Farron launches Birmingham Liberal Democrats election fightback
Liberal Democrats began a fightback in Birmingham today with party leader Tim Farron on hand to launch a manifesto for the May city council elections.
And to the surprise of absolutely no-one, the Lib Dem proposals largely revolve around improving refuse collection, upping recycling rates, fighting fly-tipping and cleaning the streets.
Accusing the Labour controlled council of overseeing a botched plan to roll out wheelie bins across the city the Lib Dems are promising to:
- Restore free garden waste collections, including fruit and vegetable residuals
- Restore one free household bulk waste collection a year
- Purchase mobile CCTV cameras “that can rapidly be deployed to fly-tipping sites whether they are on street corners or industrial wasteland”
In addition, the party would introduce a rewards scheme for high recyclers, using the microchip technology embedded in wheelie bins, by 2018, and introduce separate food waste collections by 2019.
The manifesto is set around three themes – tackling fly-tipping and antisocial behaviour, improving recycling and building neighbourhoods.
Liberal Democrats approach the election with dwindling numbers in the council chamber – just 11 out of the 120 city councillors. But the party has a new group leader, Perry Barr councillor Jon Hunt, who has produced the most comprehensive Lib Dem manifesto since the party shared power in Birmingham with the Conservatives between 2004 and 2012.
Mathematically, the Liberal Democrats cannot win power in May because only a third of the council seats are up for grabs. But in 2018, when the council moves to all-out elections with 101 members, the Lib Dems could, in theory at least, take control.
The state of waste collection services, described as “appalling” even by Labour cabinet member Lisa Trickett, has been a running sore in the council chamber.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto states:
Labour made the misconceived claim that replacing recycling receptacles with wheelie bins would deliver a significant boost. While these are indeed more convenient for many people, they have not added any new kinds of recycling and the boost has not happened.
And indeed the council has reduced recycling by withdrawing the free garden waste collection. Even on a paid basis – with just 56,000 households subscribed – garden waste represents ten per cent of the city’s waste compared with seven per cent for paper, which is a free collection.
The manifesto promises to place local libraries at the centre of communities when the council is reorganised in 2018, “to help prevent threatened closures and give libraries a new role”.
The Liberal Democrats have accused Labour of harbouring secret plans for community library closures. Cllr Hunt wants to keep the libraries open and turn the buildings into hubs for local services.
Meeting party workers in the Yardley area, Mr Farron said:
I’m proud that the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham are taking the lead in challenging the city’s poor recycling rates and worsening environment.
Our councillors work in communities helping to make them strong and I hope that Birmingham will elect more of them.
Cllr Hunt said:
We know the council is facing tough times but it has simply failed to make the local environment a priority. Clean streets and proper disposal of rubbish are what people expect in their neighbourhoods.
The council has been told by external inspectors – in the Kerslake report – to pay more attention to its communities but there is no clear plan to do this. Even worse, if it persists with the current programme, it will rip the heart out of many communities. We are offering an alternative plan.
The manifesto also promises to employ more planning enforcement officers, halt the withdrawal of the dog cruelty investigation service, stop a £1.5 million cut to street cleaning, reverse the closure of play areas and superloos and stop cuts to the youth service.
Cllr Hunt insisted his proposals could be paid for from a £90 million contingency fund set aside by the council. The fund was “excessive” and more than required for unexpected emergencies.
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