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Business owners fight back over Brighton and Hove bin strike
Frustrated business owners are fighting back against rubbish strewn streets with community clean-up efforts - but their good deeds have been met angry opposition.
Tensions were running high yesterday as the grim bin strike saga moved into its sixth day, with the streets of Brighton and Hove now littered with anything from used nappies and mouldy food to pieces of old furniture and household junk.
Penny Thompson, chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council, apologised for the “mess across the city” and said the council was working hard with unions to reach an agreement.
But while council chiefs and union bosses tried to thrash out a deal in the boardroom, fed-up business owners took to the streets to tackle the mountains of filthy rubbish themselves.
Emily Kent, 19, of the Rainbow Flowers florists in George Street, Hove, was collecting and removing rubbish outside her shop on Tuesday evening when she was confronted by a man who claimed to be a striking Cityclean worker.
She said: “My dad told me to go and clean up outside. The man asked why I was collecting the rubbish and I told him we didn't want the street to look like it was.
“He said he was an on-strike bin man and that collecting rubbish didn't help. He ripped one of my bin bags open and threw all its contents all over the street again.
“He was quite aggressive and I was so shocked I couldn't say anything to him before he went off.”
Emily's father, Billy, 43, said he “couldn't believe” what happened.
He said: “It was ridiculous. He grabbed a bag she had spent time filling with dirty rubbish and just ripped it open all over the street.
“We're a business, we don't want our streets looking like a rubbish dump. What kind of message is it going to give visitors?”
Emily and Billy Kemp of Rainbow Flowers
Since the bin strike started last week, Mr Kent has been spearheading a community clean-up operation involving various businesses in George Street.
As well as undertaking daily litter picking sessions, he has taped numerous black bin bags up and down walls of the street.
Yesterday evening he collected all the contents of the make-shift bins and put them in a van ready to take to a local waste centre for recycling.
Nando di Napoli, owner of the neighbouring Caffe Bar Italia di Napoli coffee shop, said Mr Kent's efforts were “unbelievable”.
He said: “We need more people like him.
“I run a food business. How am I expected to have customers sit down outside with rubbish blowing everywhere in the wind?
“I'm out four or five times a day cleaning up my own patch outside the shop. I have full sympathy for the bin men.
“If someone said to me 'you are going to have £4,000 a year taken off your salary' I would be furious.
“These guys have families to feed. The council are greedy. I hate them with all my heart.
“I pay them £900 a month rent to the council. Where is it all going? They say they have under spent by £4 million. Why is there an issue with paying these guys their money then?”
Charity shop worker Leah O'Faolain
Down the road at the Age UK charity shop, staff member Leah O'Faolain, 32, said: “We're cleaning up the patch outside the shop, of course.
“People have told me not to get involved. But where do you draw the line? It's disgusting.”
Elsewhere in the city, a branch of Costa Coffee has started to provide its own bin to help keep the area around the shop clean.
In Over Street, a note on a bin warned people against leaving “soiled” nappies in and around the already overflowing bins.
It read: “Can you not keep them at your own home until the strike is over, rather than allow them to be spread over the roads by seagulls?
“We do not want your soiled nappies thank you very much.”
Across town in Burlington Street, Kemp Town, another business owner described how she was “incensed” at the council.
Sarah Corton, of William Morris Antiques and Decorative Interiors, said: “People will come here for the summer and wonder what on earth is going on.
“If I was a visitor to Brighton now and saw what was going on, I'd never come back.
“I am incensed that the council isn't doing something about it.”
'if I was a visitor I'd never come back'
But the community efforts did not go down well on the social networking page Support Brighton Council Workers.
A statement published on the Facebook page said clean-ups were “the opposite of being supportive”.
It said: “Any attempts to lessen the impact of a strike completely undermines our action.”
It added: “We wholly recognise that Brighton is not a pleasant place to be at the moment and we apologise to all residents for the state of our city and for the inconvenience caused to you by this disruption.
“However please remember that we are residents here too and we also would like to live in a clean city and return to doing our work as soon as possible to make this the case.”
Yesterday officials from the GMB union and officers from Brighton and Hove City Council were engaged in yet more talks in search of a satisfactory conclusion to the strikes.
Penny Thompson, chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council, said last night discussions were continuing.
She added: ““I am sorry we are in this situation, as a resident I am well aware of the disruption and mess across the city.
“The proposals we've put forward are intended to achieve a fair and consistent scheme for staff across the council.
“Many staff will gain from these proposals and we are continuing to seek to reduce any losses some will suffer. Where there is a loss a compensation package is in place.
“This is an historical issue which needs to be resolved. Nevertheless I'm sorry for the disruption that the strike is causing."
Cityclean employees will return to work on Friday and work the weekend before the new wave of action begins on Monday.
No one from the GMB union was available for comment as The Argus went to press last night.
What is the opposition saying?
MP Mike Weatherley
Mike Weatherley, Conservative MP for Hove, urged both the GMB and the Green Party to “put Brighton and Hove first”.
He said: “Generally, most residents just want their bins emptied and to be left alone to get on with their lives.
“However, together the Greens and the GMB/Labour union have gotten the city into a complete and utter mess.
“While Caroline Lucas has joined the strikers on the picket line, I will instead be helping residents this weekend attempt to clear up some of the rubbish.”
He added: “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 of duties.
“I've heard horror story after horror story and the situation is now totally out of control.
“It has reached a crisis point, so Brighton & Hove City Council needs to act now to get cover for the GMB/Labour union strikers.”
MP Simon Kirby
Simon Kirby, Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown, yesterday met with local government minister Brandon Lewis MP to discuss the strike.
Mr Kirby said: “Many residents have contacted me incredibly concerned about the dangers to public health of having piles of rubbish strewn across our city and it is important that the Government realises what is happening just 50 miles down the road from Westminster.
“The minister was very interested in the situation and has asked for me to keep him fully informed of any developments.
“He shared my desire to see an end to the dispute immediately so that residents are not made to suffer further.”
Why are they striking?
Brighton and Hove City Council currently has a mish-mash system of allowances and expenses.
To ensure it avoids any costly employment legal action over equal pay, the local authority said it must address the issue now.
They claim that 90% of those affected in its 8,000-strong workforce will be better off or receive roughly the same amount but union representatives claim Cityclean staff could lose up to £4,000 a year.
For those who will lose out, individual compensation packages, reportedly of up to £15,000, will be available.
The local authority claims if the changes are not made it could lead to High Court pay claims and a potential bill to the taxpayer of tens of millions of pounds.
The fresh stink of sea air
A rapper has taken to the studio to protest against the stinking streets of his home town.
MC Freshness braved bin juice and rowdy seagulls to make a YouTube video to the track, which has had more than 2,000 hits in 24 hours.
The Fresh Stink of Sea Air is rapped to the theme of Will Smith's Fresh Prince of Bel-Air show and features choice lines such as: “A couple of seagulls that were up to no good, started eating rubbish in my neighbourhood.”
The former Brighton Institute of Modern Music student, from Hove, said: “At the moment the streets are an absolute state, it stinks.
“I was sick of walking around town and thought I would just get in the studio and lay down a track with a couple of my brethrens.
“The bin men don't deserve a pay cut, but at the same time they're quite expensive. I'm on the fence but I want to start a revolution so bin men get what they deserve and keep everyone happy.
The bedroom rapper added: “It's a subject a lot of people can relate to. Hopefully it will result in the streets being cleaned and me being on a world tour. Whatever happens it just needs to sorted as soon as possible. It's making my white trainers really dirty.”
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