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Bins debate hits new depths of rubbish: Lib Dems slam ‘vanity project’ and claim figures in public report are ‘secret’

Bins debate hits new depths of rubbish: Lib Dems slam ‘vanity project’ and claim figures in public report are ‘secret’

🕔09.Sep 2013

Just when you thought the Birmingham wheelie bin ‘debate’ couldn’t get any more ridiculous, it has.

The £62.5 million project to replace the city’s smelly plastic refuse sacks with something rather more environmentally acceptable, and to make recycling easier, has been condemned as a “vanity project” by, of all people, Liberal Democrat city councillors.

Yes, that’s right. A decision to clean up Birmingham’s refuse collection and persuade people to recycle more of their rubbish is, apparently, an expensive vanity project being forced through against massive public opposition by Labour council leader Sir Albert Bore.

The Lib Dems were quick off the mark with an attack on the bins to coincide with publication of a cabinet report recommending approval for rolling out wheeled bins across the city.

Under the heading ‘city faces new crisis as wheelie bin costs more than double’ a press release accuses Labour of secretly doubling the estimated cost of the project from £27 million to £62 million, and this at a time when public services are fighting for every penny.

The press release trumpeted: “Senior opposition councillors are set to hold top-level talks as Labour prepares to double spending on its controversial wheelie bin project.

“The massive increase in costs was buried in an exercise dubbed as ‘cynical spin’.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Paul Tilsley added: “This increasingly looks like a dangerous vanity project for council leader Sir Albert Bore.”

Before the Lib Dems hold too many top-level talks, however, they may want to reflect on their claim that the cost of the wheelie bins scheme has suddenly doubled. This is simply not true, as can easily be shown from a trawl through public documents.

A cabinet report on December 10 last year made it clear that the cost of implementing the wheelie bin system would be an estimated £63.6 million. The figure, as the document explains, is reached by adding the current cost of the black bag collection system, £33.8 million, and a grant of £29 million from the Government toward the cost of the wheelie bins.

And in case the Lib Dems require any more of a clue, the 2013 council business plan and budget contains a table on capital expenditure setting out costs for Fleet and Waste Management totalling £58 million over this year and next year. This is the bill for buying the bins, 148 new refuse vehicles and improving depots.

The budget also shows a £23 million estimate for borrowing in 2013-14 for Fleet and Waste Management in order to pay for the wheelie bins.

The difference between the total cost of £62.5 million and the £29 million grant will be financed through the council’s corporate reserves and additional borrowing. This will push up debt repayments by £2.5 million a year.

But it is anticipated that this will be offset through savings of £1.1 million a year from additional recycling by 2017.

Cllr James McKay (Lab Harborne), the cabinet member responsible for refuse collection, said he was bemused by the Liberal Democrat claims. “From the outset we have always been clear that the city’s much needed modernisation of the refuse service would be funded through a mixture of council money and a grant from Government.

“The figures have been in cabinet and council reports over the past year, so I am confused as to why this is something new to opposition councillors.”

Wheelie bins will be in use across Birmingham by the end of 2015 following two successful pilot projects in Harborne and Brandwood, if as expected the cabinet approves the full business case at its next meeting.

It is unclear whether Conservative councillors will continue with their campaign against the bins. Tory leaders are yet to comment on the cabinet report.

But no one should expect the Lib Dems to back down. Cllr Tilsley and his colleagues are making it clear that they regard a consultation exercise showing widespread support for wheelie bins, with a 91 per cent approval rate in Harborne and Brandwood, to be “cynical spin”.

Cllr Tilsley said: “Contrary to what they say, there is little public enthusiasm for it and the improvements could be achieved at much lower cost.

“How can he (Cllr Bore) tell the people of the city there is no money to spare – and yet find millions for this unpopular project? Labour have learnt little from their time in government, just like someone still living on a credit card when they are spent out.”

Lib Dem councillors will attempt to expose what they claim are ‘dodgy’ statistics contained in the council’s public consultation survey on wheelie bins. Claims of misrepresentation  include:

– 5,082 responses were completed on-line and just 713 came in the post. Out of the on-line responses, 364 came from council computers.

– A second survey of the two pilot wards of Brandwood and Harborne appears to show overwhelming support for wheelie bins even before they were introduced. Just 15 per cent of 417 respondents said they were opposed at this point. After wheelie bins were put in, the same people were interviewed by phone and just 13 per cent declared opposition. However at this point 133 respondents ‘disappeared’ and only 284 were interviewed.

 Cover Image: Waste Awareness.

 

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