NHDC and Urbaser still unsure when bin issues will end

PUBLISHED: 12:37 19 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:29 19 September 2018

Representatives from Urbaser and NHDC discussed steps being taken to fix bin issues at an overview and scrutiny meeting last night. Picture: Danny Loo

Representatives from Urbaser and NHDC discussed steps being taken to fix bin issues at an overview and scrutiny meeting last night. Picture: Danny Loo

©2018 Danny Loo Photography - all rights reserved

There is continued uncertainty over when North Herts residents can expect a ‘business as usual’ standard of waste collection service, following an overview and scrutiny meeting last night.

The 'Bin Urbaser' protest sign at the overview and scrutiny meeting at North Hertfordshire District Council's Letchworth offices. Picture: Paul ClarkThe 'Bin Urbaser' protest sign at the overview and scrutiny meeting at North Hertfordshire District Council's Letchworth offices. Picture: Paul Clark

There is continued uncertainty over when North Herts residents can expect a ‘business as usual’ standard of waste collection service, following an overview and scrutiny meeting on Tuesday night.

The meeting saw presentations from both North Herts District Council representatives and contractors Urbaser to highlight the issues since changes implemented in May – including charging for garden waste disposal – as well as explain what is being done to resolve them.

However, when asked by Baldock Town district councillor Michael Muir for assurances that the service will be as it should in the next fortnight, Urbaser’s business development manager Mark Pigott said two weeks “isn’t realistic”.

“Our staff are still going through a period of learning local nuances of the contract,” he said.

“We are getting there and we are committed to resolving the issues. I don’t enjoy sitting here being spoken down to or questions being raised about our professionalism.

“We are committed to it. We are here to do the best for you. We’ve not delivered how we expected to, but we’re only as good as staff on the ground.”

When Mr Muir asked if the service issues are expected to be resolved in the next four weeks, NHDC’s contracts manager Chloe Hipwood said: “We are constantly finding new reasons why we are having missed collections and working with the Urbaser supervisors and are still finding that residents are recording problems. We can’t see an immediate resolution to that so I would say not [to four weeks].”

In its presentation, Urbaser cited staffing problems, technology, lack of local knowledge, vehicle deliveries, problems with data and communications – which they say took a considerable amount of time to resolve.

In attempt to resolve these issues, the contractors stated that they have brought in additional supervisors, their staff are now more familiar with the rounds and the new technology on board the vehicles, and they have almost doubled the number of call centre staff.

They also stated the previously calls had been “bounced from desk to desk” until the right person was found to deal with a customer’s query – they now say they have a new system.

Mr Pigott added: “On an personal level we are working very hard to resolve the problems. We are sorry as a company to have experience this. We are sorry and will do everything we can to resolve it.”

The council highlighted similar struggles with communications between themselves and the residents when collections had been missed. Council phone lines had crashed during busy periods and residents complained of call wait and email response times, or if they had been able to get through, the problem was still not resolved.

NHDC contracts manager Ms Hipwood discussed how when problems first began the council were trying to ‘fire fight’, but has now closely analysed problems and can begin to implement long term solutions.

In response to this, the council has developed an online reporting system which they say will be up and running in the next few weeks.

During discussions regarding resolutions, Councillor Steve Jarvis said: “There needs to be a plan that’s viable, there needs to be a statement as to what we are going to do to change the performance of this contract which needs to come from Urbaser and the council.

“The public needs to see that there’s a plan, they need to have faith that it is going to work. The council needs to be thinking about what it’s going to do if Urbaser is still not delivering – if it doesn’t work what’s the fall back plan?”

In response, NHDC deputy chief executive Anthony Roche said: “The council has looked at alternative options.”

At previous meetings, the idea of pushing back the start date of the 2019/20 payment period for garden waste, to reflect the delay, had been raised.

While this is a matter to be discussed by the cabinet, it was highlighted that the cost of an extension per month would be £90,700 based on the current membership of the scheme.

Councillor Sam Collins said: “If that failings are on the part of Urbaser, why should NHDC pay those costs?”

Recordings, minutes and a report on this meeting will be available on NHDC’s website.

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