Birmingham binmen will be renamed refuse and recycling collection officers and given a new role as the frontline eyes and ears of the city council.
Hundreds will be expected to keep an eye on the welfare of residents and report problems they may have to council bosses under a radical overhaul of waste management services.
The idea is being developed by Len Gregory, cabinet member for transportation and street services, who is promising to revolutionise refuse collection, street cleaning and recycling, making services more relevant.
Coun Gregory is determined to sweep away outdated local authority union demarcation agreements, which have prevented street cleaners picking up litter on grass verges, or graffiti-removal teams tackling fly-tipping.
In a briefing note to the transportation scrutiny committee, Coun Gregory said: “The proposed new refuse and recycling collection officers will be properly recognised as one of the city’s most important front-line customer interfacing services, carrying out some 40 million household collections per year, and the only city service that engages with every single household on a weekly basis, every week of every year.”
Calling for a culture change, Coun Gregory (Con Billesley) said crews would have to move away from an old-style task and finish system to a new attitude that “everything is cleared before staff are able to go home”.
He added: “New working practices and associated job descriptions recognise that the new role must provide high quality refuse collection and recycling services to the satisfaction of the citizens of Birmingham and to meet targets.
“It is also recognised that these staff will form a vital link between the public and the city council dealing efficiently and effectively with queries and requests for assistance relating to any matter impacting on the council and other relevant agencies.
“This customer-facing, customer-focused ethos runs throughout the service. It is recognised that the service is not a silo within the city council but is one of the council’s major presences on the streets.”
Coun Gregory added that binmen would be expected in their new role to “proactively exercise initiative” to identify and report a range of issues outside the scope of street services which may require intervention by another council service or public agency.
Multi-functional teams of cleansing officers would be expected to carry out a full range of cleansing duties from mechanical sweeping through to weed control, graffiti removal and dealing with fly-tipping, removing the previous “division of labour approach” associated with council services.
Discussions with trade unions are at an advanced stage and the council has already piloted seven ward-based street cleansing teams which resulted in “remarkable improvements” in overall cleanliness and customer satisfaction, Coun Gregory said.
He is also promising an overhaul of management arrangements to end tensions between refuse collection, recycling and street cleansing services.
Coun Gregory added: “Through their constituency managers, each ward manager will be set and held accountable for a wide range of performance measures from street cleanliness through to missed refuse collections, litter bin emptying, recycling rates and customer satisfaction. Performance will be regularly monitored and appropriate action taken to address any shortfalls.
“It will be essential that robust performance management be cascaded throughout the restructured organisation, from top to bottom. All employees will be performance managed, providing the opportunity to reward excellence and address under-performance quickly.”
His proposals were welcomed by transportation scrutiny committee chairman Martin Mullaney, who said it was “ludicrous” that the council had operated a system for so long that prevented street services staff from multi-tasking.
Coun Mullaney (Lib Dem Moseley & Kings Heath) added: “This is something I have been pushing for. We have got to get rid of practices where one person sweeps the paving, one person picks up litter from the grass verge and another person tidies the bushes.
“There are all these Spanish practices in the council that we need to get rid of.
“The dustmen work a four-day week and as soon as they finish their round they go home. That is something out of Red Robbo and Longbridge in the 1970s.”