Of all the services that a council provides, there is nothing more universal than the collection of waste and recycling.
Every household in the city creates waste and residents rely on the council keeping the promise of the scheduled collection arrangements.
Here in Birmingham, we’ve had well-publicised challenges in the shape of things like years of austerity, COVID-19 and periods of industrial action in 2017 and 2019, which you may think would make bin collections a higher than normal priority for the people of the city.
The bread and butter nature of the service means that regardless of external factors, reliable waste and recycling collections have ranked first or second in the priorities of residents in our annual citizen survey going back to 2015.
And it doesn’t end there. The broader issue of clean streets has ranked inside the top three every year during the same time period. This is because they are important matters and the things that people see their council as critical to delivering.
It’s with all of this in mind that we have taken the bold decision this year to invest a further £7.2 million into services as part of our Cleaner Greener Streets campaign.
This is local government working in its purest form, meeting the needs of local people. The money for this investment is available as a result of our sound financial management in recent years (as recently praised as exemplary by CIPFA), and it will be utilised in a range of ways.
To get to the heart of problems in our communities, three new Deep Clean crews will support the work of existing Street Scene staff, operating in hotspot areas of the city.
Each crew of six will tackle everything on specific streets – directed by environmental data and local knowledge.
This approach of using data and local intelligence has also led us to introduce special crews to serve properties that don’t have wheelie bins. These are often flats above shops and residents have to store their waste in their home until the next collection.
There is a direct link to reported bags on the streets and properties with no wheelie bins. We have reviewed these properties to see if bins could be issued and where suitable, we’ll install large containers to serve such homes.
Such homes are not an issue unique to Birmingham – and our response is to start collecting bags from the streets three times per week (including weekends). This will be focused on the main roads and areas of high footfall where we know the problem of the early presentation of waste exists.
And it doesn’t end there. We’re putting four specialist fly tipping crews to work and doubling graffiti crews to six.
But it isn’t just about being led by data or pouring in extra resources. We are happy to listen and learn from other authorities.
We will be launching Grime Watch, our take on the YouTube series pioneered in Barking and Dagenham, to help identify environmental criminals. In addition, six new engagement and enforcement officers will be carrying out patrols, based on a model used in places such as Nottingham, Manchester and Swansea and they will be targeting their work in our wards most blighted by fly-tipping.
The one innovation that has grabbed headlines locally and nationally is the creation of four Mobile Household Recycling Centres (MHRCs) – each has three vehicles and will visit communities and neighbourhoods across the city at least once in the current year.
The four MHRCs will each feature a regular refuse collection vehicle for waste with no other use, a van for taking away items that can be reused by charities and a wagon with multiple compartments, enabling people to drop off waste for recycling by material type – just like at a conventional HRC.
We are currently in a soft launch phase and anecdotal feedback from residents has been very positive, with one of the first visits clearing 20 tonnes of waste and recycling.
As the scheme develops, we will work with local members in all wards to ensure the best possible locations are identified for people to benefit from their introduction.
Other councils have started approaching us about this idea and the supplier of the multi-compartment recycling wagons in the MHRCs has been amazed by the interest from potential customers, who had never identified this as a use for the vehicles before.
It is going to be a busy year of hard work, but I know everyone in our service, from the street cleansers and refuse collectors through to service managers and directors, are up for the challenge we’ve been set by the public.
The true measure of success will be if our street cleanliness surveys show an improvement in the months ahead, and we are open to try any other innovations that come our way to achieve cleaner, greener, streets for Birmingham.
Cllr John O’Shea is Cabinet Member for Street Scene and Parks at Birmingham City Council