Observer column: 28 June 2019
Tomorrow, Hastings Council's current waste and recycling contract ends and new arrangements begin. This contract covered four East Sussex councils (Hastings, Rother, Eastbourne and Wealden), but had never performed well. In addition, the collapse in value of recycled materials meant the contract was no longer viable, as the price had been based on the relatively high value of these materials when the contract was set up.
Biffa Waste Services will run the new waste collection contract. You'll see their red lorries emptying the bins from now on. However, street cleaning, removing fly-tips, and bulky waste collections will all be run directly by the council using its own employees, through a new Direct Services Organisation (DSO). We decided to do this because while specifying the required service for emptying household bins is relatively easy, specifying a service for street cleaning, particularly in a busy tourist town such as Hastings, is much more difficult. Bringing this service back in-house gives us more control over where and how street cleaning is carried out. We'd have liked to bring refuse collection services back in house too, but we didn't have the capacity to do that at the same time.
For refuse collection, you're not likely to notice many changes. The main difference will be that you will no longer need to use the black boxes for glass recycling - glass can be put in the green bins, or pink sacks.
Street cleaning will, however, be organised differently. There will be a greater focus on emptying litter bins, with a half-sized refuse freighter used specifically for this. We'll also be employing more operatives, whom we'll want to be part of the local community, so they can work with local people to make sure the streets are kept clean. They will have specific rounds and 'patches' with day-to-day instructions, but we'll also be responding to reports received online, via the council's 'My Hastings' website, so make sure you report all problems with litter, overfull bins, dog fouling and flytipping there, so they can be dealt with promptly. When dealing with these reports, the operatives will take before and after photographs, so we'll know the problem has been dealt with. The street cleaning and associated vehicles will eventually all be in the council's own livery, although these aren't ready yet, so the supplier is paying for the hire of temporary vehicles.
And a brief word about weeds on highways: weed clearance is the responsibility of East Sussex County Council, but we will also be using the street cleaning service to keep weed growth under control. Operatives with 'traditional' barrows will have 'grubbing out' tools, but the street sweeping vehicles will also have wire brushes that rip out weed growth.
As the service settles in, we'll also be looking at how we can 'commercialise' it, to generate a profit to pay for local services by offering waste collection services to businesses, or by operating street cleaning services for other organisations - for example, on social housing estates. And we'll be looking to bring other contracted services back in house, to run them for public good, not private profit.
So while it will be business as usual for bin collections, street cleaning will be organised in quite a different way. And as the new arrangements settle in, I believe we can look forward to a significantly better service.
Council Leader's column