DOG WARDENS are expressing deep concern over the likelihood of a ‘24 hour Dog Warden service’ now that new legislation is freeing the police from any obligation for the collection and holding of stray dogs out of hours.
The Second Reading last week of the wide ranging Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill raised specific concerns in the House of Commons about exactly who will be responsible for the apprehension and care of stray dogs out of normal office hours when Local Authority Dog Wardens have gone home for the day.
The Bill seeks the removal of all police involvement in the apprehension and care of stray dogs. (These powers and duties which will be repealed by the new Bill, were given to police forces under section 3 of the Dogs Act 1906 and section 150 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990).
Whilst the current reality, widely accepted, is that the police have little or no time for dealing with such matters, concerns expressed, in consultation, by animal welfare organisations such as Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club, were raised by MPs during the debate.
The view that the Bill is an opportunity to force Local Authorities to provide 24 hour cover for dog warden services was expressed by a number of MPs from both sides of the House. However, concerns were also raised about increased costs to Local Authorities.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett, told the Commons that Local Authorities will be able to retain all receipts from fixed penalties such as fines for dog fouling. This, she said, would help to offset the cost of enforcing the new legislation.
However, the grim reality, outlined by the National Dog Wardens’ Association who were, incredibly but not surprisingly consulted by DEFRA during the drafting of legislation, is that this small gesture of Westminster largesse will do nothing to prevent a funding shortfall running into millions of pounds.
The NDWA is undertaking urgent consultation with DEFRA and seeking the support of those MPs who raised concerns about this part of the Bill.
The matter is to be addressed by a number of keynote speakers at this year’s NDWA seminar in March. This will highlight the very real concerns the NDWA have for canine welfare and for their members’ future working practices. Coming just two months before the expected date of the General Election, this will almost certainly cause deep embarrassment to the Government who will once again face charges of trying to steamroller legislation through Parliament without adequate consultation with those people who are expected to carry out the legislation at the sharp end.
The NDWA speak out
Steve O’Brien Training Officer of the National Dog Wardens’ Association writes exclusively here for OUR DOGS to explain the NDWA’s severe misgivings about the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill:
‘Many of those who saw to the introduction of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act have now managed, in the public's perception, to put their involvement out of mind and rapidly distanced themselves from its policing. But the National Dog Wardens’ Association has a longer memory and we know that what they did ensured the passage of the DDA at the consultation stage.
‘On the other hand in 1990 the NDWA placed in writing to the Home Office the concern of its membership about any proposals for breed specific legislation and also put in writing suggestions which could be described as 'punish the deed not the breed' but which were actually detailed and careful proposals rather than a vacuous sound bite.
‘The naiveté of the NDWA at the time was not to ensure that this contribution was known to the dog owning public as, in due course, as an enforcement agency for the Act, its was dog wardens who were turned into the pariah not those whose actions had ensured that the proposed legislation passed into law and whose amendments came very close to bringing a National Dog Registration Scheme with the Act.
‘The passage of the Clean Neighbourhoods Bill has been much the same. The NDWA has warned about two proposals in particular. The removal of the Police from any responsibility regarding stray dogs (this includes the provision of kennels to which the public might take any stray dog they find) and, what we first thought was an oversight in the proposal to manage the control of dogs at a local level by empowering local authorities to adopt byelaws for the controls of fouling, dogs on leads, banning etc.
‘We though that latter proposals were an oversight on behalf of the writers because there is already national legislation (the Dogs Fouling of Land Act 1996) part of which is an in-built end of all byelaws regarding dog fouling in 2006. Our Association always preferred national legislation to local on this subject so that wherever you were in the country a dog owner could know the requirements to clean up after their dog and such national standards would benefit all.
‘We drew these points (there are many others) about the Bill to the attention of DEFRA only to find that although it had not been mentioned in the consultation papers the Bill itself proposed the repeal of the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996, although the FoLA was described as a 'model' for the bylaws for fouling that local authorities might adopt under the Clean Neighbourhood legislation. This repeal of national law, established for nearly nine years, and its replacement with extended locally set byelaws the NDWA sees as a charter for mayhem; especially as some of the proposed byelaws look set to disguise the shortcomings of the Dangerous Dogs Act itself;
ensuring (local) 'safety' by making sure all dogs are kept on leads rather than being able to bring to book (nationally) the owners of dogs that cause problems when they are off the lead attacking other dogs and running amok. Reform of the Dangerous Dogs Act, on the other hand, had been specifically excluded from the Animal Welfare Bill.
‘The proposals for the removal of the police responsibility for strays leave local authorities responsible, in entirety, for 'stray dogs'. But consider this: in 1998 in a Kennel Club/RSPCA sponsored report the cost of stray dogs to the police was put at £15 million per year (on figures supplied by the police). By the time the 2002 O'Dowd Report on police bureaucracy strongly suggested that responsibility for stray dogs be placed with local authorities the police put their costs for dealing with stray dogs at £1.8 million (about one eighth of the 1998 claim). The consultation and Bill for the Clean Neighbourhoods legislation not only took the later figure but also stated that there was no need for a RIA (regulatory impact assessment) on the revision of this service. In effect this is stating that there will not be a significant cost to local authorities in replacing the service removed by the police.
‘Please remember as the Bill progresses into an Act that the NDWA warned of the potential disaster. To simply ask that local authority services for stray dogs are properly funded (as some of the big players have) is not enough. A local authority cannot fund the infrastructure the police are so keen to destroy; it cannot fund the safety of officers who do not work in a police service with 21st century communications, mutual support and 'police powers'. The replacement of the status quo needs far more careful consideration and a greater sensitivity to the mistakes of the past than the Clean Neighbourhoods Bill suggests in its current form.
‘This article in no way attempts to deal comprehensively with the proposals of the Clean Neighbourhoods Bill and its effect on dogs and dog owners more information will be made available on the NDWA website - www.NDWA.co.uk
The following (written in 2002) can be found on that website in comment on the O'Dowd Report:
Local authorities are largely critical of the findings of the report. They are highly sceptical of the Police estimate that it costs £1.8 million a year for the police to deal with stray dogs. It was noted that in the 1998 research, funded by the RSPCA and Kennel Club, and carried out by the Economists Advisory Group, section 4.2, which was not at the time challenged by the police and which explicitly states that "contact was made with both the ACPO and the Home Office", an estimate of £15 million pounds is given for police costs. It seems remarkable that when proposals are put forward that local authorities be given these duties, in entirety, the cost is reduced by over £13 million. Is this preparing the way in case police budgets were required to be handed over?
The O'Dowd report recommends that: "The funding for the additional cost to local authorities can be found from other revenue sources, not from the police budget". But if the Police contribution to the existing work were to be replaced local authorities would need to provide 24-hour service and provide for all the additional personnel for this - an infrastructure already established within the police service and therefore only requiring partial funding within a stray dog budget for the police but complete funding to local authorities.
With thanks to Steve O’Brien of UKPets