Dale’s Diary: Clancy gets tetchy and the Department for Rubbish Statistics
John Clancy gave every sign of not really wishing to be at a Birmingham cabinet meeting this morning.
This is hardly surprising since none of the current members were appointed by the new council leader and – closely guarded secret this – most will lose their jobs in the May reshuffle.
You had to feel for Clancy, who likes to get out and about pressing flesh and telling people that every place, child and citizen matters, cooped up in a pointless meeting for two and a half hours.
Some of us, though, have had 16 years’ of Birmingham cabinets, so Clancy needs to man up.
He had a point about the king-size agenda which ran to well over 700 pages and more than 50 separate items, which was possibly a record in modern times. Cabinet members were asked by Clancy to be brief and to be quick, but the meeting dragged on.
The size of agendas is one of the unintended consequences of new technology. A few years ago, when all reports were on paper, council officers wouldn’t have dared produce 700-page agendas. Now, it’s easy electronically to throw in every conceivable background report, analysis and table.
The council is a non-paper authority, allegedly. Chamberlain Files is saddened but has no alternative other than to name and shame the technophobe councillors who insist on printing vast tracts of the cabinet agenda and bringing old-fashioned binders to the meeting – Stewart Stacey, Tahir Ali and Paulette Hamilton have forsaken their (free) iPads provided by the council for paper.
Cllr Clancy’s tetchy mood was not improved by the very large number of ‘late’ reports presented to the cabinet way after the deadline in the Local Government Act. Some 40 per cent of reports arrived from cabinet members at the last minute, according to Clancy.
At the end of one such report, a box left vacant for the reasons for lateness to be added read, simply: “Reasons to be inserted.” Clancy, now really rather cross, trumpeted that this would not happen in future and if it did the report would be cast into a bin (of the recycling variety, obviously).
The latest round-up of the council’s performance indicators and improvement targets made for the usual miserable reading. Staff sickness was up, again, and there has been some dubious tinkering at the edges of the ‘Birmingham Promise’ on minimum standards that the public can expect.
Naturally, most of the political point scoring was on the subject of rubbish. Cllr Clancy, as is well known, is very keen on rubbish, or at least the prompt collection of it.
It fell to Tory opposition leader Robert Alden to point out that a pledge contained in the Birmingham Promise to collect missed rubbish collections within three days has been replaced by “to collect by the end of the week”, which as Alden reminded the meeting meant that rubbish could be out on the streets for FIVE WHOLE DAYS if a Monday collection was missed.
Even worse, miscreants could place noxious substances in bins left on the street which would mean bin crews would not collect the rubbish at all, which would be most unfair on the law-abiding citizens who put their bins out in good faith.
Cllr Alden senior, John Alden, attending the cabinet meeting as chair of the Edgbaston district committee, had a timely rubbish anecdote about houses in a road where bin collections were missed for months “because nobody knew the houses were there”. Good grief, only in Birmingham could this happen. How can even the council not know houses aren’t there? They are big enough to be spotted, surely.
There was more, much more. The bottom has fallen out of wood recycling, sadly. While wishing to encourage recycling across the board (sorry) the council did not predict a huge increase in recycling costs imposed by firms responsible for taking the wood away, and therefore wood is being cast into the Tyseley incinerator and burnt into the atmosphere, which isn’t very green.
Recycling rates are not what they should be and remain stubbornly way below target.
Liberal Democrat leader Jon Hunt, proud possessor of an economics degree from Cambridge University, exposed the council’s Department for Rubbish Statistics for bigging-up a sharp increase in the amount of paper and cardboard being recycled. As a triumphant Hunt explained, paper and cardboard accounts for only seven per cent of total household waste collected for recycling, so even a 10 per cent increase in paper and cardboard would amount to a tiny percentage increase in the overall scheme of things.
The final word, though, must go to Jacqui Kennedy, the acting strategic director for place, who showed just why she is still at the council after starting as a school leaver and has successfully climbed the greasy pole to the giddy heights of the corporate management team.
Responding to criticism about missing recycling targets, Kennedy said the problem was there had been an “over-participation” in recycling, which presumably means far more people want to recycle than refuse crews can cope with.
Kennedy added that this over-participation was actually a good thing “because we want to encourage recycling”. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
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