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MPs’ go head to head with Bore over ‘non-credible’ green waste charge

MPs’ go head to head with Bore over ‘non-credible’ green waste charge

🕔26.Nov 2014

Birmingham’s eight Labour MPs are involved in an extraordinary bust-up with city council leader Sir Albert Bore over a controversial green waste collection charge.

They want the £35 annual ‘garden tax’ fee imposed on householders scrapped and have warned the charge’s unpopularity will backfire and could even cost Labour votes at next year’s General Election and the annual council elections.

Led by Northfield MP Richard Burden, they are alarmed at the strength of opposition to the charge and the likelihood of piles of fly-tipped garden waste in the streets in the peak growing season of March, April and May as polling day approaches.

The MPs have had several meetings with Sir Albert in recent weeks, urging him to scrap the charge and re-think waste collection policy. They have failed so far to draw concessions from the council leader who is determined not to back down.

The issue exploded last Saturday at the Labour group budget-setting meeting when a clearly angry Sir Albert demanded a vote of confidence over his support for the green waste charge.

A vote was taken close to the end of a five-hour group meeting, resulting in overwhelming backing for Sir Albert, and a snub for the MPs.

One person who was present described an “unholy row with tempers frayed”.

The eye witness added: “By this time a lot of people had gone home at the end of a long day. Albert really lost his temper, and even swore at one point, claiming that the 2015-16 council budget would be wrecked if the MPs got their way.”

Cabinet member Lisa Trickett, who is responsible for overseeing waste collection, warned councillors that scrapping the £35 annual charge would cost between £5 and £10 million a year and that the money would have to be found by cutting other services.

Chamberlain Files understands that one proposal put forward at the meeting was for a £35 green waste ‘tick box’ to be included on the council tax bills sent to all Birmingham householders. It was claimed this would make it easier for people to opt in to the collection service.

Only a minority of residents have volunteered to pay the charge which was introduced at the beginning of the year and replaced a free-for-all grass cuttings and garden refuse collection service.

While the £35 fee is regarded by the council as a relatively low figure, Labour councillors were unprepared for the huge level of customer resistance to the withdrawal of a free service.

Plastic bags full of rotting garden rubbish have become a common sight on the streets of Birmingham and often remain for days or even weeks before council workmen pick them up.

Householders opting to take garden waste to municipal tips face long queues at peak times.

A garden tax rebellion orchestrated by Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors was thought to be partly responsible for Labour’s below-par showing at this year’s council elections. The party did not perform as well in Birmingham as in other West Midlands cities.

Mr Burden told Chamberlain Files the green waste issue would not dominate the general election, which would be fought more on national topics, and that Conservatives would not get away with “really shallow attacks” on waste collection.

However, he accepted that ‘clean streets’ regularly tops the list of public concerns in Birmingham and that the council “absolutely must address” the garden waste issue.

Mr Burden added that while other councils had managed to introduce charges successfully, including Tory-led Bromsgrove, the reality was that in Birmingham the garden waste policy “has not commanded public support”.

The unintended consequences of the change included an increase in fly-tipping and understandable anger from people who paid the £35 charge at some residents who were seen to be getting away with dumping rubbish on the side of the roads.

Mr Burden added: “I would hope the council leadership can take a step back and scrap the charges while looking at how to provide a better service even in the context of swingeing Government cuts.”

A council scrutiny inquiry into the garden waste row is yet to report its findings. In evidence to the inquiry, Mr Burden said:  “No local charging system can work properly if it is not seen to have credibility. Unpopular or not, it still needs to command public consent.

“Whether because of problems with the organisation of its introduction, the expansion of fly tipping or congestion at recycling centres, the fact is that in Birmingham green waste charges have not been able to command the public consent achieved in other areas to date. I therefore believe that the council must change course and my recommendation is that the charge be dropped.”

A senior Labour figure with decades of campaigning experience told Chamberlain Files that the MPs’ stance against the green waste charge was almost unprecedented.

“It is very unusual for the MPs to join together and take such an interest in what is purely a local council matter. The whole thing seems to have been badly handled and is turning out to be a political disaster.”

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