Glasgow is dirty. That, at least, has been the story that has been told about Scotland’s biggest city in recent years.

Social and mainstream media has brimmed with pictures of overflowing bins, of filthy, flytipped back alleys and of what amounted to an illegal landfill under a motorway.

This summer Time Out Magazine even named the city as the world’s third dirtiest, behind Rome and New York. True, this was based on an online reader survey, not on actual evidence.

And Glasgow - like most big urban areas - really does have problems with littering, flytipping, graffiti and even street weeds.

But, gold-standard inspections of its public places, suggest it was getting cleaner, not dirtier, during the media and political rows about its “manky streets”.

The Herald yesterday revealed that Scotland has been getting filthier overall. We obtained data from LEAMS, the Local Environment Audit and Management Systems report carried out by independent charity Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB). It gave Scotland its lowest score since it started inspections back in the early 2000s. More than a tenth of the country’s streets and public places were unacceptably littered. And inspections were worse in two out of three council areas. But not, as it happens, in Glasgow.

Scotland’s biggest city for years performed the worst in the country, thanks to its unusually busy centre with all its visitors and to large swathes of deprivation. The year before last it climbed off that the basement, coming third from last. In the LEAMS for 2021-22 - it had risen to fourth from bottom.

City officials are hardly crowing about this. Glasgow, after all, is still worse than average. LEAMS scores for individual local authorities have not been published. But The Herald on Sunday understands that the city got 86%. That might sound high - but it means that 14% of its public spaces checked were unacceptably littered, compared with a record high national average of 10.3%. A year earlier, at the height of the pandemic in 2020-21, Glasgow was given a score of 82.4%. Only Edinburgh and Falkirk did worse.

Stephen Egan is the official in charge of keeping the city’s streets and parks clean. This time last year, while not dodging the scale of the challenges, he told this newspaper he was “puzzled” that Glasgow had been singled out for criticism. Covid had a devastating effect on the abilities of local authorities across the UK and Europe to clean streets.

Glasgow redeployed some of its street-cleaning workers to help collect domestic bins.

Now, he says, indicators, like LEAMS, are going in the right direction.

The new numbers reflect the state of the city in the year through the end of this March. That means it does not include the recent strikes.

Egan said the industrial action was “frustrating”, creating, albeit for a short time, an image of the city nobody wanted.

“I think we have made good strides,” he said. “I think we have made improvements.”

But, as with the national picture, how clean a city is does not just depend on its council, but on its citizens and visitors.

The Scottish Government is currently finalising an new national strategy on fly-tipping and littering, both of which, of course, are against the law.

“I think there's an understanding that there is going to have to be some level of behavioural change in order to deal with some of the challenges on littering and fly-tipping,” he said. “I think there's an expectation that services and infrastructure need to improve as well.

"In Glasgow, we've introduced all these large capacity bins. We've now go 125% more capacity with on street on street letter bins than what we had three or four years ago. It's a huge increase."

Glasgow, as it emerged last week, spends more per capita on cleansing the streets than any other Scottish local authority. Partly this reflects its sheer draw for shoppers, drinkers, football fans and other visitors from out of town. - and the mess they make. The city - like its nearest peer Edinburgh - has more tidying up to do that most other councils.

There are long-standing disputes with trade unions over how many workers there should be - the latest numbers show a slight decline. The Herald on Sunday understands there has been little improvement in unusually high absentee rates over recent years.

This August new teams started a rolling programme of deep cleaning that will go through each of Glasgow’s 56 neighbourhoods.

The city council in its annual budget this spring approved £2m in extra funding for these squads, which are designed, at least partly, to catch up with work that was not done during the pandemic.

What is deep cleaning? Well, this will include clearing any fly-tipping. But the new teams - around 52 people - will be removing more of what officials and experts call “detritus”. This is the grim, the twigs and what is left of leaves, that builds up in our streets. Crucially, it also helps attract what we more usually think of as litter. The nationwide LEAMS suggests we are seeing much more of this kind of trash.

The deep cleansers will also be weeding, physically hacking out plant growth on roads and pavements. This, official admitted, was neglected during the pandemic. So was chemical weed-killing. Leaving vegetation to develop could end up damaging infrastructure.

“We recognise that we've not done our herbicide programmes properly over the last couple of years,” Egan said. "So that probably means there is a bit more street weeds out there than there would have been.”

Egan also stresses that his deep cleansing teams will be sifting through hedges to get the rubbish passers-by ‘post’ in to them.

“For some reason some people just deposit cans in to hedges,” said Egan. “I do not know why they do that. Maybe they think they are in some way hiding the litter.” In fact, this strange, Scotland-wide habit just creates really hard work for cleaners and gardeners.

“The deep clean teams will change how these neighbourhoods and streets will look, when they remove the hard-to-reach litter, the fly-posting.”

Green charities warn Scotland is in the grip of a litter crisis. KSB, for example, says this is "hiding in plain sight”. Just boosting council capacity to deal wit the problem is not enough. The government’s new strategy is likely to propose changes to the enforcement regime too, including for gangsters carrying out industrial-scale fly-tipping.

Glasgow has not waited for change. It has already adopted a new approach during a series of “weeks of action. It has got a bit of publicity for taping off flytipped waste to look like a crime scene, putting up signs with QR codes that take witnesses to a web page where they can give evidence.

Gary Walker leads on the council’s enforcement wing, not just on litter. He stresses that the “crime scene” pitch is essentially am appeal for the public to “help us out, this is a hard thing to do.”

“If we discover fly-tipping. we don't just automatically lift it, even if it's on public land, we put the signage up, we put the tape round it, and we give it a couple of days, in order for people to see that we're doing something about it, but also to report any issues,” he said.

The city’s response to flytipping - including by businesses looking to save a few pounds on commercial waste - used to be largely reactive. Somebody would report a crime, and they would investigate. Now they are increasingly going on the front foot.

Council officials are visiting businesses and asking to see their bin contracts. But they are also trying to cajole rather than prosecute. In 2021 the local authority issued 124 duty of care notices to businesses, telling them they had two weeks to find a contractor. So far this year they have done the same 250 times. The warning seem to work: most businesses comply. There were 18 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) issued for commercial waste in 2021 and 11 so far this year. “They get the message and do something about it,” said Walker.

Catching people who litter or dog-foul is less complicated than chasing down fly-tippers or businesses who do not have proper commercial contractors. Officers simply issue FPNs to those they witness committing the offence.

During the pandemic less of this work was done. Figures have leapt this calendar year. There were 21 FPNs issued for dog fouling and 175 for littering in 2021. So far this year those numbers have jumped to 173 and 878 respectively.

Glasgow, it is dirty, but not the dirtiest.