Glasgow City Council has spent almost £10m on agency workers to empty bins and deal with recycling in the last five years, we can reveal.
The “eye watering” spend has escalated in the past two years with the council racking up a £5.6m bill for refuse agency workers from April 2020 to March 2022.
Critics said it “beggared belief” the council had paid out so much to agency workers rather than invest in additional council staff while simultaneously allowing the city’s “waste crisis” to continue unchecked.
Over the last year there has been growing anger about the state of Glasgow’s streets, with opposition politicians and business owners alike calling for action.
Ahead of COP26 last November, it was claimed that Scotland’s biggest city was “filthy” and “a midden” – though council leader Susan Aitken at first denied and then downplayed the issues.
A national audit published last September found Edinburgh’s streets were officially dirtier.
However a freedom of information request submitted by The Ferret also revealed that staff numbers had fallen from 648 in 2018-19 to 615 in 2020-21, with the number of agency staff – and associated costs – rising in the same period.
In response to criticism of the spend Glasgow City Council said Covid-19 had affected its workforce and led to additional spending. It is now recruiting “deep clean teams” to help address issues including overflowing bins, fly tipping and graffiti.
But GMB Scotland organiser Sean Baillie said the costs revealed by The Ferret raised “difficult questions” for Glasgow City Council to answer.
“It beggars belief they are lining the pockets of private contractors with millions of pounds of public money while the city’s waste crisis keeps growing,” he added.
“It would be far better if these monies were redistributed properly by investing in more full-time staff and better resources to help make our communities cleaner and greener.”
He called on management to work with the union to secure employment for agency workers, which he said would have “a positive impact both on the workforce and the communities we serve”.
Barry McAreavey, who has worked in waste and recycling for 26 years in the city, agreed the council should invest in staffing.
“For agency workers it’s a sticky situation,” he said. “It can be difficult to get rented accommodation never mind a mortgage when you’re not on a staff contract. “Many of them have been on zero hour contracts for years.”
Last November refuse workers represented by the GMB threatened strike action during COP26 and were backed by climate activist Greta Thunberg.
McAreavey claimed that following the threat of action agency workers were told they could apply for staff jobs as road sweepers, but claimed that many wanted to remain in waste and recycling, including driving bin lorries.
While positive about the forthcoming “deep clean teams”, he claimed “short sighted” changes – including a lack of neighbourhood patrols, fewer bins in parks and larger bins on streets that needed emptied by a truck – had led to a situation where Glasgow’s streets were not kept clean.
“I think Glasgow is experiencing the broken window effect,” he added. The theory is that visible signs of neglect quickly spiral.
“It’s the same with littler. If the place is a mess people stop feeling like it’s their responsibility to keep it tidy.”
Employed by Glasgow
Labour MSP for Glasgow, Paul Sweeney, said that rather than hiring agency workers, the city should be hiring more staff and offering them a pay rise to cope with the rapidly rising cost of living.
“This eye watering sum of public money paid out for agency staff is a slap in the face to every cleansing and refuse worker employed directly by Glasgow City Council,” he said.
“The budget cuts handed down from the SNP Government to Scotland’s local authorities has left them on their knees. Sadly, it’s the people of Glasgow who pay the price for this horrendous financial mismanagement, and it’s never been clearer that we need a fundamental change in the way we value our local authority workers.”
A spokesperson for Glasgow City Council said: “There can be no doubt the covid pandemic had a huge impact on delivery of environmental services.
“However, our plan to support the recovery is beginning to deliver improvements to the city’s environment.
“Following a £2m commitment in our recent budget, deep clean teams will soon also be operating across every ward in the city to address many of the issues that built up over the course of the pandemic.”
This report was updated at 10.49 on 30 June 2022 to add the following paragraphs. Glasgow City Council said it only takes on agency staff when there is a short term need to ensure workloads were covered and noted the pandemic increased that need. A spokesperson added: “There is also a pathway for agency staff who work shifts with the council to gain full time employment with us.”
Are Councils Working? is an investigation by The Ferret, co-published with The Herald, exploring local issues, services, communities and more.
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Photo Credit: iStock/Nadya So