Nick Cook: City making mess of recycling ambitions

Rubbish overflows in a bin in Princes Street Gardens last month. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Rubbish overflows in a bin in Princes Street Gardens last month. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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WITH long waits on the telephone to complain and longer delays for new bins, Nick Cook believes residents are being short-changed

As ever, the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe spectacle was a resounding success. The quality of 
 artist was outstanding, the mingling between locals and tourists fantastic, and the economic boost to the Capital irreplaceable.

Unfortunately, the only real negative talking point was the poor cleanliness of many of the Capital’s streets.

This is far from a new occurrence. People praise Edinburgh for the wonderful city it is, what a good job it does in hosting such a globally significant event, yet adding if only there wasn’t so much litter.

The stinging criticism should focus the mind of the city council, which benefits richly from the council tax residents paying some of the highest rates in Scotland contribute.

Instead, the same mistakes are made every year. But it’s not just the month of August where this is a problem.

I recently tabled a series of questions to the council’s environment convener, Lesley Hinds, on the issue of waste collection and the service provided for city residents in general.

The answers make clear that, three years into power, the current administration continues to provide waste services which fall short of what council taxpayers should expect.

I asked how long householders were kept waiting when phoning the council to lodge a waste collection query such as reporting a missed collection or requesting a replacement bin. In May, it was two minutes and 47 seconds before someone could speak to them – a pretty frustrating wait at the best of times.

But by July, this had increased fourfold to ten minutes and 49 seconds. Does the council not think people have better things to do?

But it gets worse.

I asked about how long it took for homes to be provided with new or replacement bins, covering the many areas of recycling the local authority now demands.

The response conceded: “There has been an unsatisfactory delay in waiting times for residents to receive new or replacement bins and containers.”

And reading the figures illustrated why.

There are currently 10,500 outstanding requests for new bins in Edinburgh. The convener claimed this mammoth figure was due to the council being “a victim of its own success” where waste and recycling are concerned. But there is more.

The average wait for a new food bin is 40 days, as it is for a new garden bucket.

It takes 39 days to replace a damaged communal waste bin, regardless of the cause of the issue.

And even for businesses, the wait for trade waste facilities is 35 days.

I will let residents decide if they view these figures as a sign of success and value for money.

The council has had plenty of time and needs to decide – it’s either serious about improving waste and recycling or it is not.

It won’t be long before the debate about council tax and whether or not to increase it shoots to the top of the political agenda.

No doubt some councillors in Edinburgh and elsewhere will argue for an increase; given the current quality of waste services alone, I am sure that’s one idea many residents will quickly want to bin.

• Nick Cook is Scottish Conservative candidate for Edinburgh Eastern and Conservative council group spokesman on the environment