Lord Mayor, I am sure everyone shares with me the relief that we all felt on Thursday night when news came through that the siege in Earlsdon had ended. What made the news even better is that nobody was harmed. I am aware that the local community will have been both frustrated and frightened and I can well understand that being the case.
I want to pay tribute to our colleagues in the police service, it was a very difficult and sensitive situation and they applied both professionalism and patience to ensure that we got the ending that we did.
I want to also thank colleagues in the police service for ensuring that they communicated with ourselves so that we were aware of developments on a day-to-day basis and I thank them for what they were doing and certainly at the end of the siege on Thursday.
What I am sure a lot of colleagues will not be aware of, is the involvement of the city council of our officers at all levels and I want to thank them on behalf of the city council and would ask that this be placed on record for the work they did. 10 different teams were involved in providing both support to the police and local residents, they included our resilience team, rest centre volunteers, library service, community groups, local education authority staff, both supporting with the closure of the Earlsdon primary school building and dealing with the aftermath, highways supported road closures, housing and homeless team organised temporary accommodation for those displaced by the police cordons, the communications team helped to cascade the information and the emergency duty team dealt with issues over the weekend and the evenings. As Leader of Coventry City Council I am very proud of all the officers involved. This is a great example of what we call the One Coventry approach.
Lord Mayor I now want to move on to the substantial part of my Leader’s statement today and that is about the current Coventry bin dispute.
First of all I want to thank Political colleagues Patricia Hetherton, Richard Brown and Gavin Lloyd in particular for the work they have done, working with Martin Reeves, Andrew Walster and Sue Newing to try to find a way of resolving this dispute.
The first comments I wish to make is to say sorry to the people of the city for the inconvenience that has been caused to them by the current dispute. My view is very simple, I don’t understand why there is a strike, and I would ask my trade union colleagues to return to work.
Let me say why I don’t believe that strike action should continue, I would never argue that people are not entitled to exercise their right to strike, I am a trade unionist, but in this instance I do not believe this is the correct response.
There were 2 issues that were the subject of a dispute which Unite balloted their members on. First was the failure to agree Christmas period working, which had been 51 weeks of the year since 1999. The need to move to a 52 week calendar was because the voluntary arrangements that had been put in place since then often simply did not deliver the service that was required.
Due to the fact the voluntary arrangement was custom and practice, the Council had to engage with the Union on a buy out of this term and condition. What we table before Christmas and we will be tabling again, with support from ACAS where appropriate and the trade unions was £3500 for each member of the refuse team. That does include drivers, senior crew members and collectors. I would ask my trade union colleagues to put that to their members forthwith, and I will return to some other proposals which form what I think is a favourable package going forward.
The second element in respect to the ballot was in relation to the upgrading of HGV driver members employed at the Whitley depot. The ask was that HGV drivers move from a Grade 5 to a Grade 6.
The regrading application was not successful when submitted internally for evaluation at the city council, the appeal that followed was considered by west midlands employers who reached the same conclusion and we will now ask ACAS through their good offices to employ independent evaluators to again look at this regrading application.
Lord mayor what I don’t believe we can countenance is that we simply jump the job evaluation process, neither can we contrive to improve colleagues HGV drivers pay. The result simply, would lead to equal pay claims which would be beyond resourcing and would lead inevitably to redundancies.
The people of Coventry have responded magnificently and I want to thank them for the usage of the pop up sites that are being provided across the city at present. Just a reminder, they are at Memorial park, Hearsall common, Cheylesmore car park, Sowe valley, Wyken Slough and Leicester causeway and more recently added, at the Muslim Resource centre, Tom Whites waste and Wellington street, and I continue to ask Officers if we can look to ensure where there are obvious geographical gaps, that we provide pop up sites in those locations.
The feedback has been very favourable, and constituents have raised with us whether these would continue beyond the strike. The staff who have delivered this service on site have been widely praised for their friendliness, efficiency and the figures as of Sunday were 104,000 car journeys to these sites and 400,000 black bags disposed of.
Lord Mayor, this is all very well and good, but this is not the service we want. The service we want is one that is flexible and consistent, a 52 week a year service and this is what we are trying to achieve. In order to get this, we are also looking at how we offer a fair package to all members of the refuse service.
First of all in respect to the buy out, £3500, as has been mentioned, will again be tabled as it was before Christmas. For the HGV colleagues who are on the lower point scale of Grade 5, we will be offering a market supplement of £1300 backdated to last April. Finally for the non-driver members we will be offering the opportunity to achieve a HGV class 2 licence, obviously paid for by the city council.
Here we will be offering 20 non driver colleagues a year that opportunity. What we are trying to do is to ensure we grow our own in respect to this service. At the end of the process we want a service that the city council is happy to offer to the people of Coventry and a service that they are happy to receive, and that is a clear objective of this administration.
Lord Mayor I think that it is correct to make it clear to all concerned whether in the Chamber today or outside, that we as Councillors, do not get involved in direct negotiations around terms and conditions. We can of course have an input, have a say, but ultimately the decisions lie with the chief executive and his colleagues.
It is my preference of course that we should carry on with the negotiations to try to find a settlement that is the way forward that recognises that in the end we all have to work together when this dispute is finished. My respect for our colleagues in the refuse services has never diminished and will not diminish and I made reference on many occasions to their response to the pandemic, especially in the early stages, along with so many other sets of workers, they clearly were heroes of the pandemic, but that does not mean to say that on every occasion they are going to get it right and in this instance they clearly have not got it right. At the same time I would expect a respect from all members of the public and ask that refuse service staff are not abused, whether it be verbally or worse, physically and remind anyone engaging in such behaviour that we will prosecute.
So one of the final points I would wish to make is that the our colleagues on the conservative group are likely to be telling us today how we should be testing the market. My response to that is that the conservative group is not so much a one trick pony as a one-legged stool. I simply do not believe that we get value for money from a privatised service and there are many instances to evidence that. Colleagues we are all going to face significant increases in our energy bills, a living example of failure of privatisations of the 1980s, both in supply and storage.
But more recently, when we got back into government in Coventry in 2010 we brought our ICT service back in house saving £5million and have been able to offer a better service at the same time. And my recent experiences of SERCO in relation to the asylum dispersal process makes me absolutely clear that the market does not provide all the answers.
Like most of us here I believe in a mixed economy, but I don’t believe in these circumstances that this is a service that belongs in the private sector.
Colleagues on this side of the chamber will continue to make the case for an in-house service and that is not because I am a member of unite, the truth of the matter is, that I believe this is the correct way forward. I could equally say given what has happened during the covid crisis and with the various contracts handed out to friends of Tory Ministers around PPE etc, that the Tory group would come up with this solution. So for our part we will continue to argue for in house service. That’s within the Council, but the real case for our service to remain inhouse is made on the pavements of this city, that’s where the real case is made, and I would remind colleagues at Whitley that we will deliver in this chamber, we ask you to deliver on the pavements and provide a service that people can be proud of and not frustrated with.
So Lord Mayor my final comments are that we should look to resolve this issue and I finish where I started in my plea, for colleagues to go back to working in normal patterns as soon as possible. I ask that the trade unions engage in a meaningful way with us using ACAS and remember that it is the people of the city that we serve.