Brighton bin strikes: totally avoidable and affordable?

Brighton is in the middle of a week-long strike, with further action set to happen just three days after the first. Our bins aren’t being emptied and as each day goes on, our streets are getting worse and being classed as a health hazard.

This was the screen just three days in to the strike action:

The strike by refuse and recycling staff is over a restructure of Brighton and Hove City Council workers pay and allowances, where some face cuts of up to £4000 a year. A lot is being said about the strike, but true facts are hard to come by making it hard to make a fair assessment. So here I’ve done some stats hunting to see how many people are affected by the restructure, how much it would save us and how affordable it is.

The council itself tells us there are around 8,000 council workers. Green council leader, Jason Kitcat said on his blog back in May that:

The majority of staff, about 90%, will see little or no change to their total pay, and of those affected more will gain than see detriment.

So we estimate that around 800 people will see a significant change in their pay and allowances and are told more than half off these will ‘gain’. We can therefore set an upper bound on the number of people who will lose out at no more than 400. The implication from Cllr Kitcat’s blog is that the true figure is likely lower. Keep this in mind as we continue.

We’re also told in the blog that:

Anyone who is unfortunately suffering detriment will be generously compensated for that loss with a lump sump payment. For example someone losing between £1,001 and £1,250 a year is proposed to receive £3,550 in one-off compensation.

So not all of the 400 people will see a loss of £4000. But for purposes of over estimating the cost to the city of not implementing the restructure let’s assume they do. This means the cost to the city will be no more than £1.6 million.

But can we get a better estimate? Let’s look again a Cllr Kitcat’s blog. He tells us that:

Most of those seeing detriment will, it is estimated, lose less than £25 per week.

This equates to about £1300 a year. ‘Most’ also implies a least half of these losing out will lose out by no more that this. So again, to over estimate the cost to the city, we’ll assume half of the 400 people lose out by £1300 and the other half lose out by the full £4000. This gives us a total ‘cost’ of £1,060,000 a year.

What does this mean for the city? Again from the same blog post, we see the city spends about £180 million a year on employees pay. Our £1 million cost from not making the changes is therefore just increasing the wage bill by 0.6%. On the cities total budget of around £700 million, it’s just 0.15%. We can see it’s a very small amount we’re arguing over.

Now, I know plenty will argue that £1 million is still a lot of money and you can’t just find it from nowhere, even if it’s just 0.15% of what you spend. But let’s put it in to context of a recent new story.

It was reported last Friday that the council underspent by £4.6 million on it’s 2012/13 budget – 0.65% of the whole £700 million budget. If we saw £1 million of this surpless used to off set the pay and allowance cuts, we’s still see an under sending of £3.6 million this year. Of if we used this over the next few years, we could afford to keep pay at the same levels until at least summer 2017!

We should also consider the ‘compensation’ being offered to people facing cuts. I quoted earlier from Cllr Kitcat’s blog that people losing between £1001 and £1250 will be compensated with a £3550 lump sum. We can assume that people losing out by less or more might be similarly compensated – getting a lump sum of at least 3550/1250 = 2.84 times what they are losing. This would equate to a compensation package cost of over £3 million. If we weren’t paying it now, it’s enough to extend current pay levels even further – to at least summer 2020.

I don’t think anyone is arguing we shouldn’t be sorting out complicated pay and allowance structures and making a “fair, consistent and transparent” system. What the staff are arguing about is the unfair hardship caused for some of them by unnecessary, and for many, extremely large pay and allowance cuts. This, after they’ve already faced three years of pay freezes.

What the public are angry about is having to face dirty and smelly streets from an avoidable situation. The Green-lead Council, with Jason kitcat a the head need to wake up and sort this issue out and get their priorities right. We can avoid these strikes without any cost to the city. We need to do it now before we further damage this city’s reputation and tourism industry, on which it relies so much.

Yet the Greens would rather hike our city centre parking charges. In the last year these increases (to as much as £20 a time if you want park near the sea for more than 4 hours) have been responsible for loss of nearly £1 million in expected parking revenue – almost as much as the cost of not making the pay structure changes.

Then there’s the £1.5million wasted on bringing in the 20mph zone that most don’t want, motorists are ignoring and police won’t enforce. Again, this money could have been better spent on avoiding these pay cuts, with some left over to even increase it for the lowest paid.

Everything is quite literally such a mess here in Brighton and cost wise, so avoidable. Jason Kitcat and the rest of the Greens need to wake up and see the problems they are causing by wasting money and hurting the people who work in this city. It’s highly damaging and not at all acceptable. People won’t stand for this much longer.


I’ll finish with a little disclaimer that all this is based on the figures I’ve been able to find. I’ve been cautious in the calculations, always trying to set bounds at the extremes which work against my arguments. If you have or more accurate stats, let me know – I’m happy to re-do this with better data to build up a more accurate picture.

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