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Dale’s Diary: Clancy still counting the days as rubbish problems laid bare

Dale’s Diary: Clancy still counting the days as rubbish problems laid bare

🕔03.Feb 2016

John Clancy has been the leader of Birmingham city council for 65 days.

We know this because every time he makes a speech he mentions how long he has been in charge of the country’s largest local authority, although actually chief executive Mark Rogers is running the show, but never mind.

Should Clancy make a speech tomorrow, and he probably will do, he is bound to fit in somewhere that he has been 66 days in the job. By the end of the year it’ll be 397 days and by December 31 2017 it’ll be the glorious 762-day anniversary and quite possibly a holiday to celebrate.

It was all rather endearing at the beginning. “I’ve been a week in the job”. But now it’s like a clever child who when asked how old he is replies “I’m seven and three-quarters, but I’ll soon be eight”.

He was at it again yesterday, telling a council meeting that he was about to meet Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who would be “the fourth Secretary of State I’ve met in the 64 days I’ve been leader….” I calculate he has another 18 Secretaries of State to tick off.

Yesterday’s meeting, the February full council, was noticeable for a slight change in tone. For the first time since he became leader all those days ago on December 1, Clancy is being challenged rather more rigorously on what he is doing to implement the very radical and extensive manifesto upon which he won the council leadership.

Some of the grand plans, creating a sovereign wealth fund from council land and property assets and the local government pension fund, were never likely to be achieved overnight. The pledge of free school meals for all children at council-run infants and junior schools is being hampered by the council’s lack of money, and a trust fund is being set up. This, again, will take time and is to be implemented “incrementally”.

Re-writing the Capita and Amey contracts for IT and highways management is at an early stage, and the lawyers are heavily involved, so do not expect anything to happen any time soon.

Cllr Clancy’s aim to make Birmingham a city where everyone in work is paid at least the Government’s Living Wage is running into difficulties. Many of the lowest paid people in Birmingham are, embarrassingly, employed by the city council, and some of these, carers for example, are not paid at the Living Wage rate.

It will cost the council about £40 million to top up the wage bill and Cllr Clancy is expected to make some financial provision towards this when the council’s final 2016-17 budget plans are unveiled next week.

Another of the manifesto promises, making Birmingham an open data council, is being implemented with some interesting results. For the first time the council is being honest about the generally poor standard of street cleaning and refuse collection and the dismal figures speak for themselves.

Street cleansing inspection data for each of Birmingham’s 40 wards has been released. The chart is a sea of red, indication below-target performance. Almost 56 per cent of wards are below target for litter, 61 per cent are below target for fly-posting and 38 per cent are below target for graffiti.

Meanwhile, bin men managed to miss 76,131 collections during 2014 and 2015.

Cllr Clancy says the state of the streets “is one of the great concerns of the citizens of Birmingham”.

It is important to start from a level of honesty about the state of street cleaning and the roads.

That’s why through publishing an actual assessment of how clean or not clean various streets of our city are the local citizens can contribute to that process.

How do we move this city council to a situation where citizens themselves can contribute to that process, where they can shape the local services of the council?

For most people in this city their roads, pavements, street lamps, parks and trees are the things they have the most interest in.

He’s announced a programme to move areas not meeting targets from ‘red’ to ‘green’.

A series of days of action will be carried out in the affected areas, with a focus on:

  • Ensuring the emptying of all litter bins
  • Looking at how trade waste is presented for collection and picked up from businesses
    Fly-tipping
  • If traders have their “duty of care” notices – the documentation that proves they have adequate waste collection arrangements in place
  • Examining and reviewing if litter patrols are appropriate
  • Resident engagement.

There is a lot riding on this for Clancy now that information about the state of the streets is being released, and as is well known information is power. Communities will be able to see for the first time whether targets are being met and, crucially, whether there is any improvement over a period of time.

To quote the council leader:

Cleaner streets come up time and time again as a top priority for citizens. This is something we cannot neglect or ignore if we are to be a council that listens and serves people in the right way.

This will be a two-way thing. As a council, we have to get right the things we do such as refuse collection and street cleaning, and I will make every effort to ensure that all councillors from all 40 wards in Birmingham step up and offer the leadership on this issue, which is really about civic responsibility and pride.

However, he is making it clear that “each and every Brummie” has an important role to play.

We can all do our bit to make Birmingham cleaner and greener and we should. I hope these targeted days of action will kickstart that sense of civic pride, and I will be closely monitoring future versions of the dashboard so we do not lose sight of our aim to improve Birmingham’s streets.

By the time the council leader reaches his, say, 250th day, the city’s streets should be sparklingly clean and all of the bins will be collected on time. That’s the plan, anyway.

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