Waste contractor taken to task

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The changes to waste and recycling leading to significant problems with kerbside collections must improve according to Cabinet Portfolio Holder Councillor Will Breare-Hall. In a statement to Cabinet on 11 June 2015, Councillor Breare-Hall outlined a list of different problems and steps being taken to get the service improved.

Cllr Will Breare-Hall at cabinet

Waste and recycling statement

Councillor Lesley Wagland pressed Councillor Breare-Hall on the underlying problems of the contract. Council Leader Councillor Chris Whitbread apologised to residents for the disruption and assured councillors that the issues would be resolved.

Cabinet 11 June 2015

Health, planning and housing at cabinet

Councillor Richard Morgan, Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny Committee briefed Cabinet on the presentation by Barts Health NHS Trust and the serious failings at Whipps Cross Hospital.

Among other items, Planning Portfolio Holder Richard Bassett brought a report to Cabinet on the designation of North Weald Bassett Neighbourhood Plan. He also asked Cabinet to agree the updated Local Development Scheme and consider future spending on the Local Plan. Council Leader Chris Whitbread stressed the importance of getting the process right and ensuring the final Local Plan is sound.

Housing Portfolio Holder David Stallan reported on housing-related support charges to council tenants and private users of the Careline service. Councillor Stallan sought Cabinet approval to ask the Housing Select Committee to look at the merits of de-designating some council properties reserved for older people so that they can be let to younger tenants.

Subject to the support of residents, Cabinet also approved a proposal by Councillor Stallan to bring forward construction of the proposed Torrington Drive off-street parking scheme. Each of 64 households in the affected area of Torrington Drive would be offered a permit at a cost of £43 per year.

Cabinet went on to approve the final set of Standard Licensing Conditions for Holiday Caravan and Camping Sites in Epping Forest District proposed by Councillor Stallan.

Making way for Epping Forest Shopping Park

Cabinet accepted the £2.4 million tender from T J Evers Ltd to design and build a new Grounds Maintenance and Fleet Operations depot for the Council at Oakwood Hill. Asset Management Portfolio Holder Anne Grigg recommended approval of the tender. The new depot is needed to accommodate services vacating Langston Road depot prior to its redevelopment as Loughton’s new Epping Forest Shopping Park.


Epping Forest District Council has saved £125,000 on the renewal of its insurance policies with Zurich Municipal.


Waste and recycling statement by Councillor Will Breare-Hall

I’m grateful for this opportunity to update the Cabinet, Members and residents on the latest situation with the waste, recycling and street cleansing services, delivered by our contractor, Biffa.

I’d like to begin by making it clear that I consider Biffa’s failure to deliver a universally acceptable service, of the standard we require and our residents expect, to be extremely serious. I share the very real anger and frustration of all those who Biffa have let down, and especially those who have suffered repeated missed collections. I want to reiterate my sincere apologies to all those affected, and assure them that I and the council’s officers are doing all in our power to compel Biffa to urgently resolve these problems. My statement this evening is not, therefore, a defence of this situation. Rather, it is an account of what has happened and what is being done to correct it.

I’d like to briefly remind the Cabinet of the procurement exercise that led to the appointment of Biffa.

The previous waste management contract expired in November last year. In March 2013 we began the procurement process by means of Competitive Dialogue, with initially eight bidders, which was reduced to 4 by the time we reached the final stage. In the early stages of the exercise the tender assessment criteria was based 60% on price and 40% on quality, but at the final stage this was changed to 50% for both price and quality, to reflect and emphasise this council’s focus on quality. The 50% awarded for quality was subdivided into 40% for a technical assessment by officers and 10% for a Member interview panel.

The procurement process was led by a project team that consisted of officers from this council and representatives from Essex County Council and the Council’s specialist consultants, WYG Limited. Key elements of the assessment process included considering company structure; company finances and insurances; the ability to deliver the services being tendered; health and safety; equalities, and business continuity.

At the Final Tender stage the council asked the 4 remaining contractors to bid on 2 service levels – a Monday to Friday service and a Tuesday to Friday service – and agreed that the lowest priced submission for each of these would be considered for assessment. The highest scoring tender bid was from Biffa and that was based on a 4 day collection service – something they deliver in authorities elsewhere in the country. Biffa’s bid was assessed by technical officers and the council’s expert consultants, WYG, who confirmed that the level of resources Biffa had allocated for the new service were sufficient and that there was no operational reason why a 4 day service would not be feasible.

The decision to award the 10 year contract to Biffa was made by Cabinet on 19 May 2014. There followed a mobilisation period to ensure a smooth transition from the previous contractor and this was completed on the 4 November last year, when Biffa assumed responsibility for the service.

In their tender bid, Biffa proposed that the 4 day service commence in March of this year but, mindful that such a major service change would require considerable preparation, I instructed that this be put back to at least May. Accordingly, the new service commenced on the 12 May. Biffa had, therefore, operated the service successfully for 6 months prior to the introduction of their new fleet, new technology, and the 4 day collection schedule.

Unfortunately, as is now widely recognised, a number of problems have beset the service from the 12 May, not all of which are directly linked to the introduction of the 4 day service.

These include

  • IT failures affecting the in-cab technology that contains the new collection rounds and the supply of live information back to Biffa management and the council
  • issues with the compactors on some of the new freighters not operating whilst the vehicles were in motion
  • problems with safety sensors on the bin lifts
  • faults with the on-board weighing equipment, that prevented the freighters from accepting the full pay load
  • the need for the work force to familiarise themselves with new rounds and adapt to longer working days

For many residents, the switch to a 4 day service also necessitated a change in the day, and time of day, of their collection. For some, notably those in Chigwell, Debden and Waltham Abbey, it also resulted in a change in the collection week of their recycling and black bin. A letter was sent to every household in the district detailing these changes, but a number of residents remained unclear as to the new arrangements and I accept that this communication could have, and should have, been clearer and measures put in place to mitigate the impact of the week change. I have instructed officers to issue a reminder to residents of their collection day, mindful that the numerous catch-up collections Biffa have had to undertake has caused many people additional confusion. Further publicity will be distributed once the collection service is stabilised.

Of course, not all the services that Biffa provides have been affected. The vast majority of collections are completed successfully, and street cleansing services have continued with little or no disruption, but a significant number of residents, located across the district, have endured some, sometimes severe, disruption and inconvenience. It is estimated that the number of missed collections over the initial 4 week period was around 15,000, out of a total of 432,000. To date, this has generated around 9,000 phone calls and 3,000 emails to the council’s customer contact centre.

As an outsourced service the ability of the council to directly influence its delivery is inevitably limited but, from the moment these problems were identified, the council’s officers and staff have been working tirelessly to help Biffa address them, and to minimise the impact on residents. They have worked long hours, and in many cases over weekends, in often difficult circumstances. I would like to thank each of them for all they continue to do on behalf of our residents. If effort alone were sufficient to solve the problems Biffa have encountered they would have been resolved a long time ago.

Biffa themselves have committed significant additional resources to dealing with the problems they have encountered, bringing in extra staff and vehicles and undertaking catch-up collections on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. However, the problems are not yet resolved, and collections are still being missed, so, together with the Leader, Chief Executive and the Director of Neighbourhoods, I continue to put pressure on Biffa at all levels of the company. Meetings are taking place with the Managing Director of Biffa Municipal, the Director Commercial, the Director Operations, the Regional Manager, the Business Manager, the Project Mobilisation Manager, the Process, Quality and Information Manager, and the Senior Business Manager, amongst others. The next of these is tomorrow morning, after which I will be able to update Members again.

At the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on Tuesday of this week I asked that they undertake a thorough review of the implementation of the 4 day collection service, which I’m grateful to them for agreeing to do. It’s very important that the causes of the problems we’ve faced are both identified and understood, and that lessons are learnt for the future. In the meantime, I can assure the Cabinet that my priority, and that of all those involved, is to bring a swift resolution to this situation.