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.

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