Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles knew exactly what he was doing when he announced last year that it is every citizen’s right to have the leftovers of their chicken tikka masala collected every seven days.
He realised, as a former council leader, that the weekly household refuse collection is the most visible and universal public service provided by local authorities and his strong views on curry disposal would receive widespread coverage and approval.
Coupled with this Mr Pickles set up a £250 million fund to councils which guarantee a weekly residual waste collection as well as innovative household recycling schemes – a sort of carrot to encourage boroughs away from the trend towards fortnightly rounds.
Birmingham City Council’s new cabinet member for green stuff James McKay has jumped on this bid as a chance to bring in wheelie bin collections for the majority of the city’s 400,000 households.
The debate between the black bag and the plastic wheelie bin has been a heated one in Birmingham over the last decade, wrapped in all sorts of hysteria.
Letters and comment pages have been brimming with claims and counter claims on the issue since the wheelie bin proposal was revealed at the weekend.
The majority of local authorities around Birmingham, including Walsall, Sandwell, Solihull, Lichfield and Tamworth as well as major cities including Bristol, Leeds and London Boroughs have the wheelies with little complaint.
The anti-wheelie bin lobby claim they are a fire hazard, will block roads, be used for racing by bored teenagers, can be used by burglers to jump walls and wreak havoc on terraced streets where there are no gardens to store them.
They are probably used to smuggle illegal immigrants in the fevered imaginations of some green ink using folk.
The only time a wheelie bin has hit the national headlines was when a Coventry woman dropped a cat in one on CCTV.
On the other side the black bags filled with yesterday’s roast are a target for foxes and dogs, split and spill rubbish on the roads, meaning street cleaners have to follow collection rounds. They are simply unsightly when piled by the roadside.
I’ve lost count of the number of Council Chamber debates, committee discussions and reports on the matter. A pilot scheme was even scrapped during planning stages in 2004 when the council changed hands.
It even caused tension in the former Tory-Lib Dem administration – particularly in 2007 when a report, chaired by Lib Dem Martin Mullaney, called for wheelie bin pilots in some areas and this was blocked by the former Tory cabinet member for transport and street services Len Gregory.
Former councillor Gregory was vehemently against spending taxpayers money and the enormous set-up costs – approximately £15 per bin, and millions to upgrade the bin wagons.
And last year a debate on the issue caused a diplomatic incident when former Coun Green claimed the wheelie bin filled streets of Tamworth were a filthy disgrace. Evidence from the Tory borough suggested otherwise.
That debate decided that individual areas could, if local councillors choose, introduce wheelie bins, but they had to find the set-up funding from local budgets – try doing that during these austere times.
But with the Government fund available a successful bid from Birmingham would see those costs covered.