Update on Cityclean dispute

As rubbish piles up in our streets, public anger and concern is understandably mounting - about the damage to the city’s reputation, the impact on our local economy, especially tourism, and the potential public health risks.

People are justifiably asking what has led us to this situation. 

In part, it has been the repeated failure of previous administrations to deal with the equalisation of the allowances paid to staff in addition to payment for their normal hours of work.

Labour and Tories squandered the opportunity to sort this out at a time when there was far greater financial room for manoeuvre than there is today, when all local authorities are struggling in the face of austerity.

We are told that, if the situation isn’t swiftly resolved, the council will be exposed to the risk of costly employment legal action.

I am completely committed to ensuring that historic inequalities in allowances are swiftly resolved, but it cannot be right that this is done at the expense of other low paid workers.

That is why I have been vocal in my opposition to the prospect of already low paid workers facing reductions to their take home pay.

Whilst the council says reports claiming every worker will lose up to £95 a week are an exaggeration – they assert only a handful will lose this much – for families already struggling because of rising living costs, any loss in income is an enormous blow, even when offset by a few years of compensation payments to workers.  

So it’s little wonder that Cityclean staff are fighting for the best deal possible.  

And as an MP with a strong track record on defending workers rights, I have joined workers on the picket line and am doing my utmost to put pressure on all sides to reach a fair resolution.

I also have a responsibility as MP to represent all my constituents and, as a local resident, I have firsthand experience of the damage caused by each day of this dispute.

That’s why, earlier this week, I joined a small group of residents to help bag up some of the nappies and broken glass on their street.

For me, this is community activism, and sits squarely with my support for those taking action to secure a fair income.

And yet I have been attacked for supporting these neighbours who wanted to make their street safer.

Residents planning similar tidy ups have come under enormous pressure to cancel them on the grounds that they are undermining strike action.

I disagree, not least because these voluntary cleanups do not in any way replicate the crucial and skilled work usually undertaken by refuse workers. 

I have given my support to the Cityclean staff objectively and thoughtfully, because I think they are right - not because of loyalty to an ideology or because their union holds any sway over me.

That decision does not bind me in any way and nor does it preclude me from taking other action that I believe to be right, such as standing up for the reasonable rights of all my constituents.

As a public servant that is my duty.

I have no say over the decisions taken by the council, the day to day management of council services or the response to strike action.

But I do have a voice, and to all I’ve said before, I want to add this - it’s time for everyone to stop playing political games with our city.

The council and unions disagree over how much it would cost to meet all the workers’ demands – and the knock on impact for services such as social care or protecting our libraries from Government austerity cuts.

I am not privy to sufficient information to know who is correct, but I do know enough to judge that neither the content of the deal first put on the table nor the polarised, misleading and personalised nature of the ensuing conflict, reflect the values I hold dear.

In the midst of so much strife and differences of opinion, the one message that is coming through loud and clear from my mailbag is this dispute must be resolved as soon as possible. I couldn’t agree more.

I urge all sides to be transparent in their dealings, and to keep talking.

*** UPDATE 21st June***

The latest strike action has been suspended as a preliminary settlement has now been reached.

I am advised that there will be very extensive clean up programmed in for the next fortnight.

I'm pleased the council has been able to move forward after negotiations with an offer that GMB felt it could put to its members - and I know residents will join me in welcoming cityclean's return to work and appreciating the great effort that will go into restoring our streets to normality.

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