people here today and we’re discussing a measly £10,000; I wouldn’t be surprised if the cost of this with officers swallowed up that £10,000. It’s frivolous, or even vexatious to call it in.”

He added: “People must be having a laugh at it; we’ve got this meeting here today – more than 20 people, reports and all the rest of it – and it’s all over a measly £10,000, a complete waste of public money.”

Cllr Murphy ‘thanked’ Cllr Wilcox and Cllr Stoddart for their “kind comments,” saying there “was no such thing as a ‘spurious call-in’”.

“It’s my democratic right; we’re not talking about £10,000, we’re talking about people’s ability to pay for this.

“I do oppose this allegation of ‘spurious,’ they simply don’t like it, but that’s politics.”

Cllr Murphy’s call, for the matter to be referred to full council on December 14 was defeated by nine votes to four, meaning the £5 charge remains.

Committee papers had initially listed Cllr Aled Thomas as one of Cllr Murphy’s backers; at the start of the meeting members heard his name had been included due to an administrative error, instead of Cllr Anji Tinley.