Birmingham City Council have found themselves in a bit of a fix as bags of green waste pile up in streets across the city following the introduction of the new charge for collection of garden waste earlier this year.
With the new garden waste collection charge, residents are expected to pay £35 a year to opt in to the service, as the council seeks to cut around £120 million from their budget, despite savings of £375 million already having been made since 2011.
However, the uptake for the new scheme has been much lower than expected, with many refusing to pay the extra charge.
Around 7.5% of households have taken up the scheme across Northfield District, slightly higher than the average uptake across the city (6.5%). The highest percentage has been in Northfield (9.3%) and Weoley (9.2%). Just 5.3% of Kings Norton ward households have purchased the scheme, and the uptake in Longbridge ward, which includes Frankley and Rednal, has been just 6%.
Residents have complained of numerous bags, not belonging to them, being left outside their homes – both green garden waste bags and black bags which refuse collectors have labelled as containing green waste. And, despite being reported as fly-tipping, in many cases the bags remain.
Dan Phelps tweeted about the above bags which had been on Lickey Road for several weeks. They have since been cleared by the council.
Tories slam “Unfair Garden Tax”
Birmingham Conservatives have hit out at the Labour led council, highly critical of what they have dubbed as “garden tax”.
In a survey carried out by Conservative parliamentary candidate for Northfield Rachel Maclean, 89% of respondents said they were against the charge and 62% said that they had not heard of the ‘Early Bird Discount’ for signing up to the scheme.
Rachel Maclean had already slammed the council for the introduction of the “unfair” charge on green waste collection, posting a gallery of photos of dumped green waste taken across the constituency on her website.
Rachel Maclean said: ““Our survey results are sample of the local frustration we have found campaigning throughout Northfield at this stealth tax. Hardworking residents already pay council tax for services and shouldn’t be hit with an under the table charge like this one.
“I am now calling on Labour-led Birmingham City Council to wake up, smell the coffee and bin the garden tax. The Conservatives have already pledged to get rid of the charge if returned to run Birmingham in May.”
MP angry at Tory “hypocrisy”
In reaction, Northfield MP Richard Burden blogged about the green garden waste problem, saying: “I’ll continue to take these issues up with the Council. I am not a Councillor and I sometimes disagree with some of the decisions local councils make. But I think all parties should be straight with voters about why Birmingham City Council decided to change the free green waste system.”
Mr Burden blames central government cuts for the problem, saying: “The Conservative-led Government will have forced cuts of over £800 million to be made in Birmingham City Council’s budget by 2018. Over £200 million of cuts are needed over the next year. This year we are losing £145 for every household in our city, compared to an average cut of £71 in other parts of the country. The fact is that Birmingham is being short-changed.”
And Mr Burden recognises that difficult spending decisions have to be made at a local level. Garden waste collection is not a statutory service and Mr Burden said: “So the Council can’t avoid making difficult decisions. Do they cut green waste collections or cut care for the elderly, services for vulnerable children or something else? Whether you agree with the decision to charge for green waste collection or not, those kinds of decisions will not go away.”
“That’s why I get so angry about the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Conservatives who complain about green waste charges at the same time as cheering on the Government which has put Birmingham in this position.” he added.
So, how will the council handle the bags of garden waste amassing in our streets? Some have been removed since being reported as fly tipping but will residents not paying for the scheme continue to leave theirs in the street and expect the council to clear them away?
Cllr James McKay, Cabinet Member for a Green, Safe and Smart City, said: “There does of course come a point when we will need to clear any garden waste that no resident is taking responsibility for. However, in doing so we must be mindful that people are now paying for the collection of garden waste.
“If we routinely and regularly clear any garden waste on the streets, it will rightly infuriate paying customers and undermine the decisions the City Council took last year, and create budget pressures which can only be met by cuts elsewhere. It would also be encouraging a continuation of people putting out garden waste outside of the new service.”
And Cllr McKay said that the situation would be monitored closely: “We are in a transition period, as we move from a free, unlimited service to a chargeable one. The council has made every reasonable effort to get that message out there, and the success of that work is demonstrated by the fact we are selling hundreds of units of the new service each working day at the moment.”
And Longbridge Councillor Ian Cruise highlighted the need to promote composting as a solution, tweeting that Frankley Parish Council have set a good example, promoting composting and selling over 100 compost bins.
Useful links, advice and further reading:
Sign up to the Green Waste scheme or get advice – Birmingham City Council
Report Fly Tipping – Birmingham City Council
Information and advice on composting – Birmingham City Council
Rachel fights unfair Green Tax – Rachel Maclean
Green Waste Collection – Local People Deserve Better than Double Talk – Richard Burden MP