Birmingham bins boss blames recycling chaos on ‘the wrong kind of wagons’
Birmingham council bought a fleet of wagons to pick up household recycling only to discover the vehicles were too wide to get down many of the city’s narrower streets.
The ‘wrong type of wagons’ blunder was revealed by Cllr Lisa Trickett, the cabinet member responsible for refuse collection.
She was speaking following a backlash from householders over the Christmas period furious at late and missed bin collections and the failure to pick up recycling.
In one incident in Kings Norton police were called after binmen had a bottle thrown at them by an angry resident, and in the same area it’s claimed a motorist drove a car at a dustcart when they could not get through.
Cllr Trickett fielded questions during a live webcast on the council’s 2016-17 budget and apologised for the failure of the refuse collection service.
She described the service as “appalling” at the December full council meeting, and said there was “no fairy godmother” around the corner.
During the webcast Cllr Trickett said:
The collection of waste and recycling was not satisfactory. Waste recycling over Christmas was not good enough for a multiplicity of reasons and we are committed to improve.
We are committed to ensure there is no repeat of this performance in future.
She appeared to lay the blame on the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition which was in charge of the city council from 2004 until 2012, when Labour took over.
It was clearly a failing service when we came into power three years ago. There was no performance management, a lack of transparency, no technology, little investment and little understanding of what the business was about.
She did not say, though, whether the over-sized recycling wagons had been ordered and paid for before or after June 2012 when Labour came into power.
Cllr Trickett suggested the error was the fault of council officials rather than the cabinet member.
And she added that it had only been since July last year that she felt confident the council had senior management fully committed to recycling. She said:
The recycling wagon is actually too wide to get down a number of our narrow streets. When we buy equipment we can only be as good as the business advice we got and unfortunately the narrowness of our streets and sheltered schemes was not taken into account.
Matters have not been helped by the complexity of replacing the black bag refuse service with wheelie bins, which have been rolled out across Birmingham over the past two years.
Cllr Trickett believes investment in new technology, in particular microchips to record whether bins have been emptied, will enable the council to deliver a far more efficient service and get more quickly to the parts of Birmingham most in need.
Recycling in some areas is higher than expected and we haven’t got the wagons in the areas where recycling is highest. That’s not sensible, we are looking at that.
There are really strong productivity issues. We are putting technology in vehicles to reduce idling time and make sure we are more effective.
The council expects to save about £21 million by 2019-20 through a major shake up of waste collection and recycling which may involve privatising the service. Cllr Trickett said she could give no guarantee household refuse collection would continue to be on a weekly basis, or move to fortnightly. Nothing had been ruled in or out, she added.
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