Councillors are being kept in the dark over continuing tensions between council managers and union reps which, they say, are standing in the way of modernising the city’s waste collection.
An independent report into industrial relations at Cityclean commissioned in August to help avert imminent strike action has now been completed – but its contents are still confidential and the strike mandate has been extended to March.
Meanwhile, a “perfect storm” of issues including broken down lorries, staff shortages and recovering from a depot fire have seen rubbish pile up across the city over the last month.
The underlying issue which needs to be resolved if the service is to improve is relations between the GMB union, which represents Cityclean workers, and council management, said councillors at this week’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee.
But this was not even touched upon in a report on the service – and one councillor even described it as the “elephant in the room” which it “wouldn’t be wise” to discuss.
Green councillor Pete West seemed wary of even mentioning the GMB by name, instead saying: “It doesn’t matter how many innovations you have for how you’re going to do things differently. There’s an elephant in the room here which needs to be dealt with.
“I’m not going to name it because that wouldn’t be wise, would it, but it’s the one thing we never talk about, and that needs to be resolved.
“It is for the administration to deal with this because this is an entirely political matter really, particularly for your party.
“I will refer to the fact that your party when it came to power in 2015 made a solemn pledge in its manifesto. It’s key pledge to the public was to get the basics right, to sort out Cityclean . . . The Labour group really needs to make this that priority they promised it would be
“They need to give the right level of support to officers resolving that issue that nobody will speak about. It needs to be done.”
Labour councillor Anne Pissaridou, who chairs the committee, replied: “It goes back further than 2015, the problems with Cityclean and we are desperately trying to resolve it, as you know.”
Tory councillor Lee Wares also criticised the lack of transparency over how negotiations are progressing with the GMB.
He said: “As usual and I say it every time, this report has no comment in it about industrial relations. None whatsoever.
“We were on the brink of a strike – it got brought back from that but it hasn’t gone away.
“Just by us being silent doesn’t mean this is being fixed.
“We need to have good sight over what is happening with that because that plays a big part in how this department is going to modernise.”
He confirmed independent review into what the GMB says is anti-union practices – including banning union rep Dave Russell from the depot – has now completed, but would not be drawn on its conclusions.
He said: “We are still in talks with the council. We are now waiting to see how it’s going to go forward through the process.
“There are still outstanding issues in regards to Acas and we are still waiting for the chief executive to put in place what we agreed on August 1.
“We can take action until March next year if we need to. We are still waiting for the chief executive to come forward with a number of correspondences that we were expecting from him.
“Only one part of that has been agreed to date which is Dave Russell returning.
“There’s no current industrial action, but we are in danger, if the paid service isn’t forthcoming of it reopening again. We hope we don’t get to that point.”
Repeated requests made over the last week to Brighton and Hove City Council for an update on industrial relations were not responded to by the time of publication.
On Tuesday night, councillors were told that the backlog should be cleared by the end of the week.
In a report written by Lynsay Cook, it was also revealed
- More streets are set to get communal bins and the current system is to be redesigned
- Colour coded communal waste and recycling bins will be placed together, where possible, in a bin bay with a key clamp
- The larger black waste bins will be phased out and smaller bins will be emptied daily or twice-daily
- CCTV will be installed in all locations to deter fly-tipping and moving of bins
- Staff shortages were caused by “sudden and unexpected illness”
- Vehicle breakdowns were caused by a build-up of rubbish underneath the compactor and measures have been introduced to make sure it doesn’t happen again
- Staff vacancies have been filled and an agency engaged to provide emergency cover
- The city’s ten electrical recycling banks are to be removed and Cityclean is considering whether to replace them
- Fleet maintenance and servicing now meets national standards, but driver management needs improving.
In an answer to Green councillor Amy Heley, the committee was also told the company which imports the giant black communal waste bins to the UK from Italy has gone bust.
Assistant city environment director Rachel Chasseaud said the only other UK local authority which used the big 3200 communal waste bins is Edinburgh, which is stopping using them.
She said the council is in legal talks to try and get the bins which have already been ordered delivered in the next month.