Rubbish Collections Report: What did councillors have to say?

As promised, I return to the report into the new recycling/waste contract with Kier. The broad conclusion was that the scheme is working, despite failures in specific areas.

The overwhelming reaction to that piece was 😂, which tells me Bridgend Council and Kier have lost the PR battle.

Councillors can’t be accused of not taking this matter seriously. A Scrutiny Committee met today to discuss the report and that meeting lasted 4 hours – a webcast is available here, the key part of the meeting starts around 47 minutes in.

For those of you who have a life, you’re going to have to rely on my summary, focusing on the most talked about complaints. Don’t all thank me at once.

The meeting was chaired by Cllr. John Spanswick (Lab, Brackla), with Cabinet Members Hywel Williams (Lab, Blackmill) and Rob Young (Lab, Pendre) in attendance as well as representatives from Kier.

Absorbent Waste Collections (“Purple Bags”)

Cllr. Rod Shaw (Lab, Pontycymer) said the service poses a significant logistical challenge; what have BCBC done to promote discreet and assisted collections? Cllr. Paul Davies (Lab, Caerau) wondered why they were using transit vans for collections?

Cllr. Julia Williams (Ind, Hendre) said if Kier weren’t prepared for the contract and are recruiting and putting services into place now they should never have been allowed to take up the contract in the first place.

Cllr. Matthew Voisey (Con, Oldcastle) described the 10-day promise (to assess needs and deliver purple bags) as “a joke” and wanted to know what happens to the collected waste. Cllr. Altaf Hussain (Con, Penyfai) asked if a better material could be used for the bags so they’re not as easily pierced. Cllr. Tom Beedle (Ind, Maesteg East) making a similar point later on about transparency.

Response (by Kier, Cabinet members, officers):

  • BCBC take dignity issues seriously and will work on a case-by-case basis with individual households. There are currently very few taking up “discreet collections”, believed to be single/double digits.
  • The rounds change each week because new properties are added.
  • Most of the registration system is automated with information on deliveries sent to crew PDAs/digital assistants.
  • The purple bag waste is processed into fibreboard.
  • Transit vans are used for purple bag collections because Kier need flexibility until they know precisely how many people use the service.
  • The purple bags were originally going to be yellow, but purple/lilac was chosen as it’s more discreet and less “clinical”; the bags themselves are as strong as other bags.

Communal & Missed Collections

Cllr. Stuart Baldwin (Lab, Morfa) wanted to be sure future collections aren’t missed. Areas with communal recycling like Wildmill are performing poorly with recycling; communal bins aren’t sufficient, leaving residents in a “no-win situation” and leading to cross-contamination.

Cllr. Voisey said constituents keep saying they’re not getting responses to complaints. That frustration forces them to go directly to officers or Kier. He added that despite being told residents could use as many recycling containers as they like, some crews were ignoring second recycling containers.

Cllr. Elaine Venables (Ind, Coychurch Lower) said everyone is extremely frustrated by Kier’s customer service; she’s expected to do most of the legwork, as a local member, that Kier should be doing themselves.

Cllr. David Lewis (Lab, Sarn) argued that call centre staff should be based in Bridgend because staff in Torbay (Kier’s main call centre) may find it difficult to spell/pronounce Welsh street names.

Cllr. Roz Stirman (Ind, Llangeinor) asked how many streets require specialist vehicles due to restricted access? If the number of vehicles is reduced she’s worried valleys communities may miss out.

Response:

  • About 0.2% of all collections (including purple bag, green bags etc.) are missed. Current performance levels in terms of missed collections are comparable with the rest of Wales.
  • Wildmill’s problem with communal collections – Glanffornwg in particular – isn’t new and is a “hard nut to crack”. Limited kerbside collections could be introduced where suitable.
  • The complaints process is “smoothing out”, but it has stretched existing resources.
  • There are three dedicated vehicles for hard to access. Kier wants to reduce it to one vehicle.

Problems Emptying & Stacking Recycling Containers

Former refuse collector, Cllr. Paul Davies, said it was standard practice that any spillages that happen before a crew arrive are left behind; if they didn’t do that they would never finish their rounds.

Cllr. Norah Clarke (Ind, Nottage) believed it was down to individual crews; sometimes they’re stacked properly other times they’re not.

Cllr. Voisey mentioned that he’d seen bags split and crews walk on; was this correct policy? He would also like to see the garden waste collection service – which is a paid voluntary service – extended all-year as in the winter there are things to do in the garden and a problem with dead leaves.

Cllr. Hussain wanted to know if there was a way to clean the recycling bags and boxes to make them more hygienic?

Response:

  • Collectors are trained to put the recycling bags inside the glass caddy (black box). There’s need for improvement, but the situation is better than it was. There are disciplinary procedures if need be.
  • Any spillages caused as part of their work (i.e. bag rips) should be collected by refuse collectors.
  • The public shouldn’t rely on the same refuse collectors appearing at a regular time on a certain day. Rounds and collection days are due to change in February 2018.
  • BCBC is willing to consider extending the green bag collections, but it’s feared it may be disproportionately expensive compared to a warm weather collection.
  • Kier is considering an incentive scheme where people can book green bag collections online to get a refund.
  • Keeping the containers clean/hygienic was the responsibility of householders.

Recommendations

Following the meeting, councillors agreed on the following recommendations and requests:

  • Kier should issue an apology to Bridgend residents (they were given the opportunity to make a statement before the meeting by the Chair but turned it down).
  • Delayed deliveries of purple bags, the low numbers of discreet collections and delayed assessments for the purple bag service needs a review.
  • The Kier contract should be made available to committee members (though there was disagreement on whether it should be redacted or unredacted).
  • Note members’ concerns over any future reduction in the number of vehicles used for difficult to access areas.
  • Consideration should be given to a method of identifying ownership of blue bags.
  • An urgent review of communal collections at Glanffornwg, Wildmill.
  • Communication with the public and elected members needs improvement and is too slow; consideration should also be given to relocating call centre functions to Bridgend.
  • Staff should have a consistent approach to putting containers back after emptying.
  • Consider introducing year-round garden waste collection.

Owen