Operationally, Cityclean has not been performing at its best for some months now. Steadying the ship is surely the biggest problem facing the new administration at Brighton and Hove City Council.
You might be looking at your uncollected rubbish thinking it must be a one off. It is not. Our neighbourhoods have had a pandemic of missed collections for months.
This is a sign of a serious breakdown at Cityclean that neither the Greens managed to resolve nor Labour wanted to talk about in any detail before the local elections. Of the “basic services” to be fixed, this must come in at number 1.
Labour, in their manifesto, avoided the detail but promised “reliable rubbish and recycling collection” as its “top priority” including a review of where communal bins are placed.
It is now time for the Labour majority council to talk about the nuts and bolts of the issue and focus on fixing the problems – otherwise their manifesto pledge will not be fulfilled.
With Labour having put themselves in another policy straitjacket by opposing any contracting out of service-delivery, they are now faced with only one possible policy solution – reforming Cityclean and getting it performing. So how do you solve a problem like Cityclean?
There’s been silence on this from the new administration who must be sitting around a table trying to come up with a solution for how to crack the Cityclean nut. After all, many Labour councillors will be members of the GMB, Cityclean’s trade union of choice.
Cityclean is of course a creation of the Labour Party – pushed through the last time they had a majority in Brighton and Hove, when they decided to insource a service that was previously contracted out.
But as is the tale with other Labour and Green insourced ventures (housing repairs and public toilets) things have not gone to plan – and services have got worse under insourced ventures.
Over the past 12 years Cityclean’s problems have been recurring with increasing frequency and impacting the daily lives of residents, seemingly never to be resolved.
Bin strikes, leading to massive pay settlements (driving up council tax to national highs) and promises of a better-run service have never delivered any improvements to residents.
Take the recent strikes, which generated extra costs to residents of £900,000 a year. This “resolution” came with promises of reform and responsibility to improve performance. But neither has been delivered.
Some pockets of the city have seen 25 per cent of their yearly collection weeks missed. Others exist in “black spots” where Cityclean trucks do not drive down.
Beyond the service issues, there have been more serious problems bubbling away. In 2020 councillors were told that Cityclean was being probed for fraud, bullying and sabotaged vehicles, when auditors said that they had not been able to count all the costs of the problems at Cityclean when the organisation’s budget was overspent by more than £3 million in the two years to the end of March 2020.
With the election having been and gone, the problems seem worse than ever.
Residents both in the Goldstone Valley and in Patcham want answers. In Withdean, residents have been complaining that since the recycling bins have been re-sited to below the Withdean Stadium site, in Tongdean Lane, rubbish and recycling collections faltered.
Not only have residents complained about how unsightly and smelly these bins are, it also seems from emails in my inbox that these are not being emptied frequently enough, with residents asking for them to be moved elsewhere.
In the Paddock, in the Droveway, residents have had the same problem for months – refuse collectors missing their road while the recycle team were collecting on their rounds.
A resident from Marmion Road recently wrote to me noting how in recent weeks, bins were emptied once every three weeks on a regular basis instead of the weekly Cityclean contracted collections.
At Woodland Court, residents have been complaining since the start of the year that Cityclean have not been turning up to empty the bins on a regular basis.
As taxpaying residents in this city, you just can’t win against the plethora of excuses in the midst of this epidemic of missed collections: vehicles breaking down, not charged or missing the assisted collections list – or it simply being “too hot”.
You must be asking if anyone is getting spoken to or disciplined for missing collections time and time again. Once a collection is missed, it is a battle to get it caught up. Residents often just have to wait another two weeks for the next one and hope that it materialises.
Like the increasingly dire situation with the weeds that are now increasingly causing problems, we would look to the administration for both leadership and answers on what is going on at Cityclean and, more importantly, what is the new Labour administration going to do about it.
Samer Bagaeen is a Conservative councillor on Brighton and Hove City Council. He represents Westdene and Hove Park ward.