#Binmageddon: 1,000 street bins have vanished from borough

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Council agreed to pay its rubbish contractor an extra £20.7m while it reduced the services they are expected to deliver, leaving the borough’s streets ever dirtier.
EXCLUSIVE by SANJANA IDNANI

Rare sighting: around 1,000 bins have vanished from Croydon’s streets in less than three years

Around 1,000 bins have been vanished from Croydon’s streets since 2018, according to official council figures provided through a Freedom of Information request.

Fewer bins on our streets mean that there’s fewer stops on the contractors’ rounds to empty them, and therefore much less work for the council’s rubbish contractors, Veolia.

Of course, it also leads to increasingly rubbish-strewn streets.

Yet at the same time that two-thirds of the borough’s streets bins have mysteriously “disappeared” and the level of service provided by Veolia reduced, Croydon Council has nonetheless increased the amount that it pays Veolia by £20.7million.

According to the council’s own website, there are meant to be approximately 1,500 on-street litter bins across the borough. But residents’ group Litter Free Norbury say that this figure is “complete rubbish”.

Litter Free Norbury’s founder, Tony Hooker, submitted a Freedom of Information request for Veolia’s asset register and bin maps. The register and maps are supposed to be updated regularly.

‘Better streets’: the Veolia slogan does not match the reality experienced by residents

The register and bin maps show that by 2020 there were fewer than 500 on-street bins in Croydon; 61 bins had been removed from the Norbury area alone over the last three years.

And while Croydon’s streets become ever more dirty, Veolia is making even more money from the borough’s Council Tax-payers.

In 2017, Veolia secured a £209million eight-year contract with the South London Waste Partnership, where Croydon is one of four borough clients.

The additional £20.7million from Croydon was negotiated last year – in the middle of the council’s financial collapse – in a deal supposed to “protect” the borough’s three recycling centres, two of which may, in any case, be under threat of closure.

The cosy additional payment to Veolia by the cash-strapped council will have been overseen by Steven Iles, the Croydon’s rubbish “director of public realm”, and was made with the approval of Stuart Collins, then the council’s deputy leader.

The council has said that it has not authorised the removal of any bins since 2018. Yet over the same period, there appears to have been no efforts made to replace any of the 1,000 missing bins. And that means there’s even more money to boost Veolia’s bottom line: according to Veolia sources, Croydon is paying its contractors £10,000 per year for what seem to be non-existent replacement bins.

Steve Iles: no replies

Veolia’s maps are supposed to be audited and updated on an annual basis and council officials are supposed to monitor the situation to ensure proper bin services are provided.

But the council monitoring officer for Norbury, Duncan Turner, seems to be entirely ignorant of the rubbish situation in his ward. According to Hooker, Turner insists that “the streets are always clean.”

Hooker said, “Turner must be looking at a different Norbury, because that is not our experience. Particularly in the evening and at weekends, our streets are riddled with litter.”

Vicky Bruce, a volunteer with Friends of Norbury Park, confirmed this. She told Inside Croydon that there are far fewer bins and this has made a big impact on the amount of litter she is seeing around the area.

Bin-less: More than 60 street bins have vanished from Norbury alone in the last three years

Council officials have even tried to suggest that none of the shopkeepers on Norbury’s London Road wants the bins because… the streets are so clean.

On a walkabout along the high street conducted this June, in the presence of Councillor Muhammad Ali (the cabinet member responsible for the state of our streets), Turner actually told Hooker and other astonished residents that local businesses had made no demands for new or additional bins to help deal with the rubbish state of the road.

Yet Litter Free Norbury has spoken to more than 60 businesses on London Road, and all of them said they were in favour of more bins. According to Hooker, many expressed frustration with the accumulating litter on their doorsteps.

Confronted with the disparity between the state of the streets and the council’s defence of Veolia, Turner said, “You have Big Belly Bins here which can hold seven times more waste than the normal bins. So you need seven times fewer bins.”

Croydon Council announced plans to order 30 of the solar-powered Big Belly Bins – at an over-priced cost of £5,000 a time – back in 2017.

Bin and gone: Veolia’s bin-emptying service – or the lack of it – has been a matter of complaint among Council Tax-payers for years

It was another labour-saving measure supposed to reduce the workload of Veolia, but the Big Belly Bins have proved to be less than wholly successful.

“They are simply an over-engineered solution to a rubbish problem,” according to a source at the council.

“They do break down, and when they do, they fail to compress the rubbish deposited in them which gives them the promised capacity.

“But while each Big Belly Bin might have a larger capacity than conventional bins, having fewer bins along the streets provides less amenity for the public, offering fewer places to deposit their rubbish responsibly. And so you get more rubbish on the streets.”

Veolia, meanwhile, continues to rake in profits from the council, with rarely any sanction for poor or non-existent services.

In 2015, Veolia had its Croydon payments reduced by £180,000 for missing thousands of bin collections during that summer. The company’s contract was renewed soon after.

Recent events suggest little has changed – this summer, the twin excuses of Brexit and covid have been offered by Veolia for a lack of HGV drivers and therefore a spate on missed rubbish collections.

Council officials continue to appear to be on the side of the contractors, praising their performance, even when local councillors try to get improved, or even simply adequate, services.

Swallowed it: Stuart Collins, when deputy leader, accepted Veolia’s arguments in favour of costly Big Belly Bins

Litter Free Norbury told Inside Croydon that their ward councillors, Leila Ben-Hassel and Shafi Khan, had been trying to tackle the issue for several years but were seeing little or no action from Veolia-friendly council officials.

Litter Free Norbury have themselves attempted to contact the council’s rubbish director,  Steven Iles. They have received no reply.

But after many weeks of efforts by the residents’ group, they say that they have an indication from council official Duncan Turner that he is about to recommend the reinstatement of a couple of bins at rubbish hotspots on Norbury high street.

But the residents regard the offer as, well, “a bit rubbish”. The council has refused to commit to the reinstatement of all 60 of Norbury’s street-side bins that were included on Veolia’s contract but which have somehow vanished.


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Business, Croydon Council, Environment, Leila Ben-Hassel, Norbury, Refuse collection, Shafi Khan, Stuart Collins, Veolia and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to #Binmageddon: 1,000 street bins have vanished from borough

  1. You’ve uncovered one of the true secrets of life.
    There is real truth and there is reality.
    And then there is Council truth and reality neither of which which bears any resemblance to real truth and reality.
    This is because most Councillors and many Officers believe that all truth resides only in Wetherill Towers and that everything outside is fake or dreams. They behave like Vaccine deniers or Trump supporters or Republican Senators and create their own dubious reality. The current mantra of Mint Walk is that the only reason at all, the only reason, the one and only reason why the Borough is up the noxious river and devoid of a paddle is because the Borough, like many others, had been starved of funds. Recklessness, incompetence, arrogance, poor judgment, over ambition and stupidity have apparently no part in an explanation of our predicament.

  2. Maverick says:

    Well it’s great to read that Steve Iles is a rubbish Director. We already knew that at the council.

    It is no great surprise that the residents have not received a reply from him, he is well-known for refusing to put anything to paper, he has a reputation for passing any confrontation issues down the line, just to cover his own arse in case it goes pear-shaped.

    And yet his incompetence is rewarded.

  3. My bin was missed last Tuesday (my neighbours’ bins were picked up just fine). I logged this on the Croydon website – it says that missed bins logged on the site will be collected the next working day. I’m still waiting. I also direct messaged Veolia on Twitter – no response.

  4. James Evans says:

    Litter Free Norbury’s are heroes for truth. They do more than clean the streets.

    • Tony Hooker says:

      Thank you James, I’m bowled over by your comment. When we started researching about disappearing bins, we just wanted to get some straight answers from the council – we had no idea just how difficult that would be, and what a web of BS we would be spun. The truth will out!

      • David M says:

        Good on you Tony – at least you got some of the bins back in Norbury! Living in Thornton Heath the last couple of years and the same thing has happened here. Precious few bins (nowhere near enough…) to begin with, and then most have disappeared for no reason. Would love to see if we can do something similar here to what you’ve achieved up in Norbury!

  5. Micky D says:

    Steve Iles really is a rubbish Director, literally!! Anything he is involved in is a disaster, he heads up the Highways Dept, Parking Dept, and the (rubbish) rubbish department, three areas of the Council services that are all appalling. But hey ho, Iles (the ex council stores man no less) will still pick up his six figure salary for doing sod all about all his failing services!

  6. Billy James says:

    The cowboys from Veolia fail miserably emptying residents bins so not surprised they have got rid of these street bins..
    Unless these Croydon cowboy contractors are monitored properly and fined for non abysmal/ performance you may as well bring these services back in house it will be cheaper on the council taxpayers and at least more accountable these jokers from Veolia are like Lord Lucan to contact if you have bin problems….

  7. Nimby of norbury says:

    Something definitely stinks about this whole affair. Why is the council going so easy on veolia?

    • You should ask Councillor Stuart Collins, who went for six years without insisting that Veolia did not need to have independent verification of their working standards.

      Now why would he and Steve Iles want to be quite so “soft touch” over a council contractor?

  8. Lancaster says:

    The Council staff at Stubbs Mead Depot all know and think Veolia are a disaster and worse still, the South London Waste Partnership. Wait for the contract to end and see refuse collection come back in-house !

  9. Ian Ross says:

    Where’s the independent scrutiny and accountability?

    Steve Iles is a public servant and as such cannot opt simply not to bother responding. In my experience he passes the buck to a minion to give bland and worthless responses. He needs to be removed (like the bins) and replaced with a someone competent. There are plenty out there.

  10. Lewis White says:

    Could part of the problem be that the council lacks its own workforce, and is locked into supercontracts with a very small number of huge contractors which last for a decade or so?

    In days of yore, the council had its own workforce dealing with cleansing, refuse, sewers, parks etc ete etc.

    In other days of yore, councils went out to competitive tender every year or 2 years for roadworks. Now, contracts last for 10. In reality, the prices are not held for 10. Everything gets a bit fuzzy after 3, and after 5, are renegotiated.

    The sums are so enormous, that no-one really understands whether value for money is being obtained by the council. We all relate to £000’s, but when it is £5 million, or £15 million, it is all “a lot”.

    These supercontractors now enjoy a monopoly. But the money is real, not toy.
    Nice work if you can get it.

    • Lancaster says:

      Lewis is correct. The other big problem is those in the council writing the contracts, and then those reviewing and selecting, lack the knowledge or basic understanding of what they wish to purchase in the first place. You then have different departments all wanting to stamp their ‘specialty’ on the process. The Buying Team, The Procurement Team and thereafter the department wanting a contract tendered. None of them know what they want. In reality most departments don’t actually do anything; they just write ‘policy’. Everything is then delegated to the service delivering and they are expected to understand and deliver the ‘policy’.

      When the council signed its first IT contract back in 2002’ish, (Capita), an audit was done of what the council and its staff would need. Obviously the staff and teams were not involved or spoken to or asked what their IT needs were. A big shiny expensive contract was signed and the lowest common denominator of kit was placed on staffs desks. Staff then asked if there were any scanners. No scanners had been ordered in the contract. Obviously the supplier was VERY happy to add this onto the contract after the fact; at ridiculous expense. Croydon simply does not have the caliber of business educated senior management; just the merry go round / revolving door, low grade local government senior managers, who are to arrogant to ask their staff or those who actually deliver.

      The way we work…. Procurement don’t actually buy anything, they just write policy. Finance don’t actually do any accountancy, they just write ‘policy’. HR don’t actually do any recruitment or HR’ing, they just write ‘policy’; and on and non and on. Then the poor middle managers are expected to understand, implement and deliver; devolved responsibility.

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