A CIVIL liberties organisation has hit out at a controversial Blaenau Gwent scheme aimed at catching litterers.

The Manifesto Club says fines for littering should be the last resort and not the first - has questioned whether the fines are proportionate to the offence.

Blaenau Gwent council has teamed up with private company XFOR to hand fines to people responsible for dropping litter or dog fouling.

National pressure group the Manifesto Club, which has been contacted by people concerned at the operation, wrote to the council saying some fines "contravene principles of justice".

Group director Josie Appleton wrote that, when employees need to issue fines in order to get paid, it would be a "perfectly understandable tendency" if workers looked for people to fine.

Ms Appleton said: "Here you have a private company on a commission basis give out fines in what appears to be an erratic and unreasonable manner."

Ms Appleton wrote that government guidelines state it is not in the public interest to fine people for minor littering offences.

She said fines for people littering supermarket car parks are questionable when the supermarket would clean up the area.

Last week Claire Bailey of Ebbw Vale, who faced court over allegedly throwing a cigarette butt onto a street, was acquitted by magistrates who said the case was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Argus previously reported that five XFOR staff work across Blaenau Gwent fining people for littering and dog fouling.

A council spokeswoman said staff are not paid a commission and that although 1,500 fixed penalty notices were issued by XFOR since October, only around 25 complaints have been made.

She said there is "no excuse" for throwing cigarette butts onto streets, and it Is not acceptable to litter whether the land is publicly or privately owned.

"Using a private company allows the council to implement this proactive approach to enforcement in a cost-efficient and effective manner," she added.

A XFOR spokeswoman said: "All our staff are paid a salary irrespective of the amount of fixed penalty notices they issue and any performance bonus is linked to a monthly overall performance review and includes punctuality, smartness and overall productivity."

Only 50% of fines paid so far

Two staff are paid an hourly rate and pass the full £75 to the council, while three others issue fines where £45 goes to XFOR and £30 to the council.

However if the fine is paid within 14 days it is reduced to £50 - with £45 going to XFOR and £5 going to the council.

XFOR's cut covers its costs, staff wages and its profit.

By late March £78,750 worth of fines had been issued but only 50 per cent - £39,375 - had been paid.