5 February 2020 by James Langley

Review of Birmingham’s waste service published

Poor communication is both a “cause and symptom” of the lack of trust that exists throughout Birmingham’s waste management service, according to a review commissioned by the city council.

Pledged as part of a deal between the council and trade unions to end industrial action (see letsrecycle.com story) and carried out by environmental consultancy Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, the independent review is to be endorsed by Birmingham city council’s cabinet on February 11.

Birmingham residents saw bins go uncollected in some areas during the industrial action by collection crews

Councillor John O’Shea, cabinet member for street scene and parks, said: “We are grateful for the work that has been independently carried out over the past few months.

“It has offered a fresh perspective on things and confirms many of our beliefs about how the waste service can be improved and supports the improvements we have already started to put in place, such as the replacement of our ageing vehicle fleet.

“This report gives us the reassurance we are on the right track and has also given us further points to consider to ensure we deliver on the top priority for the people of this city – clean streets.”

The second phase of the review, to be conducted once the first is endorsed by Birmingham city council, will see options identified by Wood for a future operating model.

Communications

A plan has been developed to provide better communications with and between staff, internal contacts and residents.

“This report gives us the reassurance we are on the right track”

Councillor John O’Shea

It has four principal elements. The first is a scheme called Love Your Street, which aims to improve the relationship between the council and communities in recognition of the role the latter has in achieving cleaner streets.

The second is a programme of education and engagement called Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, the third measure is a crackdown on fly tipping and the fourth would see an internal communications strand established to strengthen relations.

Recommendations

Wood recommends the development of a fully integrated ICT system between the routing system and operational delivery system, which would allow crews to report issues more efficiently on the rounds.A full procurement process is already underway to replace all older and hire vehicles, which had proved an issue.

And, a series of “review and reconciliation” sessions are recommended, whereby staff can bring forward issues without fear of recrimination or censure.

Wood also found an inconsistency in the implementation of the council’s collection policy – especially around the collection of side waste – to be addressed by so-called ‘toolbox’ talks and the reinforcement of the policy at all levels of the organisation.

Food waste

The government’s Environment Bill, will see the introduction of separate weekly food waste collections by 2024 for all households in England

Wood recommended the council introduces food waste collection as part of the resolution. This move follows measures set out in the recent Environment Bill, which will see the introduction of separate weekly food waste collections by 2023 for all households in England (see letsrecycle.com story).

Three proposals were set out by Wood, ranging from the continuation of existing baseline services with the introduction of a separate weekly food waste collection to introducing weekly food collections along with three weekly residual collections and fortnightly recycling collections.

Industrial action

A dispute involving collection crew members of the Unite and Unison trade unions and the local authority came to an end in March 2019 following a settlement between the parties (see letsrecycle.com story), with the review commissioned as part of the resolution.

That wave of industrial action concerned alleged payments to workers who were members of the GMB trade union and who had not taken part in separate strike action in 2017.

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