GETTING the basics right. It’s the least that the public can ask of its government and the services it supplies through its spending of taxpayers’ money.
And there’s a certain confidence generated in the mind of the average taxpayer that if the most straightforward of services are being carried out to a reasonable level of satisfaction, then more complex issues might well be handled appropriately by those employed to carry out public duties.
Are the streetlights on at night? Excellent, maybe we’ll trust you with repairing potholes in our roads and then we’ll talk about educating our youngsters.
The most basic of services, though, is surely the collection of waste. The decanting of our detritus. The emptying of our bins.
What could be more straightforward than the regular collection of a wheelie bin, placed in the correct position at the back end of a bin lorry so that it is raised aloft, turned upside down and emptied into the yawning chasm of refuse below? Then it should be replaced on the ground and wheeled back to its original position. Simple.
And yet in Edinburgh it seems to be far from straightforward. Complaints about bin collections have soared - between July last year and this there was a complaint every ten minutes, day and night on average - the council’s Twitter feed is full of photos of overflowing communal bins which seem to have lain unemptied for weeks, with litter surrounding them on the ground like rotting confetti.
And now it transpires that refuse collectors are knocking off early while streets are left sprinkled with the debris left behind their lorries.
The people living beside these eyesores and nasal-abusers, these rat-attractors and public health dangers are rightly angry. They don’t understand why the refuse collectors cannot pick up the mess that can, at times, drop out of the bins when they’re being lifted.
Why don’t these cleansing operatives have brushes on hand to sweep it up? Why can’t they even put the bins back where they find them and not create a hazard for pedestrians or drivers?
And then there’s the issue of picking up bin bags placed at the side of the wheelie bins which are generally also left behind.
Of course the use of bin bags should no longer be required, given the many recycling bins that are in households, but if bins aren’t emptied in the first place, it becomes inevitable. The idea that it’s a health and safety regulation that prevents the bin men (and the majority are men) from picking them up is absurd. It’s as though they are barred from using their common sense or even their civic sense. For I’m sure that the bin men want to do the job properly. To empty the bins regularly and keep the streets of the city they live in, clean. So perhaps they need to have a word with their union, which seems to be the most powerful with which the council has to deal and which, through its zealous approach to protecting its members, could ultimately see the whole service privatised.
Because what they have to understand is that the general public, on the whole, doesn’t care who picks up the bins, whether they’re council staff or private contractors, as long as the job is done to a reasonable standard.
There is little sympathy in this time of job insecurity and austerity towards well-paid bin men who are not doing the job and are cutting their shifts short.
Unite has done wonders for its cleansing members over the years, especially in terms of hours and bonuses - not that it seemed to manage to do the same for female staff in equivalent jobs as the equal pay scandal showed.
However, now it has to act in both their interests and those of the public. Get the bins emptied, the streets cleared and talk of privatisation will disappear. Allow this current mess to carry on, public anger to grow and there’s a sad inevitability that out-sourcing lies ahead.
Of course, fault also lies with council management and it’s already admitted this needs strengthened. It has obviously lost control of this fiefdom - reminiscent of what happened within the property conservation department.
If it doesn’t get a grip soon, then the ruling coalition could soon find that at next year’s elections, the public declares it rubbish too.