Rubbish piles during the refuse worker strike in September 2023. Images by Hannah Jupe © Social Streets CIC
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Tower Hamlets Council to spend £5m on waste services following complaints

Tower Hamlets Council is planning to spend £5 million on waste services to clean up the borough and tackle complaints from residents about missed collections.

The plans are part of Tower Hamlets Council’s draft budget for 2024/25 and were discussed by the Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, and his Aspire cabinet on Wednesday evening (January 3).

Money will be spent on hiring 72 extra frontline workers who will work as drivers, sweepers or loaders and the council is also planning to have new vehicles on the road to help clear up rubbish.

Some of the borough’s busiest areas, including the tourist hotspots of Brick Lane and Shoreditch, are expected to see more nighttime and weekend rounds of sweeping as part of the plans.

As he introduced the draft budget to the room, Mr Rahman said: ‘This budget today will see an additional £5 million investment into council waste management services to clean up the borough and to maintain a decent standard of cleanliness for all our residents.’

He went on to say that the Aspire administration had inherited a ‘dirty borough’ when it took over from the previous Labour administration following the May 2022 local elections and said there were missed collections and rubbish ‘across many parts of the borough’.

A history of waste issues in the borough

Mr Rahman declared a waste emergency in November 2022 and said there were ‘unacceptable levels of dirt and waste’ in the borough after meeting with refuse workers who said they felt unable to carry out their jobs due to a lack of investment.

In May 2023, Labour councillor Sabina Khan argued the borough’s waste service was not ‘100 per cent’ and claimed some workers did not know the routes they were supposed to be on.

On May 19, 2023, Cllr Khan said during an overview and scrutiny meeting: ‘One of the reasons fly-tipping is happening is because of your services – the root cause is that your service is not 100 per cent.

‘You’re not collecting on time, you miss collections, your vehicles are down, your people [are] temporary workers who you rely on.’

She went on: ‘I’ve been told, some of them – the workers – they don’t know the routes, they don’t know what’s happening so they’re missing road groups at a time.’

Just four months later, huge piles of rotting rubbish spilt out onto the streets of Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel and Mile End as a result of strike action from refuse workers and street cleaners who had walked out over a pay dispute with the council.

The strike was called off just over a week later after workers agreed on an extra £750 as part of their pay deal with the council, which relied on paying private waste contractors to help clean up the borough’s streets and catch up on missed collections during the strikes.

For more local news, read Founder of East London Liquor Company buys business out of administration. 

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