A leaked email obtained by this website seems to show that Liberal Democrats have been abusing council resources in an attempt to get themselves out of the hole they have created with their rubbish Veolia service. Our Sutton investigations editor, JERRY MANDER, reports
An internal email leaked to Inside Croydon appears to show that the political group which has controlled Sutton Council since 1990, Ruth Dombey’s Liberal Democrats, are using consultants paid for by Veolia to prioritise street-cleaning improvements, but only in LibDem-controlled areas, just ahead of this year’s local elections.
Opposition politicians in Sutton have accused the LibDems of abusing public resources for their own political campaigning, saying, “This stinks worse than the unemptied bins.”
The LibDems’ efforts are a late response to the rubbish publicity the council has suffered over what is known across the capital as #SuttonBinShame – the disastrous outsourcing over the past year of waste disposal and street cleaning services to Veolia.
Sutton’s streets are notably grubbier than at any time in living memory, strewn with uncollected waste and, in the few past weeks, with Christmas trees that were supposed to have been cleared by January 20. Many gutters, pavements and drains are clogged with soggy leaves that fell from trees months ago, with a promise to be cleared by December 31.
The #SuttonBinShame hashtag has seen a remarkable resurgence on social media recently, after it peaked last April and May when some residents went months without bins being collected by Veolia.
Veolia are the same outsourced service contractors used in Croydon. They got the contract for Sutton, as well as similar deals in Merton and Kingston, as a result of the South London Waste Partnership, the collaboration between the four local authorities which has also delivered the people of south London with the £1billion incinerator at Beddington.
Now, according to internal correspondence obtained by Inside Croydon, with the council elections getting closer, it appears that the LibDems are forcing Veolia to clean the borough’s dirty streets, but are directing them to LibDem-voting wards, to shore up support before polling day on May 3.
The leaked email is from senior council employee Niko Baar, the head of the leadership office. It was sent only to LibDem councillors.
It sets out how a LibDem “Strategic Team” meeting took place on the morning of Friday January 19 with Sutton’s chief executive, Niall “Ballistic” Bolger, and Mary Morrissey, the director of environment, housing and regeneration, .
After the meeting Dombey, the council’s political leader, spoke with the chief executive of Veolia, and was told that in response to the council’s concerns, the company agreed to fund independent consultants to visit the borough and look at the situation.
As part of this process, Dombey agreed to give the consultants a list of roads that needed attention, to help produce a new street cleaning schedule in an effort to solve the issues.
Wards like Belmont – Tory-controlled but with some of the worst waste collection issues in the whole borough – were allowed no input, and the LibDems, rather than council employees, were able to hand-pick the roads needing special attention by Veolia.
Baar’s email was sent at 2.23pm on Saturday January 20. Several LibDem councillors were quick to post identikit messages on social media, asking residents for details of roads with waste and cleaning problems.
LibDem councillors Jayne McCoy, Sunita Gordon, Hanna Zuchowska and Nick Emmerson, among others, made Facebook postings on local groups. Responses were closed down last Wednesday, January 24, the day that LibDem councillors had been asked to send details back to Baar.
It’s not clear from Baar’s email if the two senior council officers, Bolger and Morrissey, were aware of the LibDem scheme to usurp the use of the consultants for their own political advantage.
If the officials did have knowledge, it would represent a severe breach of strict rules on the impartiality of public officials.
Political groups within local authorities are allowed some leeway in how they use council resources, but Sutton’s Code of Conduct is clear: “… care needs to be taken not to cross the line into party political or partisan campaigning activity”. Public resources, such as council staff, their time and work, must not be used to help one political party over others, and especially so at election time.
Sutton’s LibDem councillors and ex-councillors include polluters, thieves and cage-fighters, and now it seems that they using the consultants paid for by Veolia to try to clean up their reputation.
Dombey’s desperate efforts to varnish the #SuttonBinShame disaster have seen her make outrageous public claims. Interviewed on BBC Radio London recently, Dombey told presenter Vanessa Feltz that residents were reporting a satisfaction rate of 99 per cent over their bin collections.
Yet simple anecdotal checks conducted by residents on bin collection days shows Dombey’s claims to be… well, rubbish.
In Carshalton last week, bin collections from hundreds of homes across several streets were missed altogether, and photographic evidence was posted widely on social media. Sutton Council chose to ignore this, however, maintaining that there was only a single missed collection reported from the area.
The missed collection reports are probably so low because Veolia are allowed to monitor their own performance. Just as was the case in Croydon, under the contract with Sutton, the contractors are not subject to any independent scrutiny of their work by council officials. They are, in effect, allowed to mark their own homework. Veolia certainly didn’t report the streets of missed collections in Carshalton.
Baar’s leaked email also gives the game away about the dreadful state of streets right across the borough.
“We now need to make street cleaning more of a priority for Veolia… so that Veolia’s management can see how widespread the street cleaning problems are.”
This further contradicts Dombey’s claim on BBC Radio London that there were only a few isolated problems with the Veolia service.
In just four days, the heavy-handed LibDem social media campaign received more than 1,000 replies with details of dirty roads. Some suggested it would be easier to list the roads that did not need cleaning.
In has also emerged that Sutton Council is withholding 10 per cent of under-performing Veolia’s monthly fee because the service is so poor – the maximum penalty allowed under the contract.
Tim Crowley, the leader of Sutton’s Tory opposition, has accused the LibDems of gerrymandering over the Veolia clean-up.
“This stinks worse than the unemptied bins,” Crowley said.
“This has all been done behind closed doors, and it looks as though council resources as well as consultants paid for by Veolia are being abused to help the LibDems. They know they are in huge trouble with Veolia’s service, and will stoop very low for political advantage, even if that means secretly using what I believe is a form of gerrymandering.
“Pretending that councillors are campaigning on social media just to help residents get their roads clean is cynical. Those councillors knew from the email content that only LibDem councillors were involved. It’s all about rescuing the situation before the May elections.”
Neither Ruth “99 per cent” Dombey nor Niall Bolger responded to requests for comment.
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