Litter is piling up in the city – a depressing visual reminder that the Labour Council has failed to get a grip on waste
Councillor Leo Littman
We can all do our bit to reduce litter: take our rubbish home, or even better, don’t take rubbish with us in the first place. However, it is the Council’s responsibility to keep our green spaces clean and tidy, and this early May bank holiday they failed horribly.
30,000 visitors flocked to the city and tourists and residents were drawn into parks and open spaces by the sunshine. Yet instead of being a reminder of the Brighton Fringe & Festival’s fantastic cultural and arts offer, the bank holiday also became a reminder of the Council’s failure to deal with waste. 20 tonnes of it was left behind on Brighton beach alone.
Any influx of visitors in Brighton and Hove can cause a surge in litter. With good weather forecast at the start of May, it should have been clear that extra resources to manage waste collection would be needed.
Yet Councillor Gill Mitchell, the Labour lead on Environment, said that ‘extra staff resources would be in place by the end of May and beginning of June.’ Talk about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted!
The bank holiday litter issue belies a much bigger problem. This is not the fault of City Clean and City Parks workers, who spend hours painstakingly picking up rubbish overflowing from inadequate bins; it’s the Council’s Labour administration who cut their budgets too hard.
Complaints from residents about litter, bins and fly tipping problems now appear in my inbox on almost a daily basis. They eclipse practically all other complaints received by myself and my fellow Green Councillors.
Residents are clearly frustrated with overflowing bins and months of delayed bin collections. They have raised concerns about the impact of rubbish on our environment and our tourist economy. On top of the rising number of unsightly graffiti ‘tags’ that now cover buildings across the city, it is easy to see why residents and conservation societies are increasingly fed up.
There is no doubt that hardworking and committed staff – like so many public service workers hit hard by ruthless austerity cuts – are being asked to do more with fewer resources. Last autumn we heard that refuse collection trucks were available in the depot but with no staff to drive them. Cuts to the dedicated City Clean team by the Labour Council have gone too far, too fast and the service is struggling to keep up with demand.
Rubbish recycling figures
The solution to some of this does not rest solely on providing more bins. Councils in England spend around £852m per year on waste collection. As recent documentary Blue Planet made clear, we all need to reduce our waste at the source, dispose of it responsibly – and be helped to recycle. 35% of fish caught off the British coast have plastic in their gut and 80% of the ocean plastic comes from the land.
Yet despite being a coastal city, in Brighton and Hove only a small amount of plastic can be collected for recycling – not pots, tubs or trays, whereas other Councils manage to recycle so much more. These restrictions are the result of a 25-year long contract struck under a previous Labour administration with the waste company Veolia.
Residents want to recycle more – but Labour have failed to challenge this contract. With 17 years of it to go, their inaction means the city will continue to lag behind on recycling. Just this week the Environmental Services Association said that the UK will struggle to meet targets for household recycling ‘due to a historic lack of funding and policy support in England.’ We can’t afford waste – and we can’t afford to waste time.
Under the previous administration, recycling levels dropped due to missed collections during a strike sparked by the equalisation of gender pay. Five years on, recycling figures are still appalling. What is the current administration’s excuse?
Proposals put forward for a plastic-free city by the Greens last November are moving at a snail’s pace under Labour. The city will wait until at least July before news on important changes, such as prohibiting the use of single-use plastics at city events, or ending the practice of purchasing unnecessary plastics in the Council’s supply chain. Although 30% or more of the refuse collected and sent for incineration in Newhaven is food, Labour voted against using money Greens put back in to the budget to kick-start a food waste collection service.
Greens set out a budget plan for a cleaner, greener city that also included weekend, year-round emptying of bins in city centre parks. Again, Labour voted against these proposals in coalition with the Conservatives. Their other attempts to tackle the problem – such as the 3GS littering enforcement agents – have proven to be deeply unpopular, fining people for putting things in the wrong bin; and with no remit to deal with the vast amount of litter left on the beach.
A rubbish litter strategy
Help certainly won’t come from the Conservative Government – who published a ‘litter strategy’ that ultimately puts the responsibility for clean streets on seemingly endless volunteers, instead of using available powers to encourage big companies to stop creating useless packaging, or reversing years of cuts to Council budgets.
The city needs a stronger strategy for reducing waste. Greens have led the way on banning single-use plastics. We are calling for an Environmental Impact Charge – so that huge events pay back to our city and contribute to clear up the mess that the extra footfall often leaves behind. We want to see a timetable for action that sets out the options for retro-fitting our recycling facilities to take more plastics, something that other local councils and local companies have been doing for many years.
We live in a city full of people already taking the lead on this – our fantastic small businesses and local trailblazers – like the Food Partnership, Claire Potter Design, HiSbE, Surfers Against Sewage, the Tempest Inn and other local groups are already pioneering new and innovative ways to deal with waste.
It was a Labour Council which tied the city into a 25-year contract which handed control of what we as a city are allowed to recycle to a private multi-national company. It was another Labour Council which cut the budgets of CityClean and CityParks to the point where they can no longer keep the city or our parks clean. In between, Labour prevented the Greens from trialling food waste collection schemes.
Dan Yates, the new Labour Leader of the Council recently wrote: “Unfortunately it appears beaches do not keep themselves clean, nor do parks, or even our streets.” No, Dan; they don’t. That, as a basic public service, is your job, and you’ve failed.
One thing is clear; whether it’s allowing residents to recycle what they want to recycle (be that plastic not shaped into bottles; or their food waste), or keeping our streets and public spaces clean and tidy, Labour are simply not up to the job.