Why we need to modernise refuse collection

Jacqui Kennedy, Corporate Director for Place, writes on why change is needed to Birmingham’s refuse collection services…

Jacqui Kennedy - Corporate Director for Place

Jacqui Kennedy – Corporate Director for Place

I understand why the industrial action over the future of waste collection services in Birmingham is causing concern for many people – as collecting bins is the most visible way the council serves its citizens.

If and when industrial action does take place during this dispute, we have plans to make sure any uncollected waste is picked up as quickly as possible.

It’s also important to outline why change is needed to make sure that Birmingham has a modern, high-quality, value-for-money and reliable refuse service.

As a council, we are facing significant financial challenges.  Since 2010 all council services have been impacted by cuts to local government funding.  In Birmingham our spending on waste management has reduced from £71million to £65million between 2011 and 2017.

These pressures mean that if we do nothing, the service is likely to overspend by £5.2million in future years.  We’ve already introduced a number of different ways of working – most notably the roll-out of wheelie bins, as well as introducing garden waste and bulky waste charges.

Now the wheelie bins are rolled-out to the majority of homes it is time to review further the way we deliver waste services.

It is clear the service has been unable to meet the required savings targets through increased productivity nor deliver a value for money service that meets the growing demand for waste to be collected in the city.

We’ve compared the way we work in Birmingham against the performance of other councils and it is clear that we are not meeting national productivity levels and that we need to improve.

Over the next 20 years there will be 50,000 more households in Birmingham on top of the 354,000 we already collect waste from.  So, failing to improve productivity and efficiency is not an option.

We are proposing changes to the current working pattern for waste collection crews – shifting from a four day week of just over nine hours per day to a five day week of just over seven hours per day.

This will result in the deletion of 113 posts – but it is anticipated that all post holders with an appropriate skills match will be offered new council jobs at the same pay grade.

It is extremely important that we move away from relying on expensive agency staff. At the moment 200 out of 595 employees in refuse collection are hired from agencies. We intend to replace agency staff with up to 246 full-time staff employed directly by the council. All of these new permanent employees will enjoy the associated benefits that come with working for the council such as pension, holiday entitlement and sick pay.

Looking to the future, we intend to bring together all ‘place-based’ council services at neighbourhood level so that we can better serve citizens.

We believe that the combination of these changes will deliver the savings and improvements (such as fewer missed collections) we need and you demand.

We want to reach agreement with the unions and we are encouraging them to continue to work with us to develop jointly the detailed plans needed to make these proposals work. Only by working together can we deliver the first-class refuse collection service the citizens of Birmingham demand and deserve.

So, during the industrial action we will need your help.  Try to reduce the amount of waste you put in the bin.  Over 40 per cent of the waste we put in our bins is food waste.  You can find out more about how to do this at www.birmingham.gov.uk/cleanerbrum. And, while we are trying to collect all of the waste as quickly as possible, if you do want to dispose of your waste sooner you can always take it one of our five household recycling centres around the city. Full details of the sites, including links to “view the queue” webcams to help plan your visit, are available here.

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