Solving bins dispute ‘is priority’ for new council leader Ward Lull before court case offers chance for ‘quiet’ talks
BIRMINGHAM’S new council leader has called for the binmen’s union Unite to get round the table and “quietly” resolve the ongoing dispute before it goes to the High Court.
Councillor Ian Ward was elected by an overwhelming majority of his Labour council colleagues to take the top job at a private meeting last Thursday night.
He said that sorting out the bins dispute, which cost his predecessor John Clancy the leadership, is his number one priority.
In recent weeks the Unite union has been ramping up its campaign for the binmen, with a fiery speech by general secretary Len McClusky at a rally in Victoria Square and a further attack on the council from the binmen’s lead negotiator Howard Beckett at the Labour Party Conference last week.
But Cllr Ward said that, with the dispute on hold for two months, now is the time for talking.
“People saw the court case as a setback for the council, but it gave us a window of opportunity to sort this out, without the pressure of ongoing strike action,” he told the Birmingham Post.
“We will only get this resolved through talking. We need calm negotiations, not us shouting at each other across the airwaves.”
He said he is hoping to join talks with Unite through ACAS next week and, as interim leader, had already sounded out senior figures in the Labour Party.
“This is in the best interest of the council, the binmen and, most importantly, the citizens of Birmingham,” he added.
Cllr Ward also gave his backing to chief executive Stella Manzie and cabinet member for clean streets Lisa Trickett, who have been criticised during the strike, saying they are right to reform the bins service.
He added that Ms Manzie had played a crucial part in bringing together the city’s Commonwealth Games 2022 bid.
“When compared with other cities we are the least efficient in this area so we’ve got to reform it,” he said.
“We’ve introduced wheelie bins, and the number of crew per vehicle has gone down from five to three, so we have to make changes in the way the crews operate so that value for money.”
He added that alternative jobs at the same pay grade in other we can drive council departments are still available for the binmen at risk of being downgraded.
The future of the council’s budget and its failure to deliver cuts and savings is of pressing concern.
A report last week from the council’s auditor Grant Thornton was highly critical of the problems encountered during 2016/17 which led to a budget shortfall of about £49 million, a hole which had to be plugged from reserves and emergency funds.
Compared with other cities we are the least efficient in this area so we’ve got to reform it,
efficiency drive on the bins service, where there is high spending on overtime and agency staff, was a result of this.
Cllr Ward now has to get to work on proposals to remove another £170 million spending over the next two years.
He dismissed speculation from one of his former leadership rivals that perhaps the city should let Government commissioners take over so they can take the blame for the cuts, rather than the Labour council.
“To ask the Government to do our job would be a dereliction of duty,” he said.
Council Leader Ian Ward
> Councillor Ian Ward was elected to lead the Labour group and city council last week