Bin strike is over after deal agreed by council – but the Conservatives call for the privatisation of Brighton and Hove's rubbish and recycling service

The Conservatives have called for the privatisation of Cityclean, the council’s rubbish and recycling service, after a strike left mounds of rubbish across Brighton and Hove.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 10:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 10:44 pm
The rubbish has mounted up across the city during the two week strike

Their call was rejected as the Greens backed the council’s deal with the GMB union to end the bin lorry drivers’ strike.

Labour abstained after asking a series of detailed questions about the steps taken over the past week by the Greens and senior officials.

The Tories also asked officials to spell out the cost of settling the strike by bin lorry drivers at a meeting at Hove Town Hall today (Tuesday, October 19).

HGV lorry drivers on the picket line at Cityclean's Hollingdean depot

They asked for the cost after it was revealed that – as a result of the strike – Brighton and Hove City Council will scrap the lowest two tiers of pay for staff.

But the cost of the move will stay secret for now, they were told at a special meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee.

The meeting was called in the hope of signing off a deal with the bin lorry drivers’ union, the GMB. Cityclean’s HGV drivers had voted for strike action due to 'round variations, crew changes, variations of duties and the impact on workers’ health and wellbeing'.

Bin strikes: Brighton and Hove bin lorry drivers vote for two-week strike action | Brighton & Hove Independent (brightonandhoveindependent.co.uk)A two-week strike started on October 5. A second strike, due to start this Thursday has now been called off.

Pay deal expected to cost £2.5million a year

The council’s senior lawyer, Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis, told the meeting that it would be inadvisable to reveal the details during talks with the union but the council may release information in a few weeks’ time.

The pay deal is expected to cost £2.5 million a year, with the prospect of an extra £1.6 million in the current financial year if the cost is backdated to August.

Of this, nearly £700,000 will mean a pay rise for workers at Cityclean while the rest will be set aside for staff in other council departments to comply with equal pay law.

Green councillor David Gibson said: “Seeking to negotiate and address low pay for all staff is something that is very dear to me. We are aware of the cost, and the cost will be reported through the targeted budget management process. We understand the pressures and will have to work with those, but I am so positive about the abolition of the two lowest pay scales in the council.

“People are facing a fuel crisis, inflation and all sorts of pressures. This, for me, is a positive outcome. This is beyond the dispute. I am delighted we could take this forward.”

Councillor Gibson said that narrowing pay gaps would improve the health of everyone, no matter how rich or poor.

Conservative councillor Joe Miller asked for a full report on the service reductions, tax and fee increases necessary to fund the deal negotiated with the GMB.

Councillor Miller wanted to know the effect of the Cityclean pay rise on the budgets of schools across Brighton and Hove.

He also called for Cityclean, an in-house service, to be put out to tender – in effect, to be privatised, as happened briefly under Labour more than 20 years ago.

Councillor Miller also called on the council to make no payments to Cityclean staff to make up for lost pay during the strike or 'to pay for the clean-up of the mess they created'.

Fellow Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth said: “There has been little, if any, discussion of what vital services will need to be cut to pay what is reported in the press to be millions of pounds annually. Such discussion should have been key to the discussion from the outset. And such a discussion should include analysis of the pay and conditions of those workers who may already have been in need of a pay rise, who may not have been in a position to make their case so strongly.”

Proud to get through process

Green councillor Tom Druitt chaired key parts of the talks with the GMB union at the weekend after visiting striking drivers on the picket line in Hollingdean.

Councillor Druitt said: “I am very proud that we have been able get through this process (and) improve the pay of the lowest-paid council staff.”

In response to Councillor Miller, he said: “We’ll be making lots of observations on 10 years of government cuts on the city.

“If you look at the accumulated cuts to the council’s revenue support grant over the last 11 years, the cost of this resolution to the strike pales into insignificance.

“The blame for the council’s budget issues we have this year, next year and the year after – whatever happens today – lies squarely with the government.”

He said that there were few positives from the past few weeks’ experience but it had made people aware of just how of rubbish they generate.

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