Councillors from wards across Manchester grilled Nigel Murphy, the Executive Member for the Environment, at a sometimes fiery meeting of the “Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee” yesterday. Marc Hudson reports.
The most controversial topic, at a meeting that looked at 20mph speed limits and BelleVue Sports Village, was the thorny question of the City’s Waste and Recycling efforts. (see meeting agenda, and links to reports, here.)
In an hour-long discussion peppered with sarcasm, the occasional partisan snipe and even insinuations that figures were being massaged/manipulated, councillors fired questions at Nigel Murphy, who readers of MCFly will know well (1) and two officers. The councillors, from wards across the city (2), were particularly exercised about a very gradual move towards smaller black bins and a proposal (and it is only a proposed proposal) to introduce a “closed lid” policy for the collection of bins.
The Executive Member and his officers re-iterated that the significant progress had been made in the last two and a half years, with a subtext that many of the successful innovations had been pooh-poohed by members of the Committee when first proposed.
Sean McGonigle, Assistant Chief Executive for Neighbourhood Strategy and Delivery told the committee “When we came here two and a half years ago to discuss the changes to the system and fortnightly collection, we met lots of scepticism. We explained that the waste levy would hit us. We HAVE reduced waste and increased recycling. Inevitably there have bee issues. Different parts of city have different challenges. It works well in some places, poorly in others. We have to continue to deal with those. It’s got to be about residents taking greater responsibility. We are still not in position where recycling is at a proper level.”
The main changes that are proposed involve a gradual phasing in of smaller black bins where appropriate, and various schemes to increase recycling rates. The point was made that there is no “one size fits all” solution for a city like Manchester, where types of housing vary widely across (and within) wards.
Councillors were, to say the least, sceptical, with opinions ranging from cautiously optimistic to outright derision. Cllr Carmine Grimshaw (Miles Platting and Newton Heath)spoke for several councillors, including Cllr Lanchbury (Blackley) when he cast doubt on the wisdom of reducing black bin size. Speaking of his own experience, as a keen (over-keen according to his children) recycler, he fills his 240L black bin every two weeks, and does not see how the proposed 180L replacement (these will be rolled out to new estates and as replacements, NOT substituting for the present bins automatically) will be viable.
Cllr Afia Kamal (Gorton North) wondered why the report used Stockport and Trafford as examples of smaller black bins helping to drive up recycling rates when these are both more affluent areas. Executive Member Murphy explained that these are the two GM local authorities that have moved in that direction (and have higher recycling rates), conceded the general point about affluence but also mentioned that parts of Stockport (Offerton, Edgely) and areas around Old Trafford are comparable to Manchester wards.
Similarly, Cllr Fran Shone (Northenden) picked up on the fact that while a survey around recycling had been done in Chortlon, Withington and Didsbury, a pilot scheme was to be conducted in Moss Side and Burnage – very different areas.
Virtually every councillor who spoke expressed severe reservations about the proposal “closed lid” policy, with Councillors Loughman (Ancoats and Clayton) and Longsden (Bradford) leading the charge. Officers replied that any proposal for this – which would result in only bins that were not “overfull” being collected would have to come to Neighbourhoods. For such a proposal to pass through, this reporter had the feeling that the fabled locked ammunition box marked “inducements and incriminating photos” would have to be un-padlocked and its contents discreetly distributed in a veritable carnival of largesse and threats.
Councillor Murphy received an invite to visit an estate in Gorton North from one of its local councillor John Hughes. He and the relevant officer took up the offer. MCFly will be skulking nearby with a telephoto lens, to get photos for this website.
Councillor Murphy also received an offer of help from Cllr Shaukat Ali (Cheetham) to identify mosques, temples and other religious institutions which could help create better communication around waste and recycling, and accepted with alacrity.
The report was only for “noting” and has now gone forward to Executive. The officers committed to various measures, including, as per request of Cllr Lanchbury, to send out the “frequently asked questions” document that has been created and also to ensure that in future reports on waste and recycling that there is a statistical break-down of fly-tipping per ward. As well as following up offers of help and invitation, Executive Member Murphy was going to make the available figures on city centre recycling available, especially to Councillor Carl Austin (Burnage), since these had been left off the appendix at the back of the report.
At some point in the summer the Council will have to decide whether to extend its existing contract for waste collection, or put it out to tender. The proposal will have to come back to Neighbourhoods Scrutiny on its way to Executive. Expect more fireworks.
Rubbish collection is one of the few things that every councillor will have an opinion (or three) about. It is far and away the major issue that they are approached about by members of the public. So it was unsurprising that all but one of the councillors present spoke. And although the discussion was occasionally heated, and not everyone listened to everyone all the time, this is what democracy looks like. It is not always “dignified” (or, to use a more accurate term “stage-managed”.)
The headlines are this: recycling has gone up in Manchester. Has it gone up as fast as it could? Probably not, no. Does it, potentially, have a LOT further to go? Yes. Does either the Executive Member responsible or his officers deny any of this? No. Are they taking what seem to me (3) reasonable steps to move things along within the constraints they face? Yes (4). Are councillors justifiably nervous about where things are going? Yes.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing was not what the Councillors or officers did or said, but that they did it in front of a somewhat less-than-packed (5) public gallery. If we want a nimble and radical Council, then we are going to need to keep very close tabs on what they are – and aren’t – doing. (6) Recycling is something that people are passionate about, and that charities and social enterprises bang on about relentlessly. But on an important day to show elected representatives how much they care, and what else might be doable… silence. The question remains, for this publication and for other groups, of how to make Scrutiny Committee meetings (among other things), an enticing prospect. Answers on a postcard to the usual address please.
(1) We’re hoping to get an interview with him at some point.
(2) There were apologies from Cllrs Kevin Peel and Cllr Daniel Gillard
(3) And let’s face it, I am not known as the biggest cheerleader that the Executive of Manchester City Council has ever had. Maybe second or third.
(4) Yes – but I reserve the right to suggest sharp sticks that people can poke them with.
(5) Total attendance – one.
(6) The previous meeting of the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee had about 40 or 50 people, it’s true – to protest the libraries closures. But that’s, sadly, a reactive one-off…