A “Brave” Decision?

As soon as the news broke that Birmingham’s Labour controlled Council is going to introduce wheelie bins – the complaints started coming in. On the phone, and people stopping me in the street when I was out delivering Special Rubbish leaflets in the ward this morning.

It’s not surprising really, because many people are not at all happy to be told they will each be given three wheelie bins to accommodate. It isn’t always possible to get them from the front to the back of a property easily (even with relatively large houses in places like Edgbaston because, in a city, most people don’t have wide expanses of land at the side of their properties, and so it can all depend on how wide the side gate is – presuming the house has a side passage/entrance which not everyone does of course – as to whether the bins can be acommodated at the back of a property or not.  Hills also make it difficult – and Birmingham is a very hilly place. The name Harborne (where I live) actually means “high brow” and the ward is full of hilly roads.

The alternative however – the idea of wheelie bins left permanently outside the front of properties – fills many people with understandable horror, but you can bet it will happen all across the city.

The evidence Cllr John Hunt showed at a previous Council meeting should have left no-one in any doubt, that huge numbers of people in Birmingham don’t want wheelie bins, so a politician who pushes through such a scheme in the face of such huge opposition is making what the Civil Servants in “Yes Minister” used to sarcastically call “a brave decision, Minister” (or in Birmingham’s case “a brave decision, Cabinet Member.”)

To be described in the local paper as being “thrilled” to introduce such an unpopular policy (as was said in yesterday’s Birmingham Mail) counts, in my book,  as “a VERY brave decision, Cabinet Member” (in other words, it could turn out to be suicidal).

Needless to say, when people have complained about the policy to me, I have told them very plainly exactly who is responsible for introducing it. The money may have been granted by the coalition Government, but it is Birmingham’s Labour Councillors who want to spend it on wheelie bins, something the Conservatives and Lib Dems locally said they would not do.

Even those people who are currently in favour of the idea might not be quite so thrilled when the specifics are explained. For example, having recently changed the bin collection day for people all across the city, this is likely to have to be done again since I doubt the crews will be able to empty as many wheelie bins in a round as they can black bags. If the rounds aren’t exactly the same size as now, it follows that there will have to be changes to them, causing a knock on effect around the city – leading almost certainly to a change in bin day for many people. That’ll go down well (not).

Secondly, if you have a very large family, or if you wanted to have a grand clear out, currently there is nothing to stop you buying extra black bags at the supermarket, and putting out say 6 or 8 at a time (every week if you liked). Providing the stuff is in black bags, it will be taken away.

I suspect this will not be the case once wheelie bins are introduced. Since one of the main reasons for the scheme is to encourage more recycling, I assume it is very likely that only rubbish which fits IN the wheelie bin will be taken away, and that anything piled beside it in bags will be left. In other words, for those households who put out a lot of rubbish, they may well find they get less collected than they do now – even though the container provided is bigger. Of course, they should  be recycling more.  And many of us do, and probably more will. But will everyone?  Or will some people continue to put out extra bags beside their wheelie bins which will be left in the street?

Alternatively,  will the Council decide it WILL take the extra bags in which case the aim of recycling more goes out of the window? Decisions, decisions! Presumably the Labour Councillors have thought through all these scenarios. If they haven’t they should have.

Obviously there is a long way to go yet. There’s supposed to be a consultation – though whether individuals who don’t fancy wheelie bins will be able to opt out is extremely unlikely I would have thought. Entire roads may be taken out if they are completely unsuitable for wheelie bins, but the odd house here and there? I doubt it! (Though from some of the complaints I have received it is clear  some people DO think they personally will be able to opt out even if the rest of their road is given wheelie bins. The logistics of that would be a complete nightmare so I think they could be in for a nasty shock. But if Labour DO decide to let individuals decide whether to opt in or out, they will have to send two different crews to each road – and the cost will be enormous.)

There will also have to be negotiations with the unions – that could take a while.

There will have to be a roll out across the city – which has around 360,000 houses as I recall. The date of April 1st next year is being quoted. That might be the start but I very much doubt it will be the end of the process. The roll out could be dragging on for months, even towards the next local elections in 2014.

Introducing an unpopular decision just before crucial local elections?  Now that isn’t just a “brave decision” or even “a VERY brave decision”. In my book that’s ” a VERY VERY brave decision, Cabinet Member!”





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