Thursday, June 27, 2013

Minister, get the branch out of thine own eye

Birmingham's Tories, ever eager to stir up trouble over the bins, have enlisted the support of Brandon Lewis, a former colleague of Commissar Pickles at Brentwood Council and who has now followed him to Westminster by getting the good people of Great Yarmouth to elect him as an MP. When he isn't doing his master's bidding and beating up local government, he's also in charge of an eclectic mix of fire services and local pubs. 

After prodding by a couple of Tories, Brandon fulminated on demand
"it is most disappointing to see the council introduce this annual charge for collection of garden waste. It is a ‘tax grab’ and increases the risks of fly-tipping in neighbourhoods. Birmingham residents already pay their council tax and should not have to pay extra for this service"
If, for one moment, we set aside the scorching cuts that Brandon's government has so far inflicted on Birmingham - and the cuts yet to come - then we should perhaps look at how things work in his part of the world.

Over in Great Yarmouth, the then Tory council (removed from office in 2012) introduced a garden waste collection scheme (in a wheeled bin) for which they charged a whopping £48.50 back in 2010 - that's 38% more than Birmingham will charge from next year. In Brentwood, the council that Brandon used to run before he crossed to the Dark Side, you can pay up to £46 for your garden waste bin every year - a mere 31% more than Birmingham.

I look forward to Brandon laying into those local authorities for grabbing tax from their residents.

Or providing a paid for service that is not required by law, depending on how you look at it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Do you hear the people's bins?

According to yesterday's Birmingham Mail, Cllr Deirdre Alden is shocked that the council have spent £29,000 on communicating with residents about the trial roll out of the wheelie bins in Brandwood and Harborne. I'm not sure if she expected us to just drop the bins off and not tell anybody, but I'm sure she would have had something to say about that if we had.

Given that this is the biggest change in decades to how Birmingham collects rubbish from residents and that there has been some appalling scaremongering from both the opposition parties - leaping aboard the bin wagon as they scent a few votes in 2014's local elections - communication with residents is vital. Last year, the scrutiny committee that monitors waste visited Manchester to see how their system works and one thing was absolutely clear - to make a proper waste management programme work, you need to educate the residents and that means communication for it to pay the dividends that it offers. If we want the changes to Birmingham's bins to be transformative, we have to communicate to people.

Each of those wards contains around 10-11,000 properties, most of which would have required information and one of the green or red cards to advise them whether they were selected for bins or bags. The costs of that are included in that top line £29,000 figure - as are the costs of the external supplier involved in supporting the council. That is, by the way, a tiny part of the £29 million winning bid.

A couple of years back, the last administration launched changes to the bin rounds to make them more efficient and kicked off with letters to 20,000 properties in Yardley, plus a telephone hotline and website. This will take a bit more work, thanks to the aforementioned scaremongering and also because the change is that much bigger. My favourite portent of doom is the threat that residents will have to pay £93 a month to have their bins cleaned. Needless to say, that's garbage.

Nobody doubts that this is a big change for the city, nor that some people will be worried about it. There are bound to be teething problems along the way - some will be ironed out during the trial rollouts, but different issues will arise in other wards and we'll fix them. At the end of it, though, we will have a transformed bin collection operation and things will settle down. Just as they have everywhere else.

Perhaps the most interesting story was the one last week, which revealed that wheelie bins have a 14 point approval rating already (50% approve, 36% disapprove), backed up by Birmingham Mail online polls that show 64-70% support. The quiet majority are turning up the volume.