Birmingham’s long running bin strike and clean up has cost the council taxpayer a whopping £6.6 million is has been calculated.

The costs of bringing in outside contractors, diverting staff and paying overtime to cover for the striking binmen, extra landfill tax from cancelled recycling collections, legal advice and losses of income from recycling paper have all been totted up by council officials.

The figure could even rise as the dispute behind the strike is ongoing and if not resolved by November 27 will be heard at the High Court - and costs from that are likely to run to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The money has been found from the city council’s contingency fund - used in the case of emergency or extraordinary circumstances.

In response to a written question the council’s Labour cabinet member for clean streets Lisa Trickett said: “To fully understand the financial impact of the industrial dispute all the associated costs need to be identified and attributed.

“These include the cost of the continuation of temporary agency workers to cover the fifth day of work; the costs of the catch up contingency plans, including external contractors and the temporary deployment of some internal staff; and additional landfill tax as a consequence of more diversion to landfill and less income from paper recycling.

“This amounts to an estimate total of £6.6 million.”

The strike was over changes to working conditions - moving from a four-day week to five day working and the down grading of a set of middle-ranking jobs known as ‘leading hands’.

The council, which overspent on the service by £11.9 million last year was looking to cut the department’s huge overtime and agency staff costs which had spiralled in recent years.

It proposed savings of £5.5 million per year from a series of efficiencies.

Missed collections

A wall of bin bags on Medley Road, Sparkhill
A wall of bin bags on Medley Road, Sparkhill

Figures also revealed that despite the strike action being suspended in September the council has struggled to get the service back to normal with missed collections continuing through October.

There were 6,088 individual missed collections for the month, compared to just 2,386 for the same period in 2016.

More strikingly 9,421 roads were missed in October, compared to 2,413 last year.

More Landfill

The city sent just 16,596 tonnes of waste to landfill during July, August, September and October in 2016.

As a result of the strike that total has almost doubled in 2017 to 29,716 tonnes for the same period.

This is because separate collections of glass, paper, cans and plastics for recycling were suspended.

The amount of waste sent to landfill is taxed by Government, to encourage more recycling. The tax rate is £86.10 per tonne.

Birmingham has traditionally had a low landfill rate because the majority of household waste is burned at the Tyseley Incinerator.

If they are trying to save £5.5 million - why spend £6.6 million to cover the strike?

The £6.6 million is a one-off cost and, assuming the dispute is ended either by the courts or a negotiated deal in the next few weeks will not be needed again next year.

The £5.5 million saving is per-year - so once the overtime, agency spending, job grades are cut, alongside other efficiencies - such as reductions in fuel costs. The savings will be repeated - £11 million saved after two years, £22 million over four years and so on.

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Leading Hands

Unite members protest as binmen go back out on strike - Howard Beckett, assistant general secretary
Unite members protest as binmen go back out on strike - Howard Beckett, assistant general secretary

After the introduction of wheelie bins between 2014 and 2016, the numbers of staff per wagon was cut from five to three including the skilled driver.

The council claims the leading hand supervisor role was no longer needed with only one member of staff to supervise. The driver would be the sole supervisor.

But the Unite union says they provide a necessary health and safety role at the back of the dustcart.

Downgrading of the leading hands jobs would lose those 113 staff up tro £5,000 per year salary. The council says it has offered all staff alternative jobs at the same pay, such as working in parks or cemeteries, if they can’t afford a cut.