Monday, May 23

A better neighborhood is a clean neighborhood

Last November, the Madrid City Council awarded the city cleaning contract for 1,636 million euros for the next six years. It represents a 45% increase in the tender price of the previous contract of 2013, signed by Ana Botella. The investment per inhabitant goes from 59 euros to 86 per year. Cleaning is, without a doubt, the biggest investment that a large city council has to make. How is that investment used? Are the men and women of Madrid satisfied with the cleanliness? If we take a look at social networks or listen to neighborhood associations, it is clear that citizens do not perceive that they live in a clean city.

The companies awarded the six lots into which the cleaning contract is divided are Cespa, Valoriza-OHL, Urbaser, FCC and Alfonso Benítez-Acciona. Of these, Urbaser, a company in the hands of a vulture fund, is the one that benefits the most, taking two of the six lots.

The ‘mega contract’ establishes the type of cleaning, the frequency and the intensity with which each street in the city will be cleaned until 2027. Even those areas that will never be cleaned because the contract did not contemplate them, the so-called interblocks. It does not matter that in the next six years the circumstances change, the calculations of cleaning needs have been made with a ‘good eye’, prioritizing, yes, cleaning the streets for tourism and for luxury purchases over the streets of the neighborhoods in which the people who live in Madrid live daily. For this reason, Serrano Street and adjacent streets will be cleaned every day while, in the main arteries of the southern neighborhoods, the companies will sweep and wash down every two or three days. These cleaning contracts contribute to deepening the inequality that this Madrid governed by the right is going through.

The cleaning of the streets and pavements of a city is an urgent and daily need that directly influences the living conditions of people. Understanding the streets as a public and common space that must be cared for, conserved and maintained in the best conditions, is to understand that the cleaning service is a service to citizens of the first order, due to its enormous impact on the day-to-day life of the people. A government that wants to offer this service efficiently and responsibly must have its direct management in order to have knowledge of reality in the greatest detail.

How dirty are the streets? What dirty spots does each neighborhood have? What is the number of pits and their condition? What are the difficulties and obstacles that make cleaning tasks slower, or more painful for the workers who carry them out? What circumstances change in the streets that make it necessary to intensify or change the type of cleaning initially planned? These are questions whose answers provide us with a multitude of data and that the people who work daily cleaning the streets are the ones who can best answer them.

The Madrid City Council does not have information because through the cleaning contracts it ignores it. In return, they define which streets in our neighborhoods and how often private companies like Acciona or Ferrovial are going to clean them over the next six years.

The model that Madrid has is not the only possible one, there are other governments that have assumed the political responsibility of understanding street cleaning as an essential service for people’s lives. Alcorcón, very close to Madrid and a municipality in which Podemos forms part of the government, manages the cleaning of the streets through a publicly owned and managed company, ESMASA. A company governed with political responsibility, betting on innovation, transparency and good governance.

Alcorcón, today, is an example that shows that the public works better and has managed to reverse the damage caused by the ‘modus operandi’ of the right: deteriorate a public service and then privatize it. This is the case, for example, of what we are seeing with BiciMad. The EMT assumed the management of BiciMad, which the previous government team rescued from the ruinous private management. During the past mandate, the service reached high levels of recognition, use and satisfaction, but since 2019 Almeida has been gradually deteriorating BiciMad. Two years later, due to lack of resources and personnel, denounced by the EMT workers, we know that the City Council authorizes six private companies to deploy 2,800 electric bicycles.

It was this same way of operating of the PP that led ESMASA, a public service company in Alcorcón, to accumulate a debt of more than five million euros and unfulfilled obligations before the commercial registry. More than 500 workers were on the tightrope due to an irresponsible and despicable management of the right. Meanwhile, private companies rubbed their hands because the privatization of cleaning services was about to take place.

But, the planned operation failed because in 2015 there were municipal elections and the cleaning was assigned to Podemos. From the first moment, it was committed to the modernization and rationalization of ESMASA’s management. Based on the information and proposals of its workers, who best knew each street and its particular conditions for cleaning, a system of georeferenced knowledge of the data was established, they were transferred to analytical accounting and the cleaning service became among the best valued by the neighbors and neighbors.

Jesús Santos, president of ESMASA and deputy mayor of Alcorcón, has not only made each of the euros invested more efficient, but has also increased transparency by currently billing the City Council for the hours actually worked each month, which has already led to savings for the municipal coffers with respect to the previous annual allocations. All this has meant that, today, ESMASA is a company that receives prestigious national and international awards for its work and can consider expanding services without entailing a burden for Alcorcón.

The example of ESMASA shows us that public works better, that another way of doing things is possible, that we can improve cleanliness in our city, because a clean neighborhood is a neighborhood where people live better.