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So: This is Rubbish

June 10, 2021 8:50 AM

Updated 11/6/2021

Recycling and Residual / General Waste Wheely binsIt's no point varnishing it: Folkestone and Hythe District is currently facing a breakdown in collections of household waste and recycling.

As a message on the Folkestone and Hythe District Council website said last week:

"We'd like to apologise to all residents who are experiencing problems with our waste collection service at the moment, as a result of route changes put in place by our contractor (Veolia).

"We expected some teething problems just due to the sheer number of properties affected by the route changes and had asked you to bear with us while the changeover took place. However, the changes are taking longer than expected to bed in which means that the normally excellent levels of collection services aren't being met for a large number of households. This just isn't good enough and we apologise to all residents affected."

And it has really not improved since.

There was a summit meeting today between the leaders of Folkestone and Hythe District Council and those repsonsible for waste, and the contractors Veolia. I wasn't allowed to be there, but an email from the Cabinet Member for Waste, Stuart Peall, has arrived. It says:

"I would like to update you on action taken to address major problems that have arisen with the implementation of the new waste collection routes by our contractor Veolia (Municipal Waste).

"As you will be aware there has been an unacceptable number of missed collections, affecting households across the district. Our customers have received a level of service well below the excellent standards that were in place before the route changes. Veolia has fallen short of the service levels we expect as a Council and not acted swiftly enough to address this.

"Today the Leader and I, along with the Chief Executive and senior officers, met with Veolia's management team led by Managing Director Pascal Hauret.

"I called the meeting in order to explain unequivocally that the Council will not stand for this situation any longer, has no confidence in Veolia as our contractor and that corrective action is required immediately. I can assure you that the Veolia team were left in no doubt about the Council's exasperation with a situation, not of our making, that has brought significant reputational damage to the Council.

"The Managing Director of Veolia apologised and promised to address the situation through immediate corrective actions. This will include providing additional resources, over and above what has been deployed thus far, to ensure collection rates return to expected service levels as soon as possible. A full review of the data used to develop the new routes will also be undertaken to ensure that any underlying issues are identified and addressed. Veolia will also send a letter of apology to every household across the district.

"The Council's expectation is that improvements will be start immediately and that the return to expected service levels should be achieved within 2 weeks. Progress will monitored on a daily basis and I can assure you that the Council will take all action necessary to hold Veolia to account both now and in the future.

"As a local Member you will no doubt have received a significant level of complaints to pass on from angry and concerned residents and I will expect Veolia to also apologise formally to the Council for this."

Residents are, rightly, angry about this failure is service, and want to know how it occurred.

The previous Waste, Recycling and Street Cleaning contract with Veolia ran out at the end of a ten year contract in January 2021. So over the previous four years, work was done on retendering the contract, which is the usual way of doing these things. Firstly there was a decision on the basic shape of the collection service to be retendered (essentially deciding to keep it was it was, and a shared service with Dover District Council) in 2018 (https://www.folkestone-hythe.gov.uk/moderngov/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=142&MId=4461).

So that was the service that through a series of "the normal processes" was put out to tender. By the start of 2020 three companies had expressed an interest in putting in a tender, but one withdrew, leaving just two submitting detailed bids.

In July 2020, a paper went to Cabinet * to decide which bid to pick.

Having been through the bids, the officers in charge made a recommendation on which bid to pick. There was a clear price difference between the two, there were differences in the other criteria set to. The price was a significant factor in the scoring, but not the only one - in fact other factors could have outweighed it. All Cabinet Members present voted for the recommendation of the paper - to award the new eight year contract to Veolia Environmental Services.

To my mind, having read the paper and listening to officers it was the only rational decision to make based on the two bids as presented. Selecting the other contract would have cost District taxpayers more a year (a significant amount more), for no defined better service (and there would have been a transition between the two different contractors to manage).

You would also expect that Veolia knew the area, and how to do the job, and the costs of the job, and how long it would take them to do it: they had been doing so for years by that point after all. All tenders in these cases discuss how they are going to do things better, greener, faster, more reliably and using technology better, and their bid was no exception. However, it was their tender: they offered the service at a price, and it was accepted. the council didn't write it, or recommend or require "re-routing".

That contract would therefore start in January 2021, taking on exactly where the old one left off, without change or fanfare. It was Veolia's decision to proceed to "re-routing" in May 2021. This was sold as their response to having better IT, understanding of the area, different sized trucks, different range trucks, more houses to collect from, more deleivery points and different staffing contracts than 8 years earlier. All reasonable points, and the re-routing was to be at their expense, including all letters and communications with residents about changing collections days etc.

And your guess is as good as mine as to how, when they then made that change on 10th May, they got it so catastrophically wrong. There actually hasn't been a reduction in fleet (number of vehicles) used as I undestand, but there was a complete reorganisation of their staff, deployment and working hours, as well as changing collection days for many, collection routes and more. But collection bins is what Veolia Environmental Services do. Their management should be good at it, and at refining their own systems to do it better as things change. But it hasn't worked like that. It's been rubbish, and it sounds like they have treated their staff as badly as they have treated local residents.

So the Council are, as this started, angry at Veolia, as all residents are.

First priority is getting back to a standard level of service: thats all residential bins picked up to schedule, all street bins emptied regularly, streets swept and tidy.

However, it is important to work out how we got here too, and avoid getting here again, and frankly look at the compensation the area deserves for the service it has received from Veolia. That work will be started by the Council's Scrutiny Committee next week.

Until then, it sounds like Veolia will try to recover the service as best they can having shot themselves totally in the foot. Please continue to report missed collections to https://www.folkestone-hythe.gov.uk/missed-bins or your local Councillor: they are then reported back to Veolia for an emergency collection.

* Such papers contain commercially sensitive information: Councils are tendering such contracts nationally all the time, and many of the same companies bid for the work (there aren't that many companies in the UK market). They don't want competitors to know the details of their bid to different authorities, as it may give their competition an advance on the next bid. So the paper and its detail is confidential.

Updated 11/6/2021:

An email this afternoon from Stuart Peall at Folkestone & Hythe District Council to outline the extra resources Veolia will get in place from next week to start to properrly address the rubbish collection issues of the last month. You have to hope that it has an impact, fast:

"Further to meeting earlier this week with Veolia senior leadership, and my email to you of 9th June 2021, outlined below is an overview of additional resources which are being deployed to address the service failures experienced as a result of the collection route changes. From next week Veolia will deploy the following, over and above the resources they are contracted to provide:

  • 4 additional vehicles
  • 12 additional crew staff
  • 5 additional managers / supervisors
  • Overtime to be paid at a higher payment

"To address the severe pressure on our contact centre, Veolia will also pay for 5 additional Advisors within FHDC Customer Services Team (to the end of July 2021) in order to address the backlog of reported issues and complaints.

"A letter of apology has been prepared by Veolia and this will be sent to every household across the district next week.

"It is expected that the additional resourcing levels, which are at no cost to the Council, will be in place until service levels are returned to, and can be sustained at, the excellent level our customers deserve.

"I will continue to work with the Chief Executive and senior officers to hold Veolia to account and expect there to be incremental improvements starting immediately."