SWINDON council has admitted spending £30k on secretly rooting through people’s rubbish, but has denied it is snooping on individuals.

The council spent the money employing a private contractor to sift through household waste from about 1,000 houses in the town last year.

It has denied claims made in the Daily Mail yesterday that it is snooping through dustbins to find out about families’ race and wealth. A spokesman said it was simply carrying out a ‘waste composition study’ as part of its research into a waste-to-energy plant it is planning to build.

But critics and taxpayers’ groups have condemned the council for a Big Brother-style invasion of privacy.

The leader of the council’s Labour group called the exercise ‘inappropriate’.

Coun Derique Montaut said: “Labour are fundamentally opposed to the Tories decision to snoop in people’s bins.

“We take this stance for two reasons. Firstly, in times of depleted resources, it is inappropriate for the council to spend £30k on snooping in people’s bins.

“Secondly we think it is inappropriate for the council to snoop in families’ bins without asking them first.

“This seems to be just common sense that the Conservative administration don’t appear to understand.”

Only last year, the council’s former deputy leader, Coun Fionuala Foley (Con), said she had refused to allow a similar exercise to be carried out in her ward.

She told the Western Daily Press in July 2009 that the benefits of the surveys were outweighed by the infringement of civil liberties.

“I felt that picking any street in Swindon to examine their rubbish without their knowledge was not right,” she said. “It was discussed, but I thought it was too much of an invasion into people’s privacy.

“I wouldn’t like that and I don’t think many people would.

“That won’t be happening on my watch.”

But specialist private contractor Entec was still commissioned a month later to carry out the survey in August 2009 and the winter of 2009/10.

Its report also clearly stated that it used social profiling techniques and information from the census to match different types of rubbish to different ethnic groups or wealthy and poor households.

Households were placed into social categories such as ‘wealthy achievers’ or ‘hard-pressed’ based on their postcode.

A spokesman for Swindon Borough Council said: “The suggestion in the Daily Mail that Swindon Borough Council has been searching through wheelie bins put out by individual households is completely untrue.

“In fact, a contractor employed by the council has been analysing waste from entire bin lorry loads made up, on average, of eight tonnes of waste from up to 1,000 houses.

“This makes it impossible to see what is being thrown away by any individual, or at any address.

“The council has been examining general wheelie bin waste as part of its research into a waste to energy plant, which will be built at Swindon Commercial Services’ Cheney Manor site to generate electricity and produce fuel pellets for sale to other energy companies.

“We will be the first local authority in the country to operate this type of plant and is important that we understand exactly what will be in the waste that will be fed into it.

“The new £8.3million thermal treatment system has the potential to provide the council with millions of pounds worth of income, so at a time when there is increasing pressure on local authority finances, this is a sensible investment.

“It’s a pity that a national newspaper has suggested that perfectly reasonable research, carried out as part of the programme, has been done in a different way and for completely different reasons than the reality.”