The industrial action began on Saturday, 29 December 2018 after the Unite union made claims that the council made payments worth “several thousand pounds”each to a group of refuse workers who did not take part in last year’s bin dispute.
The council, however, said that no payments were made to employees who were represented by the GMB union in the refuse service for not going on strike during the industrial action last year.
The “contingency plan” prepared by the council aims to minimise disruption caused by the strike action and has replaced previously announced plans for the Christmas and New Year period.
Cllr Majid Mahmood, Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Waste and Recycling – “Both the council and Unite want to end this dispute as quickly as possible and continue to deliver the first-class refuse service the citizens of Birmingham deserve.”
The plan will see residents receive one collection of all waste types per week, rather than separate pick-ups for household waste and recycling on your current collection day.
For residents that want to recycle their waste, the council is suggesting they use local recycling centres, saying the city’s five Household Recycling Centres (HRCs) offer an alternative option to dispose of all types of waste, “including recycling”.
Cllr Majid Mahmood, Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Waste and Recycling, said: “Our immediate priority is to minimise the disruption to the people who live in Birmingham.
“We have a contingency, but there will be alterations to the way we process waste that is collected.
“I know this will be of concern to residents who are keen to recycle as much of their waste as possible, but our top priority has to be that of citizens – clean streets for Birmingham.
“We thank those who are committed to throwing away as little waste as possible and look forward to swiftly resolving this dispute so they can resume their recycling – and if there is any disruption, I would like to apologise in advance and assure you that we will get to your bins as soon as we can.
“Both the council and Unite want to end this dispute as quickly as possible and continue to deliver the first-class refuse service the citizens of Birmingham deserve.”
Waste Management Dispute Review
The plan follows the publication of an independent review into governance issues related to the 2017 waste management dispute which caused disruption for the city.
Birmingham City Council instigated the independent review into whether appropriate and lawful processes were followed in reaching and approving an agreement to end the industrial action, purportedly made on 15 August 2017.
As part of the review, the council sought advice on what key learning could be identified and how it could manage or mitigate against any similar circumstances arising in the future.
The review did not seek to consider operational issues that led to the dispute.
As part of the review it was asked to consider a series of specific issues. According to the council, amongst the conclusions reached were:
- Councillor John Clancy (Leader of Birmingham City Council at the time) did not have the authority or power to enter into an agreement as set out in the ACAS statement made on 15 August 2017.
- At the “informal” meeting of Cabinet on 18 August 2017, the purported ratification of the agreement had no effect as it had no power to make such a decision.
- The council needs to consider how it commissioned the obtaining of the second legal opinion.
- The council failed to accept the “norms of decision making” and that day to day governance of how a council ought to be run was, in 2017, missing/distorted.
- The council needs to consider whether there are grounds for bringing action against a member for both misconduct and misfeasance in public office.
- Member/officer protocols ought to be reviewed.
- There may be potential breaches of the Councillor’s Code of Conduct which the council needs to consider.
- Following the Kerslake report in 2014, issues still remained in 2017 around governance.
Since April 2018, the council says has made a series of improvements to its Corporate Governance plan to address these issues which is monitored monthly by the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The council has considered the findings of the review and obtained advice from an independent QC on any potential civil or criminal proceedings. They have advised there is no merit in either being pursued.
However, the matter has been referred to the independent chair of the council’s Standards Committee for them to consider and decide if any further action is necessary.
Robert Connelly, Deputy Monitoring Officer for Birmingham City Council – “Going forward the council is in a much better place, as both elected members and officers seek to provide the best possible services for citizens – which must always continue to be our overriding collective aim.”
Responding to the report, its findings and the next steps, Robert Connelly, Deputy Monitoring Officer for Birmingham City Council, said: “We are absolutely committed to learning from what happened during the summer of 2017 and we have already put a range of measures in place to make our governance and decision making more robust.
“We have already reviewed and revised our elected member induction programme – with the new one rolled out for councillors elected in May 2018. In addition, our member development programme is being improved as part of a four-year plan, and the findings of this independent review will be built into that process.
“We are also committed that Officers themselves learn these lessons and we are looking at how these findings can be built into their development.
“Going forward the council is in a much better place, as both elected members and officers seek to provide the best possible services for citizens – which must always continue to be our overriding collective aim.”
“Waste Of Taxpayer’s Money”
Unite branded the review a “waste of taxpayer’s money” that was being used to “cover the backs” of unelected council officials.
Responding to the review by the law firm VMV, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “The only independent review that mattered was the High Court action Unite was forced to take when the officers of the council issued the workforce with 30 days redundancy notice.
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett – “The only lesson that should be learnt from the dispute, and should be remembered now given the current dispute, is that the officers are accountable to the elected representative, not the alternative.”
“The council, of course, lost the interim hearing, Unite successfully preserved the jobs of those who had been issued with redundancy notices and the behaviour of the officers was openly criticised by the High Court judge.
“The people of Birmingham will be shocked that money is being spent on reports that, once again, try to persuade people that it should be unelected officers who run Birmingham city council and not the elected representatives.
“Those officers, most of whom have thankfully now left, were busy wasting money on an unnecessary dispute when weeks and months later it was substantially the deal that former council leader John Clancy struck with Unite which settled the dispute.
“The only lesson that should be learnt from the dispute, and should be remembered now given the current dispute, is that the officers are accountable to the elected representative, not the alternative.”