Monday, December 10, 2007

A Wheelie Good Idea

Curiously, I find myself on common ground with Martin Mullaney - something that always makes me nervous. He and I are both supporters of bringing wheelie-bins to the homes of Birmingham. I find it hard to believe that when many other local authorities have worked out that the wheeled bin is easier to handle and provides better protection for the rubbish contained within than any sort of black plastic bag. The piles of black rubbish bags dumped on our streets every day provide a fine food source for the ever-increasing population of rats in our City - indeed, some of the binmen have complained that they have been attacked by rats as they do their rounds.

Obviously, the wheelie bin may not be suitable for every home or street - but Martin explained on the Stirrer that it doesn't have to be a blanket solution. Other cities cope well with mixed collections - even on the same round, either by using vehicles designed to cope with bins and bags (the lip on the back of the truck is at a different height) or by having a bin on the vehicle that is filled with bags and emptied into the compactor when full.

The Transportation & Street Services Scrutiny Committee Report into Containers for Waste (a MAN Booker contender if ever I saw one) shows how far ahead other cities are.

Bristol collects paper, card, glass, plastic, tins and cans in weekly boxes, green waste in wheeled bins weekly, plus a weekly collection of clothes, batteries and aerosol cans. A real focus on doorstep recycling has meant that in 2006/7, they recycled a third of all the municipal waste in Bristol, while Birmingham only managed 18.3%, the lowest in the West Midlands and 377th out of 393 local authorities in this year's DEFRA statistics (no trumpeting of THAT performance indicator by John Hemming on the Politics Show this week, I notice). Only 12% of households in this city get more than two recyclable collections, compared to 95% in Bristol, 83% in Manchester and 94% in Newcastle. Incidentally, while we do incinerate a lot of our waste - which goes to produce power through the Tyseley site - 13 of the 15 authorities that incinerate a greater percentage than Birmingham does also manage to recycle more.

And the people aren't happy - the council's own survey shows that people are increasingly unhappy with waste collection under the Tory/Liberal Democrat Regressive Partnership, as satisfaction with the service has declined by twice the national average in recent years.

And yet Len Gregory, the Tory Cabinet member for street services, still has this mental block that prevents him from even considering the possibility of wheelie bins. Even though the Scrutiny Report demonstrates that after two years or so, cost savings would come in that would make wheelie bins a cheaper option, he won't have it. The matter came to council last week, with a plan to run pilot schemes in the City and the Labour benches were ready to vote as one, alongside enough Lib Dems to embarrass the coalition.

Even facing their first defeat as a coalition, Len wouldn't back down. While he knew that he couldn't stop the renegade Liberal Democrats voting with Mullaney and the Labour Party to force through a trial scheme, he realise that they weight of the coalition could throw a wrecking clause into it by insisting that there has to be evidence that the public would support a trial scheme. And you can bet that the Tories won't find any support for it.

Steve Bedser, the Labour councillor praised for his involvement in the scrutiny committee and a supporter of wheeled bins, added that
This is the last of the evidence we will hear of the work done by that scrutiny committee
and I think he's right. For all the evidence and hard work, I doubt that anything will come of it. Yet again, the right-thinking Lib Dems on Birmingham City Council - the ones who don't spend their time obeying their Tory masters like lapdogs - will find that they get nothing out of this partnership at all.

Of course, the greatest irony for those Liberal Democrats is that their very own Dear Ex-Leader, John Hemming, is the cause of all these problems (as ever). We've wasted almost four years in the run up to what might be a trial, when we could have had the answers, but John scrapped a Labour-designed pilot scheme within hours of taking possession of the Deputy Leader's swivel chair in 2004. With a flourish, he announced that Birmingham would not be getting wheelie-bins - something that doubtless cheered old Len up no end.

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