A major union has branded the end to weekly bin collections in Middlesbrough a “very poor decision” as a dozen jobs face the axe.
Council leaders backed a move to end weekly rubbish pick ups for 57,000 households across the town last week.
And 12 full time jobs in the service face the chop when the changes come in April.
Officers at UNISON have confirmed the union is in talks with the council to avoid compulsory redundancies.
But regional organiser Duncan Rothwell believed the council hadn’t properly considered the wider decision to move to fortnightly collections.
He said: “The council is gambling on financial savings which are not realistically achievable.
“It’s simple logic as the same volume of rubbish will need to be collected.
“Each Middlesbrough home’s bin will contain twice the amount of rubbish if it is only emptied fortnightly.
“And each vehicle will need the same number of crew and the same number of trips to the depot and landfill.
“Routes have not yet been re-planned and the council will once again find itself reliant on expensive agency staff owing to the council’s inevitable failures to implement a very poor decision.”
Leaders agreed the move in the face of surveys showing the move was unpopular.
More than half of 3,309 people who responded to the consultation “strongly disagreed” with the move to fortnightly collections – with worries about how bins would cope, and fears longer waits for pick-ups would create smells and attract vermin.
Chiefs have pointed to £322,000 savings, cuts to carbon emissions and improved recycling rates the changes are set to bring.
They’ve also stressed Middlesbrough is in a minority – with only 13% of councils retaining weekly collections nationwide.
Leaders are also confident they can address concerns with free larger 240 litre bins on request, an education programme, and areas using black bags for rubbish keeping weekly collections until new bins arrive.
Alley bins and large commercial bins will also continue to be collected on a weekly basis when the changes come in.
Despite the measures, Mr Rothwell feared past problems of refuse teams being hit by sickness would return due to rising demand.
“They have had to hire really expensive agency staff,” he added.
“You need the right number of staff as, otherwise, people go off sick once you overload them.”
A service review looking at collections rounds and workloads is being launched ahead of the changes.
Cllr Dennis McCabe, executive member for the environment, told councillors there would be “no compulsory redundancies at this time” in the face of questions last week.
“Then there will be a negotiation with the unions,” he added.
“Hopefully, through people wanting to retire early, these 12 jobs could be saved.”
When it came to the wider context, Mr Rothwell blamed Government cuts for forcing the council to change services.
The union organiser said: “These are Westminster cuts imposed on Middlesbrough and the North-east meaning people only get their bins emptied once a fortnight.”
He added: “If this cut to staff numbers goes ahead, the remaining hard-working refuse workers will have to cope with unreduced levels of work whilst suffering the further insult of the government’s pay-freeze.
“It is expecting Middlesbrough refuse workers, and other council staff, to pay the cost of the Government’s mismanagement of the national pandemic response.”
Meanwhile, a “call in” has been lodged by councillors in a bid to overturn the move.
Cllr Mick Saunders and colleagues from the Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association (MICA) have sent papers requesting the overview and scrutiny board examines scrapping weekly collections.
Concerns the decision “ignored” the consultation and doubt about financial modelling are behind the protests.
In response to concerns about cutbacks, a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government pointed to the £10bn it had offered to councils to tackle covid-19.
She said: “Middlesbrough Council has already been allocated over £24.6m of emergency funding, almost £15.6m of which is non-ring-fenced, and their core spending power also increased by £7.7m this year.”
A Middlesbrough Council spokesman added: “Significant levels of work have already been undertaken to formalise the proposals and we will engage with the unions when the decision making process is complete.”
-- to www.gazettelive.co.uk