29 October 2021

Sarwar brands Sturgeon ‘arrogant and out of touch’ in rubbish and rats row

29 October 2021

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of being “out of touch” over the rubbish and rats crisis in Glasgow after she argued people were talking down the city for political gain.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the First Minister would be “letting down” the people of Glasgow if she failed to address the street cleaning situation.

With days to go until Glasgow hosts Cop26 the pair have clashed over the state of the city before thousands of delegates arrive for the environmental summit.

Mr Sarwar warned that “rats are running free in the streets” and rubbish was not being collected amid looming strike action by council cleaners, but Ms Sturgeon accused him of exploiting the situation for political purposes.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar with Barry McAreavey as he is shown some fly-tipping in a lane as they walk through Glasgow (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)

At FMQs on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said: “I don’t shy away from the problems and the challenges that cities like Glasgow – Glasgow is not unique here – face in the times that we live through right now.

“But nor will I stand here and allow Glasgow, one of the greatest cities in the world, to be talked down for political purposes in the way that Anas Sarwar has disgracefully been doing in recent times.”

Mr Sarwar invited the SNP leader to meet with street cleaners from the GMB union in Glasgow on Friday – an offer she declined.

I think it's arrogant, I think it's out of touch and it doesn't recognise the scale of the challenge

Speaking about Ms Sturgeon’s comments after being shown fly-tipped rubbish and overflowing streets near the site of the Cop26 conference, Mr Sarwar said: “I think that language is not consistent with lived experiences that people have in Glasgow every day, or the experiences of cleansing workers.

“And I think, frankly, she doesn’t live in the real world. I think it’s arrogant, I think it’s out of touch and it doesn’t recognise the scale of the challenge.

“We want this to showcase our city but you can’t showcase the city while you’ve got an environmental crisis at the same time.

“You can’t showcase the city while there’s 1.3 million rats in our city. We can’t showcase our city where you’ve got workers in disputes, threatening strikes.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar in Glasgow (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)

Asked if he was damaging the city’s reputation, Mr Sarwar said: “Glasgow is the greatest city on earth. I am proud to be born in Glasgow, be brought up in Glasgow, and champion Glasgow.

“But for years, we have rightly confronted the fact that we have disproportionate levels of poverty and inequality in our city.

“We don’t say that’s talking down, but it’s recognising the situation we face.

“We want this summit to be a success, but we want a legacy from the summit. And that legacy from this summit has to be – yes, meeting our global obligation – but the legacy of the summit also has to be meeting our local obligation.

“If we can’t meet a simple obligation of people’s rubbish being collected, for them to live in safe, secure and clean environments and not have rats running about the streets, then I’m sorry – that’s frankly letting them down and I’m not willing to let that happen.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused Anas Sarwar of talking down Glasgow (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

Thousands of council workers, including rubbish collectors, school janitors and cleaners, are set to go on strike next week as part of a long-running dispute over pay and conditions.

However, on Friday local authority umbrella organisation Cosla made a new offer to trade unions in an attempt to avert strikes during the climate summit.

With industrial action set to begin from Monday if the offer is not accepted, Mr Sarwar said he would back striking workers if no resolution can be found but urged the First Minister to do everything she can to avert strikes.

He said: “Get round the table, give them the pay deal they deserve, give Glasgow the budget it deserves that they can invest in cleansing and they can invest in keeping streets clean and we can confront the crisis we have with rubbish and rats in the city.”

A no fly tipping sign on a wall as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar meets GMB cleansing workers in Glasgow to learn about their dispute with the Scottish Government ahead of Cop26 (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)

Chris Mitchell, the GMB convener for refuse and cleansing, told the PA news agency there were increasing rubbish, debris and rats in Glasgow streets because of “horrendous cuts to the cleansing budget”.

He added: “We just don’t have enough staff to actually do the job now.

“We had 800 road sweepers, but we’re down to 230 to manually clean this city. If you include mechanical sweepers, it comes to about 400.

“It’s just not enough.

“We need 100 more road sweepers, 100 refuse collectors and a whole review of this service to get this city in the good state of sanitation it should be in.”

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