The serial incompetence of the propaganda department at Labour-run Croydon Council has managed to hand another (albeit minor) political victory to the Tory opposition, this time over the suspension of the borough’s garden waste service.
As Inside Croydon was first to report earlier this week, residents who pay £65 a year for the additional service discovered an abrupt message stating that they wouldn’t be getting their expected fortnightly pick-up from the council’s rubbish contractors, Veolia.
The statement posted on the council website on January 6 offered no explanation for the suspension beyond “to prioritise key services”. The ambiguity led some to believe that the service suspension might be caused by the council going broke.
Some who had paid the fee and sought clarification over possible refunds for the lost service (using social media; most residents have long ago abandoned the idea that they would ever be able to contact their council by telephone to speak to a real, live human being) were fobbed off with contractual language that threatened to deny them any refund for the non-service.
“Unfortunately, the terms and conditions you agreed to when joining the service state we do not offer refunds for the garden waste service,” a high-handed council functionary tweeted yesterday.
There was an attempt at an explanation, though: “The service is suspended so we can priorities [sic] the general waste and food waste.”
In fact, the terms and conditions of the garden waste service offered by Croydon Council only provide for no refunds for any residents who move home during the 12-month period covered by their payment, or who wish to discontinue the service within that year. Contract law dictates that if a service provider, such as Croydon Council or Veolia, enter into a contract and accept payment for a service, then they are usually obliged to provide that service in full, or compensate their client in some way (more on that later).
Some residents’ associations suggest that there had been problems with the garden waste service long before the council suspension last week, with some households having gone four months without receiving the service they had paid for.
Croydon’s Tories, always eager to score a cheap political point, have leapt upon the garden waste service suspension, today saying that they will “investigate”. But there really isn’t anything to investigate (beyond the usual poor standards of communications from Fisher’s Folly).
Alerted by the Inside Croydon report on Monday, our loyal reader logged on to their YourAccount council gizmo, where hidden away in a black hole of Croydon cyberspace is some further information. The suspension of the garden waste service is not because the council is broke, but because like many frontline services, Veolia workers are having to self-isolate because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Due to a rise in covid-19 cases leading to a reduced workforce, we are suspending garden waste collections until further notice to prioritise key services,” is the message on MyAccount.
“Please keep your garden waste on your property, and we will collect any additional waste as soon as we are able to resume the service. We apologise for the inconvenience.”
All perfectly reasonable.
If only the council’s comms team had managed to communicate that message clearly and consistently to residents and customers and before the service was suspended, they might have saved themselves a good deal of self-inflicted grief. But then Croydon Council, and Veolia, have a bit of a dodgy track record when it comes to providing accurate information about the services they provide.
This latest entirely avoidable clusterfuck of mismanagement is brought to the people of Croydon by the bungling Steve Iles, who was over-promoted to the position of director of public realm by the discredited former chief exec, Jo Negreedy.
Iles appears not to have considered the knock-on, contractual consequence of withdrawing a service for which cash-strapped Croydon Council has already received an estimated £1.2million in payments up-front from thousands of households.
This failure to plan, perhaps organising a compensation offer to customers of fulfilling the 26 garden waste collections that they have paid for, has only aggravated a situation which could easily have been avoided.
It was left to an Addiscombe councillor, Sean Fitzsimons, to try to offer a clear message today, following the Tories’ attempt to extract political capital from the situation.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, with high number of waste collection workforce ill, isolating or caring for others,” Fitzsimons tweeted. “Garden waste service is suspended whilst the workforce concentrate on collecting waste, recycling and food waste.”
A clear, simple message which most reasonable people would accept in these extraordinary times.
And then Fitzsimons tweeted a link to the council website, apparently in an effort to provide further information about council services, include green waste, during the covid-19 emergency. But in doing so, Fitzsiomns only managed to highlight how desperately poorly managed is the council’s media department.
Follow Fitzsimons’ recommended link on the council website today – a full week since the garden waste service was suspended – and under the heading “Garden waste”, is this message: “Find out how to start or renew a garden waste collection. This service offers collections every 2 weeks for £65 a year.”
Or not, it would seem.
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