Nick Cook: The trash talk is over. Now it’s time to deliver

Overflowing bins have caused widespread anger across the Capital. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Overflowing bins have caused widespread anger across the Capital. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Today, the city council will be asked to approve a report detailing a new 65-point Action Plan to tackle Edinburgh’s now infamously failing bin and street cleansing services.

Solving the problems with the service seems a bit like climbing to the top of a rubbish heap – a heap that, after four years of failure, grows taller and taller.

To quantify the problem, official statistics obtained by the Scottish Conservatives in the summer show that household complaints had rocketed 50 per cent in a year –from 33,976 to 52,911.

As a headline, the council’s trumpeted plan is of course a welcome move to whip a failing service back into shape.

Unfortunately, the reality is different.

Many of the actions contained within the report are reheated announcements presented to the transport and environment committee six months ago.

Since then, problems have remained acute.

Readers need look no further than the Evening News’ own Bin Watch campaign. On the pages of this newspaper, it laid bare the filth piling up on Edinburgh streets.

Though effective, the campaign should never have been necessary in the first place.

Which brings me to my next point – many of the proposals within with this proposal are fundamental to the most basic of service delivery.

For example, the plan notes that an assessment is needed to establish the number of households with “more than one garden waste bin”.

One would think that to have any chance of actually collecting residents’ bins, the local authority would have kept track of the number and type of bins issued, rather than waiting four years to find out.

From today the practice of ‘task and finish’ – which had binmen knocking off work up to four hours early – will be ended. In addition, crews will now clear up spillages and return bins to the curtilage of residents’ homes. All fundamental – but long overdue – service improvements.

On street cleaning, the action plan states that this must be “visible and effective”. Something on which we all can agree, and surely doesn’t need heralded in an official document such as this.

To achieve this, the council proposes the bold and innovative solution of ensuring street sweeping is carried out with a brush “as the norm”.

If many of the actions are fulfilled as stated, Edinburgh has a fighting chance of delivering a service which is finally worthy of the council tax receipts from which it is funded.

But forgive me if I remain a little sceptical.

The reality is that many of the most basic issues plaguing our waste and cleansing services could have been avoided entirely had the council implemented an alternative business model for service delivery in 2011, which offered contractually guaranteed service improvements.

Instead, council taxpayers have endured years of shoddy services and recycled soundbites.

If we don’t see measurable and sustained improvements – and fast – it is time again for the council to consider new ways of service delivery.

The priority must always be a quality service at best value to the taxpayers.

Nick Cook is a Conservative councillor for Liberton/Gilmerton ward