Residents and visitors to Burnley have been hit with a whopping £40,000 in fines - just four weeks after the council hired a controversial company to carry out "zero tolerance" litter patrols.
Burnley Borough Council defended its decision to hire Warrington-based Kingdom Environmental Enforcement Services to clamp down on littering in the borough, the manner of which has been criticised in a recent BBC Panorama documentary.
The council appointed Kingdom in April to carry out a 12 month pilot scheme of street patrols to provide "environmental protection services" including littering, dog fouling and begging. However, Panorama uncovered several cases where people were fined incorrectly.
The Burnley Express can reveal that around 140 £75 Fixed Penalty Notices were issued a week in Burnley during the first month by Kingdom's enforcement officers.
During a training session with Kingdom elsewhere in the country, a BBC undercover reporter was told by a trainer that some officers pretended to call the police in order to make people pay a fine.
Officers were also filmed handing out £75 fines for tiny pieces of dropped orange peel and poured-away coffee.
The company's website claimed its environmental protection teams are "led by experts with an ex-police and military background".
Burnley Council defended its decision to appoint Kingdom and said it was what the majority of the public wanted.
A council spokesman said: “Our residents overwhelmingly support our efforts to tackle littering and dog fouling, and that includes fining those responsible for spoiling our communities.
“We agree with Keep Britain Tidy’s view that any enforcement work has to be fair and proportionate, and that it is only one of the methods available to change people’s behaviour. We are working with Kingdom to ensure Fixed Penalty Notices are only issued in cases where it is justified.
“We wish that we didn’t have to fine people for dropping litter or for failing to pick up their dog mess.
"Residents want cleaner and safer neighbourhoods. Our borough would be a lot better place without this kind of anti-social behaviour. But while it continues we will continue to take strong action against those responsible, as well as supporting clean-up initiatives, working to educate people about the issues surrounding littering and dog fouling, and other measures.”
The council said the scheme is self-financing with the costs of enforcement being met from the income from Fixed Penalty Notices.
Kingdom defended its officers following the documentary, saying its practices were "fully transparent."
A Kingdom spokesman said: "Kingdom pledges to patrol Burnley in a proportionate manner, not driven by the number of Fixed Penalty Notices we can issue but by the quality of service for the authority and community.
“We strongly disagree with a number of the claims made in the Panorama programme in relation to both our processes and our employees’ terms and conditions.
“They are all paid the Living Wage and any additional allowance is linked to overall performance and not merely Fixed Penalty Notice numbers issued. Our service and activity is fully transparent.”