Birmingham waste review recommends service changes

An independent review of Birmingham City Council’s waste services recommends that the council introduce a weekly separate food waste collection, while criticising the council’s poor communication with residents and insufficient operational oversight of its waste depots.

Conducted by Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions, the review was commissioned in early 2019 as part of an ACAS-brokered deal to bring an end to an industrial dispute between the council and the trade union Unite over alleged blacklisting following strike action in 2017.

Birmingham city centre.The review, which is split into two phases, will be recommended for endorsement at Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet on Tuesday 11 February, with the review’s recommendations to be incorporated into the council’s Service Improvement Plan.

Commenting on the review, 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.

“We are already making progress and despite some challenges over Christmas and New Year, the trend on a number of key performance measures, such as missed bin collections, is heading in the right direction. 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.

“In terms of taking things forward on our improvement journey to achieve that aim, we do need to look at a range of possible options for the waste collection system itself.”

The review pointed the finger at poor communication from the council to residents and staff, stating that it was both ‘a cause and a symptom of the lack of trust that appears to exist throughout the service’.

A new communications plan should be developed to identify the best way to engage with residents on a regular basis – though ‘an expectation reset’ from all parties on the level of information provided will be required. The review also recognised that trust would have to be rebuilt between the council and unionised staff involved in the industrial disputes, and that a series of ‘review and reconciliation’ sessions be held.

It was also stated that the current management structure in the council waste management service ‘does not provide sufficient operational oversight at deports’, with the review recommending that a new Operations Service Lead position should be created to oversee a revamp of these structures.

The review also looks at future waste collection models, which would be considered in the second phase of the review, with three-weekly residual collections one of the options proposed alongside the introduction of a separate food waste collection. The review acknowledges the government’s intention to make separate collection of food waste mandatory by 2023 and recommends its early introduction.

O’Shea added: “The likely introduction of a weekly food waste collection by the government means now is the right time to do this. Absolutely no decisions have been taken on the future of waste collection, but we do want to look at how we can help tackle the climate emergency by improving our recycling rate. All the options that will be explored include retaining a weekly waste collection.”

Additionally, the review recommended that a fully-integrated ICT system be developed to ensure consistency between the collections routing system and the operational delivery system, the closer management of refuse collection queue in order to achieve efficiencies on collection rounds and that an engagement and enforcement plan should be developed to address poor compliance with waste and recycling collections from residents.

You can read the independent review into Birmingham’s waste services on the Birmingham City Council website.

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