My local council collects what they call green waste. You get given a special green wheelie-bin, and once a fortnight a Vulture comes round and empties it. They take the waste away, process it and compost it, and you can go up to the depot and buy nice bags of good organic peat-free compost at a very reasonable price.
Last March, everybody received a letter informing us that, from April, the council could no longer provide the free green bin service, and felt obliged to make an annual collection charge of £21.50. Invoices for this amount would be issued during April. We could, of course, opt out, but would have to make our own arrangements for disposal of our green waste. Amazingly, some people chose that course, evidently calculating that the cost of the petrol needed to take it up to the tip for a year, plus the plastic bags and their own time, would amount to less than £21.50. But most of us shook our heads in wry amusement and took the hit.
I personally thought this was an admirable scheme, fully in accordance with the spirit of modern economics. It was rather like a sub-prime mortgage - in which you sell somebody something and then take it away from them, charging them for the privilege - in reverse.
Anyway, April came and went, and no invoices appeared. For some reason, nobody seemed particularly surprised, and indeed most of us had more or less forgotten about it. The bins continued to get emptied. And then, early in May, there were some local elections, and the balance of power in my council changed. 'Ah-ha', we thought. The first duty of a new government is of course to do its best to undo everything the previous one did.
Sure enough, this morning the green bin collection team came down the road as usual, emptied the bins and delivered a letter, from the Interim Director of Environment Culture and Sport no less, to each house. The Interim Director apologised for the delay in updating us, but was pleased to announce that it had been decided to 'abandon' this charge. To quote:
'This means garden waste collections will remain free ... If you told us at the time that you were not willing to pay the new charges you can still place your bin out for collection.' And anyone who was nutty enough (there were some, apparently) to pay the £21.50 in advance will get a refund, in due course.
Without wishing to labour the point, I can't help wondering what the full cost was of this exercise in doing precisely nothing.