Solv­ing bins dis­pute ‘is pri­or­ity’ for new coun­cil leader Ward Lull be­fore court case of­fers chance for ‘quiet’ talks

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Neil Elkes Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

The

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

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