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What would Stalin have done about wheelie bins?

What would Stalin have done about wheelie bins?

🕔20.Mar 2013

stalinOn the subject of words you never thought to hear in the same sentence, how about Stalin and wheelie bins?

Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham’s Conservative councillors, managed to liken tactics used by the ruthless Soviet leader to those being employed by the city’s Labour administration when consulting about the introduction of wheeled bins.

Whitby’s point was that the consultation exercise contained all sorts of questions about the type of bin residents might like and the size of household, and whether recycling was a good thing, but didn’t actually ask people whether they wanted wheelie bins.

The questionnaire also managed to ask respondents whether they were gay, bisexual, transgender as well as wishing to know about religious beliefs. Just the sort of questions Stalin might have posed.

On a more serious note, the Edgbaston District Committee turned out to be cult viewing for anyone interested in what the Tories would have us believe is one of the great issues of our time.

All of the key bin-saga figures were there.

James McKay, the Labour cabinet member responsible for introducing the £29 million scheme, was present along with Tory councillor Deirdre Alden, whose hatred of wheelie bins is as obvious as it is inexplicable, and Mike Whitby, whose Harborne ward has been chosen as one of the first areas to get the bins.

Whitby was like a dog with two tails. He’s convinced that introduction of the bins will be a disaster and result in an easy victory for him in Harborne at next year’s council elections. Since this is normally safe Tory territory where Labour has won each of the past two elections, it becomes clear that there is a lot riding on the roll out of the bins.

Conservatives have been busy organising their own questionnaire, which does ask whether householders want wheelie bins. The results so far indicate between 80 and 90 per cent against, and Whitby says he has had over 1,300 letters from people opposed to the bins – his biggest postbag ever.

Glum faces among Labour councillors at the Edgbaston committee seemed to sum up a growing realisation that snapping up a £29 million Government grant to deliver wheelie bins may not necessarily have been the tremendous coup it seemed at first.

Councillors loyal to council leader Sir Albert Bore maintain the party line that switching from plastic sacks to wheelie bins will provide a more efficient, cleaner system of collecting refuse, push up recycling rates and save money in the long run. The decision to impose a £35 annual fee for having garden waste collected, however, poses an immediate question about customer resistance to the new charge.

It was interesting that Cllr John Clancy, who is expected to challenge Sir Albert for the Labour leadership, chose to make an outspoken attack on wheelie bins at the Edgbaston committee. Clancy described the bins as a “rubbish idea and a waste of money”, and then attempted to cover himself by talking about “Tory bins” that were being forced on the council by the Government, apparently.

There are those who wonder why the council is spending so much time talking about refuse disposal and recycling when far more pressing issues around a £600 million funding gap and spending cuts need to be resolved. The answer is clear: there’s nothing more basic than bins. If councils can’t collect and dispose of household rubbish effectively, what can they do?

It is true that about 80 per cent of local councils use wheelie bins and don’t appear to encounter any problems with the system. Can
Birmingham really be that different? Could it be that the significant opposition to bins claimed by the Conservatives simply evaporates as soon as the new system is rolled out and residents realise there was nothing to be afraid of, or is there something in the Brummie psyche preventing any rational and sane reaction to wheelie bins?

Labour’s problem is that so many important issues remain unresolved, not least the pressing question of whether ‘side waste’, that is excess material over and above waste that can be accommodated in bins, will be picked up. Also, is the presence of electronic chips in the bins solely to measure recyclable waste, or is this the ‘spy in the bin’ groundwork for imposing fines on households that fail to recycle sufficiently?

There’s no doubt the bins issue is a baptism of fire for Cllr McKay, an inexperienced politician who has been handed one of the biggest local government portfolios anywhere in the country.

His performance so far in answering questions from opposition councillors has been poor, to put it mildly. He has to learn, and learn quickly, that responding to every point by insisting he can’t answer any questions while the consultation is taking place is pretty pathetic and merely serves to suggest he has something to hide.

Perhaps Cllr McKay should ask himself, what would Stalin have done?

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