The South London Waste Partnership has saddled Council Tax-payers in Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston with an eight-year contract with Veolia.
Yes, that’s right: the same company which currently empties the bins and sweeps the roads in Croydon.
The SLWP is the same organisation which ran the dubious procurement process for the Beddington Lane incinerator, which could potentially pollute the local air for the next quarter-century.
The four boroughs in the SLWP have now all rubber-stamped the new Veolia deal, which is having the contractual details “fine tuned”, according to company. In Merton and Sutton, the deal also sees new parks maintenance contractors.
But the whole process is less about providing an improved street cleaning service, and more about saving £30million of public spending between now and 2024.
“The four boroughs will spend a combined £38 million on delivering waste collection, street cleaning, winter gritting, parks and cemeteries maintenance services this year,” Stuart Collins, Croydon’s Labour-run council’s deputy leader and delegate to the SLWP said in a press release issued by Veolia.
Over the course of the procurement, Veolia fended off competition from Kier, Serco, Amey and Biffa. Sources in Croydon Council have suggested that none of the other bidders could match Veolia’s low charges, in what appears to be a race to the bottom for services in the midst of the continuing cuts to local authority funding under the Conservative Government’s austerity measures.
“We identified that by working together and harmonising services across the region we could all make significant savings and deliver high-quality services that local people value,” Collins said.
In 2012, under the previous Tory administration at the Town Hall, householders in Croydon had the frequency of their bin collections halved, to fortnightly. Kingston operates a similar system, and it seems likely under the latest agreement that this will be implemented in Sutton, too, from next year.
According to a source close within Sutton Council, “It could be a suicidal move by the LibDems who control the council: in the past, they would pour extra resources into keeping the streets really clean in the six months or so before an election, and do enough to impress and win the vote. Now, under this deal, with the service outsourced to Veolia, they won’t be able to do that before the local elections in May 2018.”
In Croydon, the new deal appears to be a reward for failure by Veolia, who in 2015 – in the middle of the bidding process – faced fines of up to £180,000 for missing thousands of bin collections during the summer, after the company re-organised its systems.
Collins has spoken regularly and with enthusiasm about how the new deal, which is to be phased in in Croydon as the various elements come up for renewal, will allow the council to apply more rigorous requirements of Veolia. But it remains uncertain whether the contractor will be subjected to independent performance scrutiny; under the previous contract, as negotiated under Tory councillor Phil Thomas, Veolia monitored their own work.
And while Collins has spoken of the four-borough SLWP’s running a “robust procurement process”, it is a process that has been overseen and managed by many of the same council officials who oversaw and managed the current agreements with Veolia.
Thus, any failings identified with the previous contracts are as much the failure of the council officials in appointing Veolia and determining their performance, as they are of Veolia themselves. And the senior council staff responsible are unlikely to highlight their own cock-ups.
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