The Plastic Hippo

March 1, 2010

My old man`s a dustman

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 4:26 pm

Cor blimey, or more accurately “Gorblimey”, is a corruption of the phrase “God blind me”, an oath used in history to denote that the speaker was uttering a truth. The evolution of Skiffle, the precursor of rock and roll, will now forever be associated with gorblimey trousers thanks to the great canon of works by the late Lonnie Donegan.

God blind me trousers are usually described as corduroy and baggy and, this is the point, tied with string just below the knee. As string as a fashion accessory did not become popular until young women decided to wear nothing else on a night out in the winter, we must ask why string and trousers were so important in bygone times.

Refuse collectors, coal men and labourers used the string to stop rats scurrying up the trouser leg and sinking their teeth into the family jewels.

Walsall Council has set the calamitous budget that sees massive cuts in front-line services and an increase in council tax and honourable men like councillors Bird, Andrew, Towe and Flower would undoubtedly call on God to strike them blind if they were not telling the truth. The mysterious world of local authority finance is generally a closed book to most people and the complexity of precepting agencies and the Corporate Budget Plan and Treasury Management and Investment Strategy usually generates the same level of interest as watching paint dry. But can Walsall residents expect any improvements? The answer is no and tying string to your trousers might be a prudent move.

Ask any Walsall council tax payer what are the main services they expect to pay for, and at the top of the list will probably be decent roads and pavements, safe communities free from crime and anti-social behaviour, good schools, adequate social care and, on a day to day basis, efficient rubbish collection and available leisure facilities.

With both local and national government currently obsessed with Public Private Partnerships and Private Finance Initiatives which sees major public services outsourced to private contractors motivated by profitability rather than purpose, we have to question what exactly the council is doing with our money. In Walsall, the roads are “looked after” by Tarmac, education is in the hands of Serco and public order is, quite rightly, the responsibility of the police. The social care budget has been slashed by £5million, care homes have been closed, transport costs levied on elderly and disabled people and vital care services hived off to whoever comes up with the cheapest tender. That leaves the council with leisure and rubbish.

The council position on leisure and culture is clear. Facilities and activities that gauge the relative civilisation of a community are a low priority as quality of life does not register on a corporate balance sheet. Libraries have been closed on one day a week, leisure centres and a golf course threatened with closure and the rather tawdry spectacle of the illuminations axed. Recently, the council has belatedly and half-heartedly demanded that the government should come up with the money to keep the Staffordshire Hoard it what it describes as the ancient kingdom of Mercia. The authority is at pains to tell council tax payers that if you want something, you have to pay for it. This advice, it seems, does not apply to Walsall Council.

Along with the inevitability of death and taxes, we as a species create waste and one of the few services left in council hands is domestic refuse collection and it is fair to assume that the emptying of bins is a fairly straightforward process. Sadly, in Walsall, this is not the case.

Walsall has three types of bin; grey for general rubbish; green for recycling; and brown for garden waste – each collected on different days in different weeks. The smaller grey bins were introduced as replacements for the green bins that held more as an encouragement to recycle waste. Green bins then replaced the little green boxes that were introduced after the government imposed strict recycling targets due to the alarming amount of trash produced by Walsall being dumped in landfill sites. Are you keeping up? Brown bins for garden waste are still not available for many homes in the borough whilst other properties who have no garden have brown bins as do householders who use their garden as a scrap yard.

Each night around the neighbourhoods of Walsall there are conversations between neighbours and shopkeepers about when refuse, recycling and garden waste bins are due to be collected, usually ending off with agreement about how hopeless the council is in both communicating and delivering what would appear to be a very simple service.

Most people seem to know what day their grey bin, for general household waste, is due to be collected each week. But public holidays and bad weather frequently break the weekly pattern. Green recycling bin collection only happens every two weeks, usually on the same day as grey bin collection, but most people remain unsure as to which week it is collected, particularly in winter since the service is so sporadic.

Brown bin collection for garden waste is even more taxing since it is not only bi-weekly but usually on a different day from normal collection and for some unknown reason is only provided for part of the year but for which months nobody seems to know. None of this would be so confusing if the council published their bin collection schedules, and despite pledging to do so and having spent £500,000 on “communication”, council tax payers might be better advised to consult the tea leaves regarding rubbish collection.

In recent days, leaflets have been distributed to some households reiterating what can and cannot be placed in the recycling bin but collection dates have again not been published. Another leaflet announces brown bin collections for April only for properties lucky enough to have a brown bin and those that do not need one. The council`s unfathomable website consistently boasts of collections “likely” to take place during recent inclement weather and talks of disrupted services due to the safety implications of driving a 28 tonne bin lorry on un-gritted roads. If council contractors are unable to grit roads and pavements, then perhaps the best place to be in a snow flurry is in a 28 tonne truck rather than struggling to get to work in a Fiat Uno or, even worse, on foot.

The council has not only failed to communicate how its bin service operates but it has also failed to provide a decent bin collection service in the first place. Without knowing what the basic level of service delivery is supposed to be, how can council tax payers judge if this basic service offers value for money.

The eschewing chaos results in bins being left on the street in the hope of collection, adding to disruption of footpaths for the elderly, parents with prams and people with disabilities. The council has issued strict guidelines regarding the presentation of bins for collection. Unless the lid is fully closed and the handles are facing the street, refuse collectors have the right to refuse to empty the bin. Every morning, neat rows of bins are presented by the public in accordance with the guidelines. Following the collection, if it actually happens, bins are left scattered across pavements and driveways as collectors rush to meet their targets. Astonishingly, the council website states that the position of the bin AFTER collection is the responsibility of the householder.

Some grey bins, smaller than their larger predecessors, are returned half emptied as standard bin bags become wedged at the bottom of the bin and are not deposited into the truck during the emptying process. The public are told to place their bins at the roadside by 7-30am, so for most people this means putting the bins out on the previous night. This adds to the possibility of contamination problems as passers-by or neighbours fill recycling bins with litter. Some households do not get their bins emptied through no fault of their own.

It would be easy to point the finger of blame at the bin collectors but that would be totally unfair. Operating in an underfunded and mismanaged system, the bin men and women do a dirty, thankless and ultimately heroic job. An unreasonable collection schedule formulated by managers and politicians with an eye on targets rather than provision has resulted in an infrastructure that is incapable of delivering an efficient and adequate public service. Collectors in Sandwell are threatening to strike and bin men in Walsall are already tucking their trousers into their socks and tying strings below the knee to ward off rat attacks over single status.

Walsall Council decided to suspend the bin collection service over the Christmas period which led to some residents not having their bins emptied for seven weeks. Christmas usually generates more rubbish and the following lack of collections due to bad weather means that some householders are battling to clear a backlog of rotting household waste that the council has failed or refused to collect. Guess what?… it snows in the winter.

Almost a year ago, a report presented to Walsall Council suggested that Walsall residents who do not recycle should be brought before the courts and prosecuted and another rubbish scheme suggested that microchips should be fitted to bins to check their contents.

Walsall Council is happy to trumpet the grand schemes they have in mind for the regeneration of the borough, but before they start to build a Gigaport, perhaps they should take the advice of John Major and “get back to basics”. At the very least, council tax payers in Walsall deserve to know when their bins will be emptied. An empty bin is more important than an empty office.

£1,500 for each Band D household could buy an awful lot of string.

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1 Comment »

  1. Yet again you make some excellent points Hippo – well constructed and very eloquent.

    It’s sad, however, and somewhat symptomatic of the current schizophrenia in society, that you can wax lyrical for more than ten paragraphs about rubbish collection, whilst sparing a mere sentence or two for the plight of the social care system.

    Walsall has a waste system in place that’s no better or worse than any other authority that uses wheelie bins. Yeah, I’m not especially keen on wheelie bins scattered over a footpath, but I tend to feel that to be relatively small beer when compared to the shmucks currently closing daycentres, cutting funding to charities and screwing the elderly and infirm for money to continue providing a service they’ve already paid for.

    I despair at the priorities our society seems to display.

    Bob

    Comment by BrownhillsBob — March 1, 2010 @ 6:46 pm | Reply


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