End City Wide Bin Strikes

Lib Dems’ radical plan to end city-wide bin strikes and improve refuse collection service

A Liberal Democrats run council would break up Birmingham’s giant waste collection services. Their plan is to end the repeated threat of city-wide bin strikes in the city.

The proposals, known as “sector tendering,” would see three contracts signed for waste collection and street cleaning services for  three different regions of the city. They would be let for periods of up to eight years. The aim would be to ensure that three different companies, or providers of services, operated in the city.

The proposals come as the Council is expected to announce a delay in its latest reorganisation of waste collection services, due to be introduced next month. The changes, agreed by the Council in its settlement with Unite last year, will lead to wholesale changes to bin collection days – and we understand are likely to be delayed until after the elections.

Last week Labour councillors declined to take the opportunity of passing a motion of confidence in their own administration’s management of services.

“The aim is that the city is no longer held hostage either by over-powerful private companies or by powerful trade unions,” said council group leader Cllr Jon Hunt (Perry Barr).
“There are deep-rooted problems with the city’s waste collection services and efforts to solve them in-house have utterly failed in recent years.  There are many, many advantages to this plan, which will enable residents to have a real choice over the future of the Council in May.

“Last summer the city made a laughing stock of itself as it entered a bin strike which left rubbish on the street for weeks and the city’s leadership at sixes and sevens over what to do.  Meanwhile for two years in a row the waste services have overspent by a huge £12 million a year. This must not happen again. We are putting forward a positive alternative that could see stable and well-run services introduced in the city.”

Each contract would be similar in size to contracts let by other urban authorities, such as neighbouring Sandwell, so no company would be expected to provide all the services for Europe’s largest local authority. This will enable more companies to bid for the work.

Here is how the plan would work and how it would deliver advantages:

  • The contracts would be based on the city’s three main existing depots: Holford Drive, Lifford Lane, Redfern Road. The Montague Street depot, which handles city centre services would be bundled into one of the other contracts.
  • Contracts would be let for up to eight years. We have been advised this is the lifetime of a collection fleet, allowing contractors to purchase or lease new fleet. This is short enough to keep contractors “on their toes” and focused on providing a high quality service – so they can win future contracts.
  • This would not be the first arrangement of its kind in the city. Housing repairs are managed by three different companies and contracts are let every five years.
  • Under Liberal Democrat plans, the new council wards would be grouped in area committees (which would also oversee ward community chest budgets). The contractors would meet regularly with these area committees to discuss improvements to services – in the same way as housing repair contractors regularly meet ward-based Housing Liaison Boards. We would also expect good liaison with local “clean and green” groups, as is found in Moseley ward or in the Handsworth Helping Hands organisation.
  • Contractors would be required to comply with the city’s business charter for social responsibility. That would see apprenticeships and opportunities for young people introduced into the fleet and waste service.
  • Companies would bring expert management into the city. For some time city services have been running on “shallow management” with very little in-house expertise.
  • Companies would be able to bid to run the enhanced services that a Liberal Democrat administration would want to introduce. This includes free garden waste collection services and potentially piloting food waste collection services.
  • We’d relax the current draconian rules on collections so that contractors knew their primary duty is to keep the streets clean.
  • Last summer in the latter stages of the bin strikes, residents had high praise for the outside companies that came in to clean up the streets – and stopped making excuses for not picking up rubbish.
  • Under trade union legislation the contractors would set their terms and conditions of service in negotiations with unions. That would reduce to a minimum the risk of a city-wide dispute affecting all three contractors or against an employment policy set by the city council.
  • There would also be a reduction in the risks of equal pay claims against the Council.
  • As we want to expand recycling services and reinstate street cleaning budgets, there would be significant extra jobs created as part of the process.

Group deputy leader Cllr Roger Harmer (Acocks Green) said: “Even Labour councillors appear to have lost confidence in their ability to manage the services. We offered them a chance to give a vote of confidence in their leadership last week – and rather than do this, they chose to blame their problems on the last administration that left office 6 years ago.. Running good services is a crucial task for the council and it is failing appallingly.”

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