Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
A hot summer day in Brighton should be a great treat. As the Sun strikes peaks of mountainous mess, the putrid smell of an industrial dispute pervades the jewel of the South Coast. Brighton & Hove City Council have been quarrelling with its Cityclean workers, who are employed to clean streets and collect domestic refuse and recycling, over the terms of a unified staff allowances system. The fusion of Brighton Borough Council and Hove Borough Council in 1997 established internal disparities within the new city council. The current scheme has been described by the council as “complex” and “no longer fit for purpose”.
The GMB union claims that bin collectors may lose up to £4,000 a year from the standardised allowance scheme, as it gives generously to weekend and Bank Holiday work, which are rarely undertaken by bin collectors and street cleaners. Under a Green Party minority administration, Brighton & Hove City Council has paid a ‘living wage’ of £7.45 per hour to its employees from April 2013, which ameliorates the allowance reduction.
This dispute is rupturing the local Green Party. Council Leader Cllr Jason Kitcat is widely considered responsible for the industrial action, with an open letter to The Argus signed by Green Party members calling for his resignation. Caroline Lucas, Britain’s only Green MP and the MP for Brighton, opposes the Green-led council’s proposals:
I want to make clear my opposition to cuts to take-home, and that I am very aware of the devastating impact that the potential loss of as much as £95 a week would have on council workers – especially those already on low pay.
Hove’s Conservative MP Mike Weatherly said: “I’ve been contacted by a huge number of residents who are extremely angry that Brighton & Hove City Council, led by the Green Party, has failed in its most basic duties.”
Business owners and residents have been frustrated by the dispute, with some attempting to clear up the piling rubbish themselves, being labelled as ‘scabs’ and ‘strike-breakers’ by some striking staff for their efforts. Emily Kent, who works for the Rainbow Flowers florists with her father, was confronted by a supposed Cityclean striker. She said: “He said he was an on-strike bin man and that collecting rubbish didn’t help. He ripped one of my bin bags and threw all its contents all over the street again.”
Thankfully for the residents and tourists to Brighton and Hove, the current industrial action has now been temporarily suspended, and the back-logged clean-up has begun. In a joint statement with the council, the GMB Branch Secretary Mark Turner stated: “For their part, the council have committed to confirm to each staff member how the revised proposal will affect them on an individual basis.”
Local government can provide a platform for smaller parties to test out their ideas. The merger of two authorities is often problematic, and the Greens are overseeing a final convulsion from that fusion. This episode does demonstrate when these services are withdrawn, we notice their absence.