Thursday, August 02, 2012

A wheelie good idea?

Martin Mullaney - recently rejected as a Lib Dem councillor by the good people of  Moseley and Kings Heath - claims to have got the details of a bid to the Department of Communities and Local Government from Birmingham City Council for a share of Pickles' Bin Giveaway and he's spinning it that every household in Birmingham will be forced to have three bins of particular sizes.

This is a partial view of a proposal about which more will be known during August and that partiality is a problem. Martin clearly hasn't had the full details, so he's scaremongering about what he thinks he knows. Wheeled bins are in there certainly, but that's not the full extent of the bid. There's a very good reason why we're not going into the details at this stage.

The fund only amounts to £250 million nationally - well below the £500 million estimated to reintroduce weekly collections across the country - and this pot is to be shared out amongst competitive bids. To this end, given that other large authorities are watching Birmingham closely, the details of it need to be kept confidential until the bid submission process closes in just over a fortnight. After that point, despite what Martin says, the City Council will consult on the details of the proposal with the people of Birmingham, in advance of any decision by the DCLG. Once Comrade Eric announces his decision, expected coincidentally around the time of the Tory conference in Birmingham, then the proposal will come back to Cabinet.

In the interests of the people that I represent, I have no wish to compromise Birmingham's bid for some extra money to improve our services, although Martin seems less reticent and has concluded - with only partial information at his disposal - that

There was an outline bid prepared by the previous administration, which had food waste collection at the centre. There are a number of problems with this. Firstly, the bid documents only mention food waste in conjunction with fortnightly collections (p8-9) - which Birmingham doesn't have.
"Set out the collection pattern(s) that the bid is proposing to commit to over the future (minimum) five year period, whether this is retaining or reinstating a weekly collection of residual household waste, adding a recycling element to a weekly residual collection, or adding a weekly food waste (or organic) collection to an existing fortnightly collection of weekly residual household waste." [emphasis added]
So already, the LibDem/Tory proposal was outside the parameters set by DCLG. That isn't to say it couldn't have been submitted, but we know that Eric Pickles is not a fan of adding further recycling containers and also that he will be taking a personal interest in these bids. You would reasonably expect that a bid from Birmingham - the largest local authority in the country - would receive attention from the Secretary of State and I would suggest that the bid as proposed by the last administration would not have succeeded.

Further, while the bid documentation does not require pre-bid consultation generally, according to the frequently asked questions document (p13),  proposals to introduce a food waste collection scheme would need to
"evidence “credible local support” where they plan to introduce a weekly food waste collection"
If the Liberal Democrats or Tories had bothered with a manifesto for the local elections that included a food waste collection - and had retained control - then that would have been sufficient for the purposes of the application. But neither did.

As it happens, I support food waste collection, but that has to go hand in hand with the infrastructure - probably an anaerobic digestion plant, given the size of Birmingham's expected volumes. Currently, we don't have that, so the waste would have to be transported elsewhere, reducing likely carbon savings and increasing costs. Incidentally, Martin holds up Somerset County Council as an example of what can be achieved - although he neglects to point out that the district councils in Somerset, who collect the 'residual' waste (stuff that isn't recycled) do so in wheelie bins.

We'll be able to discuss our plans in a fortnight or so, so watch out for more information then.

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