Just off the M8 in Glasgow, there’s a massive place called the Blochairn Materials Reclamation Facility. It’s as glamorous as it sounds. At the door there’s a pile of rubbish that’s usually about 20ft high and inside there’s a conveyor belt where staff sort through the waste for seven to eight hours a day, every day – 500 tons a week, 25,000 tons a year.

In a way, the MRF, as it’s known, is a positive story – the rubbish that’s sent there comes from the city’s blue bins and most of it goes on to be recycled. But I once spent a morning at the facility and I particularly remember speaking to a young guy who worked on the conveyor belt, Steven, who’d also worked on the bin lorries. He told me what the problem was: not enough staff.

Anyone who’s ever worked in cleansing, and anyone who’s familiar with the mess in the city, the midden that is Glasgow, will know what Steven’s talking about. An investigation in The Herald this week revealed that the number of cleansing staff in Glasgow fell from 648 in 2018/19 to 615 in 2020/21 and that the council has tried to plug the gaps with agency staff at a cost of £10m in five years.

The problem is that employing agency workers doesn’t address the deeper problem which Steven so clearly identified: not enough staff. The council itself has also tacitly admitted there’s a problem by announcing that extra “deep clean teams” are going to be sent to certain parts of the city. Why would such a scheme be needed if the regular cleaning was good enough?

The obvious solution here would be to take on more staff but there's another systemic problem in the city that also needs to be addressed. If you’ve been in a park recently, you’ll know it. Not enough bins. If you’ve walked down a street, you’ll know it. Not enough bins. In fact, if you’ve been in Glasgow for more than a few minutes, you’ll know it. Not enough bins.

The other problem is the bins that do exist are often the wrong kind: humongous things that are not only ugly, they can only be emptied by special trucks. A better idea would be more, smaller bins that can be regularly emptied by teams of staff on the street.

There are other things the council could be trying. How about adopting the Litter Lottery that’s being trialled in some parts of England? The idea is that you take a picture of yourself putting litter in a bin and you’re entered for a £10,000 prize. It would also be a good idea surely to pay people small amounts for taking rubbish to the MRF, just as we used to get small amounts for returning glass bottles.

The other obvious mistake Glasgow council made was to start charging people £35 to pick up bulky items, the consequences of which are obvious. In parts of the city where money is tighter, people are more likely to ignore the rule and fly-tip, which means that in deprived areas, which have the biggest problem to start with, the problem gets worse.

Some people call this the broken window effect, which is basically the theory that if people see a broken window, or litter, or graffiti or whatever, they stop caring and add to the problem themselves by breaking another window, or chucking down more litter. And so the spiral spirals.

In the face of all this, the fact that the council is sending out so-called deep clean teams is positive. But as well as Steven at the MRF who said quite clearly ‘employ more staff’, may I also suggest the council listen to my mother? The best way to keep a place clean, she told me when I moved out, is to do small amounts every day to keep on top of it. That way, you don’t let it get so bad that you need to blitz it with a deep clean.

With respect, I would suggest Glasgow City Council listen to my mum and Steven at the MRF. Clean regularly. And often. Employ more people to do it. And then you won’t need to spend £10m on agency staff or send out deep-clean teams. It’s simple really. Common sense. So can we get on with it?