Observer column: 08 March 2019
At the end of June this year, the current waste services contract with Kier will end. That's four years earlier than it should have been. The reason for the contract failure was largely because the contractor had priced the contract too low, by accepting responsibility for dealing with recyclates at a time when the value of recyclates was high, using the value of the recyclates to subsidise the contract. More recently, the value of recyclates has collapsed, so the contract was no longer viable. Coupled to that, the performance of the contract, particularly for street cleaning, had been poor. So it was in everyone's best interests to end the contract.
Because of this collapse in value of recyclates, the new waste services will be significantly more expensive - about £1.5m a year more. However, this just takes the cost back up to where it was before the Kier contract started. So what will happen after the end of June?
The waste service contract has been split into two parts. Firstly, street cleansing, bulky waste collection, and clearing fly-tips will be brought back in-house. So the employees in the service will work directly for the council, rather than being employed by an external contractor. That means that the council no longer has to pay for the contractor's profits, but it also means that the conditions and pension scheme the employees get is better than they got from the contractor, so the overall costs are about the same.
What it does mean though is that we will have a lot more control over the service. When a problem is reported on the council's website, those reports can go straight to the operative so they can deal with it promptly, rather than having to be passed to them via a contractor. It also means the service can be much more flexible, deploying staff exactly where they're needed, when they're needed. So they'll be able to respond to, for example, a warm, sunny day in winter when the town is unexpectedly busy. We'll also be able to link the service more closely with enforcement, so fly-tips are more thoroughly investigated and fixed penalty notices (at £400) can be issued to offenders. We'll also be employing more staff than Kier did, with more traditional 'barrow' rounds. And there will be a special waste freighter dedicated entirely to emptying litter bins.
We'd have liked to bring refuse collection back in house too, but it's difficult to run that service in just one small council area, so we've let a joint contract with Rother and Wealden councils to Biffa. Although the previous Kier contract had run into problems in rural areas, it had always worked reasonably well in Hastings, so we'll make sure that continues. Waste collection is easier to run through an external contractor, as the service is much more standardised - it doesn't have the same day-to-day variations that street cleansing has. The main difference that residents will notice is that there will no longer be separate glass collections - you'll be able to put all your recyclable materials in the green bin.
Keeping a busy, tourist town such as Hastings clean throughout the year is not an easy task. But our new in-house service should make that task easier to achieve. And that should mean a cleaner, tidier town, with a more responsive service.
Council Leader's column