North Herts waste portfolio holder accuses ‘certain factions’ of exaggeration

PUBLISHED: 09:35 10 August 2018

Councillor Michael Weeks, North Hertfordshire District Council's executive member for waste. Photo: JP Asher

Councillor Michael Weeks, North Hertfordshire District Council's executive member for waste. Photo: JP Asher

Archant

The councillor responsible for North Hertfordshire’s waste collections has been accused of being out of touch after he alleged “certain factions” were exaggerating problems.

Complaints are mounting about missed bin collections in North Herts. Picture: Danny LooComplaints are mounting about missed bin collections in North Herts. Picture: Danny Loo

Councillor Michael Weeks, the district council’s executive member for waste and recycling, made the comment on BOB fm Hertfordshire yesterday.

He said: “We would have hoped that by now, things would have much improved, but unfortunately there are still some issues. These are isolated – it may not sound like it from the people you’ve been speaking to, but there is, to some extent, exaggeration here by certain factions.”

Mr Weeks added: “I honestly believe that with perseverance and the assistance of my council colleagues – rather than the latter showing negativity and perhaps mischief-making – we will get there. That’s my firm belief.”

Referring to complaints about the new waste contractor Urbaser – which took over in May – Mr Weeks said: “There is a procedure called ‘performance management’, which kicks in next week, and we will be closely looking at their failures in the contract thus far.

North Herts District Council leader Councillor Lynda Needham and waste portfolio holder Councillor Michael Weeks with Urbaser staff at the time of the contract launch in May. Picture: NHDCNorth Herts District Council leader Councillor Lynda Needham and waste portfolio holder Councillor Michael Weeks with Urbaser staff at the time of the contract launch in May. Picture: NHDC

“I believe that things will get better. I have said that before and I will say it again.”

Mr Weeks’ comments have prompted furious responses from members of the Conservative-run council’s Labour and Liberal Democrat groups – who say they have been bombarded with complaints about missed collections since Urbaser came in.

Labour group’s shadow waste portfolio holder Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg – who represents Hitchin’s Walsworth ward – told this paper: “Councillor Weeks says it’s a ‘certain faction’ potentially making mischief who are exaggerating the dire state of waste collection in North Herts. I find this outrageous, especially given one of his own cabinet colleagues has recently commented on the abysmal state of affairs.

“The fact of the matter is there are severe performance failings occurring daily and they have a significant impact on residents’ lives. The non-collection of waste, week after week, should not be dismissed. And at this stage in the contract, almost three months in, it’s not acceptable to brush off these repeated failings and call councillors – who have been kept in the dark about what’s being done, why there’s a problem and what the data shows – a ‘certain faction’.

“The simple truth is, from the very limited evidence residents and lowly rank-and-file councillors of all parties are seeing, there appear to be systemic problems at Urbaser. And the leadership from Councillor Weeks and ultimately Lynda Needham, leader of the council, doesn’t appear to be recognising or addressing this.”

Lib Dem Weston & Sandon councillor Steve Jarvis said: “I’m sure all the residents who have contacted me to tell me that their bins have been repeatedly not emptied, and that they have spent ages trying to report the problem, will be pleased to hear that Michael Weeks – who is responsible for this mess – thinks they are exaggerating.”

Mr Weeks’ comments came the morning after the Labour group called for Mr Weeks, Mrs Needham and the entire cabinet to resign over the waste situation – saying in a statement they had “proven unable to lead the council out of the resulting mess”.

Urbaser has said the vast majority of North Herts bin collections are being made on time – but has repeatedly admitted service has not been up to the expected standard, and apologised to the district council and the people of North Herts.

Services have been adversely affected by “employment-related issues” at the company, which Urbaser acknowledged in a statement late last month. The firm has since put extra staff and supervisors out on the road, in part to help crews with their geographical knowledge.

Urbaser operations chief Jose Sanchez last month told the district council he was taking personal responsibility for delivering the plan.

East Herts District Council – which appointed Urbaser jointly with North Herts to save money – voted against a charge for garden-waste collections, while the Letchworth-based council’s cabinet decided to charge £40 per year.

The East Herts contract has not seen major changes, and Urbaser has not suffered serious problems there.

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