Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken has dismissed concerns about rubbish and rats after reports of street cleaners being bitten by the animals in the run-up to Cop26.
Appearing before the Scottish Affairs Committee on Monday, Councillor Aitken answered questions from MPs about the city’s preparations for the climate summit that will host as many as 30,000 delegates and thousands more activists.
Councillor Aitken told MPs that Glasgow was ready “with caveats”. She said they were technical hold-ups, none of which were “massive” or “enough to cause panic”.
When asked by Scottish Borders Conservative MP John Lamont whether she was embarrassed by the state of Glasgow streets, Councillor Aitken responded that London and Edinburgh were both far worse affected by waste due to the pandemic compared to Glasgow.
“I do not, in any way, shy away from the challenges that we face as a city, historic challenges that have been around for many, many years,” she said.
“Much of them a legacy of our post-industrial past when the Thatcher government walked away and abandoned Glasgow and left in neglect communities right across this city.”
The GMB – the union body representing street cleaners across Glasgow – warned that rats were becoming a serious threat to the workforce after staff were hospitalised following being bitten by vermin while working.
A Glasgow binman said he was hospitalised after being bitten by a rat and told the Metro in August that colleagues are “petrified” of the rodents.
The binman, who asked to remain anonymous, said he needed a tetanus shot after a rat scratched him while he cleared waste in Alexandra Parade in the Dennistoun district.
When pressed about the issue by Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross, Councillor Aitken said: “All cities have rats.”
She added that there was evidence that rat populations had increased by 25 per cent across all of the UK and that although she took health and safety issues seriously, she understood that incidents of cleaning workers being hospitalised after being in contact with rats were only “minor.”
Rat bites have left three cleansing staff in hospital, according to GMB convenor Chris Mitchell, who accused the council of being “in denial” about a vermin problem that was “getting worse and worse”.
In an interview for STV News and Scotland Tonight, Councillor Aitken said Glasgow only needed a “spruce up as we emerge from Covid”.
Colin Edgar, Glasgow council’s head of communications, defended Glasgow’s cleanliness, insisting that Edinburgh was dirtier. Mr Edgar added that the city’s cleanliness won’t come in the way of reaching a climate deal.
“An impression has grown that the city is uniquely dirty compared with other cities and uniquely dirty when compared with this city in earlier moments in time,” he said. “Neither of those things is true.
“Very few world leaders are going to come here and think: ‘Good Lord, this place is filthier than the place I left’.”
Questions of Glasgow’s readiness for Cop26 continue to dominate. Last week cleaning and refuse staff in Glasgow confirmed that they will strike for a week during the Cop26 prompting Glasgow City Council to urge the group to reconsider.
Around 1,500 Glasgow City Council staff in refuse, cleaning, school janitorial and catering roles are set to walk out as a result of the ongoing pay dispute.
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