Dale’s Diary: Trickett recycled and Zaffar bowled a googlie
Lisa Trickett, the Birmingham cabinet member for bins, recycling and street cleaning, rose in the council chamber for the umpteenth time to answer a question and risked a weak joke: “Gosh, I seem to be popular this afternoon.”
Noooo, screamed the Tory and Liberal Democrat benches in unison.
You may be the centre of attention, but you most certainly aren’t popular.
The reason people have a bit of a downer on Trickett is because she oversees an appalling service.
And that’s a direct quote from the woman herself.
At the December full council meeting, Trickett fielded a question about bins by declaring the service was “appalling” and no one should expect a fairy godmother to wave a magic wand and make everything all right.
If the cabinet member thinks the service is appalling, what on earth do the citizens of Birmingham think about it? Not a lot judging by councillors’ postbags which are crammed with complaints about missed bin collections, missed recycling collections and incidents of flytipping.
Council meeting after council meeting is dominated by angry questions about rubbish. If repetitive questions about bins counted towards recycling targets, Trickett would be in a class of her own.
Yesterday, she had another nugget of information: published statistics recording incidents of flytipping were misleading because the council had mistaken huge piles of rubbish lying around on street corners as flytipping when they were in fact “legitimate” rubbish put out for collection, but obviously not yet collected.
As Cllr Trickett put it, presumably no pun intended, “the flytipping statistics are not clean”.
The problems attached to Birmingham’s fleet and waste management service are so great that thousands of words would be needed to do justice to the mess.
The council seems to have no real idea whether bins have been collected or not. There are numerous examples of failure to collect on the given date, with one councillor claiming constituents had not once in the seven months since wheelie bins were introduced had their rubbish picked up on the day the council said it would be picked up.
These difficulties have been enhanced by the importance now attached to recycling and green waste collection, with the council under pressure to meet targets.
As Cllr Trickett admitted, attempts to solve these problems in the past boiled down to throwing pots of additional money at bin crews in overtime payments. What she did not say, but is self-evident, is the crews clearly have a vested interest in earning overtime. If overtime is guaranteed because bins are not collected on time and additional runs to pick up uncollected rubbish have to be undertaken then it should come as no real surprise that so many additional runs are required.
Budget proposals for the next four years being consulted on at the moment propose saving £20.7 million by “reconfiguring” waste collection services, reviewing management arrangements, possibly privatising the service, and introducing new technology to better track and monitor how bins are collected efficiently. Good luck to Cllr Trickett on negotiating that one with the shop stewards.
Cllr Trickett continues to heap blame on the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition which ran the council from 2004 to 2012, claiming that many of today’s bin problems were inherited by Labour. She is on dangerous ground here. While it is true that former Tory leader Mike Whitby certainly “threw money” at bin crews, effectively avoiding the distressing sight of rubbish-strewn streets by buying off industrial action, it was Labour under Sir Albert Bore that introduced wheelie bins and even the kindest critic could hardly refrain from noting there are plenty of teething problems attached to the new system.
And on the matter of the ‘wrong kind of wagons’, Cllr Trickett has failed to mention that the vehicles too wide to navigate narrow streets were bought under Labour’s watch since 2012.
If I were council leader John Clancy, who wants to promote cross-party working, I would ban cabinet members from blaming the coalition for Birmingham’s woes.
Waseem Zaffar, the Labour councillor for Lozells and East Handsworth and chair of the corporate resources scrutiny committee, is as everyone knows council leader John Clancy’s BFF (best friend for ever, for those of you not down with the youth).
So it came as no great surprise when Zaffar stood up at the council meeting to lob the softest possible delivery at his pal – what importance does he attach to cross-party working and the importance of scrutiny committees?
Clancy replied, at length, as usual, and made it clear he did indeed envisage in the brave post-Kerslake world the political parties “stepping up” and working harmoniously together for the good of Birmingham, and he welcomed scrutiny as a “critical friend”.
My goodness me, how many times have we heard this in the past? Clancy, who kept a straight face, may even believe it.
Zaffar, a keen cricketer, will have a chance to prove himself after being bowled a googlie by Sutton Coldfield Tory councillor Ken Wood. Will he, Wood wanted to know, promise to undertake an urgent scrutiny inquiry into the ‘wrong kind of wagons’ debacle and find out why the council managed to buy a fleet of vehicles to pick up recycling that turned out to be too wide to get down Birmingham’s narrower streets.
A straight bat was called for, and Zaffar did not disappoint. He will discuss Wood’s demand with members of his scrutiny committee. And with BFF John, no doubt.
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