The eye-watering cost of the bins dispute that's blighted Birmingham in 2019 can now be revealed - and it's close to £6 MILLION.

The staggering sum includes the costs of bringing in private contractors and extra help.

That figure includes the £1 million estimated cost of the settlement payable to bin workers and legal costs.

"This will be difficult to swallow for residents who have just been  hit with a further 5% hike in their council tax," said the council's Conservative Group leader Robert Alden (Erdington).

Fellow opposition councillor Jon Hunt, Liberal Democrat, said it was "scandalous" such a huge sum had been wasted - the equivalent of the amount taken out of social care services this year.

Odell Place, Edgbaston has not had a bin collection for three weeks according to Tom Bull
Odell Place, Edgbaston has not had a bin collection for three weeks according to Tom Bull

The costs that we know about include:

  • £350,000 a week for ten weeks for 'contingency costs', including paying private contractors to collect rubbish missed by council bin crews. That's a grand total of £3.5 million
  • An additional £200,000 a week when all out strike days took place - totalling £400,000.
 
  • £1 million - a conservative estimate for the total cost of the payouts agreed for 330 striking bin workers. The payouts will vary depending on the status of each worker but most will receive £3,500.
  • An estimated £1 million on legal costs, including representation at two high court injunction hearings.

Final details of the settlement between the unions and the city council are currently being hammered out after workers voted to accept the package offered to them to end the industrial action.

The city council's Labour Cabinet is expected to rubberstamp the decision when it meets on Friday, with hopes high that will mark the end of a tortuous dispute.

Striking bin workers outside the Redfern Depot in Tyseley

A Unite spokesman said the union would not be revealing its own costs bill related to the dispute - nor did it want to comment on the costs to the council and residents of Birmingham.

Coun Jon Hunt (Perry Barr) said: “This figure is almost exactly the amount that has been taken out of social services budgets this year to pay for this bloated and badly managed service.

“It is scandalous that residents are paying extra council tax to support social services  - £3m in the current year - but the money has been used to subsidise mismanagement in bin collections. We cannot go on like this.”

Coun Robert Alden said: “The eye-watering costs of this strike are on top of the £6.6m cost of the 2017 strike and the £350,000 per month it cost between November 17 and September 18 to implement that agreement; an agreement which then fell apart within weeks to take us into the latest dispute.

"This will be difficult to swallow for residents who have just been hit with a further 5% hike in their council tax as well as inflation-busting increases to the costs of the green and bulky waste collections."

   

He added: "We are still waiting for the updated financial and legal advice on the full consequences of this deal.

"If any financial and legal risks materialise that were previously given as a reason they could not make this payment then all of these costs could pale into insignificance of future legal costs to the council from Labour’s gross mismanagement."

A Birmingham City Council spokesman said: “The spend on the industrial dispute is regrettable as neither side wanted things to escalate to a period of industrial action.

“Everyone involved has always had the same aim – to deliver the best possible service for citizens, as clean streets have consistently been named as the number one priority for the people of Birmingham.

“We all know the service needs to be better than it has been. The settlement presented to Cabinet last week and due before councillors again this week will enable us to lay the foundations for improvement and better industrial relations in the future.”

A full review of the council's waste service has been promised once the dispute is over. Coun Hunt has called for privatisation of the service to be considered.

Councillor Jon Hunt pictured with bin bags during the bin service strike.
Councillor Jon Hunt pictured with bin bags during the bin service strike.

"The council needs to think radically about this because at the moment what we have is unsustainable.

"The council seems incapable of winning any disputes which means the unions can keep coming back asking for more money, and the ramifications of that for the council are and have been over the years, horrendous.

"It will certainly be welcome to hear the leadership is willing to look at more radical options in terms of dealing with this situation."

Background to the dispute

In December members of the union Unite - representing the vast majority of the city's estimated 350 refuse workers - voted to take industrial action after secret payments to binmen who were GMB union members by Birmingham City Council were uncovered.

The union say the payments - totalling £68,000 - were a 'reward' to GMB workers for not striking during the bins dispute that crippled the city throughout the summer of 2017.

 

The city council and GMB admit the payment was subject to secrecy clauses but say it was in settlement of a fair legal claim that GMB workers were not properly consulted over working practices introduced to end the 2017 strike.

That explanation did not deter Unite members, who introduced a work to rule and overtime ban from December 29.

Action escalated because of continued wrangles over bin men's applications for leave and the council's use of agency crews to collect rubbish.

Both sides took legal action against the other, resulting in two high court actions. The most recent action was lost by the city council, who were told the industrial action under way was 'lawful.'

Bins waiting to be emptied in James Turner Street in Winson Green
 

The city council's handling of the whole bins dispute has come under fire from unions and opposition councillors but has also drawn the ire of its own Labour backbenchers.

Some 23 of them signed a letter urging leader Ian Ward to resist legal action against the unions - but he went ahead anyway. It was a gamble that did not pay off.