If you thought that the refuse collection and street cleaning in Croydon couldn’t get any worse, WALTER CRONXITE has news for you
Croydon’s rubbish contractor, Veolia, is considering cutting the number of staff it employs to carry out the domestic refuse collection service around Croydon, Sutton and Merton.
This would be in addition to the 52 jobs Veolia axed last year when it introduced road sweeping vans, and is despite the continuing difficulties that the contractors have in fulfilling their contracted service for the South London Waste Partnership (SLWP), which comprises Kingston, Merton and Sutton as well as Croydon.
Sources at Croydon Town Hall suggest that Veolia has been overstretched for the past year or more, since the #SuttonBinShame shambles when they took on Sutton’s bin collections in 2017, and then Merton last year, creating #MuckyMerton, while “re-organising” its service with #CroydonBinChaos last September.
“It’s clear that they can’t cope,” the senior council figure said. “They’ve done a ‘Carillion’: pitched for the job at so cheap a price that they cannot manage to carry out the service with the staffing levels and trucks that they have across the three boroughs.”
That Veolia’s response could be to axe more jobs on the bin lorries, therefore, might seem a perverse way of dealing with an issue of being under-resourced. But council sources and staff working closely with the contractors say that because of withheld fees for poor service, Veolia is feeling the pinch and struggling to afford to continue providing the service as agreed with SLWP.
Intervention last year by Stuart Collins, the council cabinet member for fly tipping and dirty streets, saw Croydon hold back £1million in fees from Veolia for missed bin collections and poor service.
That was in June, before the somewhat chaotic reorganisation of the borough’s bin collectins, when three-quarters of Croydon households had their schedule changed – changes introduced principally for the convenience of the contractor, so that Veolia crews could operate over new, longer routes that crossed the borough boundaries between Croydon, Sutton and Merton.
Inside Croydon understands that continued problems with Veolia’s service in Croydon has seen more fees withheld since September, and sources in Sutton say that the council there, with growing dissatisfaction among residents and elected councillors, has also kept back some payments.
Confronted with an unprofitable contract, Veolia feels that the only way it can make the deal work financially is by reducing its staff costs further, despite the risk of more unpaid fees.
Inside Croydon contacted Veolia at the start of the month and again this week to seek answers to a series of questions about the deteriorating standard of service, and to give the company an opportunity to deny that it was considering job cuts.
No one from Veolia responded.
Veolia’s decision is likely to be met with opposition from Collins and other senior council figures, in Croydon and Sutton.
Council colleagues say that Labour councillor Collins “was furious” when he learned that Veolia had axed the 52 staff – mainly roadsweepers – based at the Stubbs Mead Depot off Factory Lane last year, after he had been told of a £1.3million spend on “improvements” to the service through mechanisation.
And there’s growing disquiet among councillors in the ruling Labour group at Croydon Town Hall over the worsening state of the borough’s streets under the revised Veolia contract. “It’s dominating councillors’ casework all the time,” said the source, “and there’s no sign of improvement, either. Councillors are fed up apologising for the poor service.”
Not only were residents’ schedules changed to suit Veolia, but a new recycling bin system was introduced for the convenience of the bin crews, while a rule has been imposed that if residents’ new, smaller landfill bins are so full that the lids cannot be closed, the Veolia crews do not have to empty them.
“You can see the result of that rule strewn across the streets of Croydon,” one unimpressed councillor said this week, confirming that there has been a rapid increase in the amount of domestic waste being fly tipped in parks, down alleys and on street corners by residents who have not had their waste removed.
The Christmas holiday break in service has created just more problems, with some residents reporting this week that they have not had their refuse collected since Christmas Eve.
Recycling centres around the borough were turned into rubbish tips before the New Year, presenting contractor staff with a thankless start to 2019.
The tip at Shirley took several days to clear. According to Inside Croydon’s loyal reader, “The first day any contractor staff were there, it was two men, one with a shovel and the other a broom, but no vehicle. The place was piled high with discarded Christmas trees and guys were there at about 7am trying to tidy things. It doesn’t help when there’s residents dumping things like breeze blocks into the mix.”
When a truck did appear on site, the following day, it was unmarked, suggesting that outside crews had been brought in to assist overstretched Veolia in the clear-up.
Confronted with the festering rubbish tip, our loyal reader tripped across the borough boundary, into Bromley. “The Bromley recycling point was clear and not a mess. How is it possible for one borough and not another – or were we just lucky with the day we went?”
There have been other issues with promised services not provided: after the confusion caused by the council and Veolia over the replacement of recycling boxes, the contractors undertook to collect and recycle the discarded plastic boxes. Nearly six months later, many householders have been left with the boxes still on their property.
The Croydon Christmas tree collection and recycling service – in theory, a positive boon to any residential area after the festive season – was meant to take place from January 11 to 25. Yet the front gardens and pavements of Croydon today appear like the graveyard of a forest of dead trees.
Veolia even admitted that they had had “staffing issues that we’re working to fix” in a timid tweeted apology issued on January 11.
“Sorry it’s taken a bit longer to catch up after the holidays this year,” Veolia said, suggesting that they would be back on schedule that weekend. Yet some residents, another two weeks on, say that some element of their refuse service is still unreliable and not returned to normal.
“It should be glaringly obvious that Veolia is not up to the task, with the resources that they are trying to scrape through on,” the Town Hall source said.
“They carry a lot of responsibility for those failures, in this borough, in Sutton and Merton, too. But this is another example of the shortcomings of outsourcing and the South London Waste Partnership: which council officials there seriously thought that the scale of the contract they were offering could be done as cheaply as Veolia suggested?
“It’s a huge mess.”
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