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Council staff urged to do their bit in wheelie bin battle

Council staff urged to do their bit in wheelie bin battle

🕔20.May 2013

 

posterA brief period of silence may have given the impression that opposing sides in the War of the Wheelie Bins have fought each other to stalemate.

But a wierd new digital front has opened up which threatens to take the conflict to a higher level of tedium.

Birmingham’s Local Services Directorate has contacted every city council member of staff with an email address in Brandwood, one of two pilot areas for wheeled bins, asking them to act as its eyes and ears when the new system goes live next month.

An email urges employees to get behind the project and report back on how the change from plastic refuse sacks to bins is being greeted at the sharp end by householders.

This, according to Liberal Democrat group leader Paul Tilsley, is a flagrant breach of Data Protection law and he is to file an official complaint to council chief executive Stephen Hughes.

The council is equally adamant that no rules have been broken and that it is merely doing what any large organisation would do in the circumstances by asking staff to do their bit as good neighbours to ensure that the £29 million wheelie bin adventure is a success when it is eventually rolled out across Birmingham.

However a council spokeswoman confirmed that Coun Tilsley’s complaint was being “looked into”.

The Lib Dems, who have been outspoken in their opposition to the imposition of wheelie bins, are claiming that the council has “misused” personnel records to discover who it employs in Brandwood and is effectively putting staff under pressure to back a political decision.

There are even rumblings of Big Brother tactics.

The first paragraph of the email reads: “The council’s HR records show that you are an employee of the city council who lives in Brandwood ward.”

It continues: “Could I please ask for your support during the implementation of the new services over the next few weeks?”

The message urges employees to talk to friends and neighbours and give feedback to the council on the rollout of wheelie bins.

Coun Tilsley said he was “appalled” and added that the local authority “could be in big trouble” over “misuse of personnel data and data protection laws”.

He said: “This is more than bizarre, it’s actually quite sinister. It’s saying ‘we know where you live’ and we have taken the trouble to identify people.

“HR records are supposed to be confidential. They are using them for a quasi-political campaign.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We have emailed council staff living in Brandwood using their work email addresses, to ask them to support the roll out of wheelie bins in their wards by supplying them with key information on the scheme.

“This will enable them to field any queries that may arise from their neighbours when the bins are delivered and collections begin.

“We are aware of issues raised by some councillors in relation to the email and are currently looking into them.”

The email fracas is the latest example of claim and counter claim flying backwards and forwards between the council’s controlling Labour group, which is implementing the wheelie bin scheme, and Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors who insist many houses in Birmingham are unsuitable for the new bins and that the switchover will be fraught with difficulties.

Labour has hit back, through cabinet member James McKay, insisting that properties deemed unsuitable for wheeled bins will be able to continue with sacks and that there will be help on hand for anyone who is too infirm to handle a wheeled bin.

Those who are mystified as to why this subject is so important to the politicians might care to ponder a new survey conducted by YouGov into public perception of local government.

The poll asked people to name the single most important thing provided by their council. And it’s no surprise that waste and recycling services was number one, above even schools and housing.

The national survey questioned 2,000 people and was weighted to reflect political opinion. Thirty per cent questioned were Labour supporters, 20 per cent Conservative, seven per cent Lib  Dem, 12 per cent Ukip and the rest don’t knows or wouldn’t say.

Respondents were given a list of council services and asked to tick the most important.

Just over half of Lib Dem supporters named waste and recycling as the most important town hall service, while libraries, museums and art galleries attracted only 10 per cent support.

The figures for Conservative voters were broadly similar, with waste and recycling easily beating housing, schools, roads maintenance and social services in importance. Cultural and leisure services also gained little support from Tory voters.

Labour supporters ranked waste and recycling number one, although not by such a high margin with 46 per cent giving their approval. Labour voters joined Tories and Lib Dems in relegating libraries, museums, art galleries and leisure centres to bottom position.

 

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