Veolia, who have swept Croydon’s streets and emptied its residents’ bins sporadically since 2003, are to be dropped as the council’s rubbish contractor.
The decision has been reached following “significant and ongoing concerns” with Veolia’s performance, which saw three of the boroughs in the South London Waste Partnership – Croydon, Merton and Sutton – each issue the contractor with a Service Improvement Notice earlier this year.
Apparently it was thanks to the recommendation of Croydon that Veolia was awarded an eight-year bins contract across the four SLWP boroughs – Croydon and Merton, plus Sutton and Kingston – in 2017. The switch quickly led to complaints over poor standards of service in Merton and Sutton, giving rise to their very own hashtags of #MuckyMerton and #SuttonBinShame, and ultimately to the takeover of many of Croydon’s pavements through #Binmageddon.
When signed, the contract was worth “over £209million”, according to Veolia, and included the possibility of two eight-year extensions.
But in 2020 Croydon gave Veolia a £21milion contract “uplift”. Merton, too, are understood to have increased payments in the hope of some improvement in the state of their “mucky” streets. All to no avail…
The SLWP agreements with Veolia will run through until 2025.
According to sources at two of the SLWP councils, Veolia maintain that the slimmed-down service that they provide is exactly as required by their contracts. Notoriously, in Croydon, this included that they would self-monitor their performance for missed bin collections and the cleanliness of swept streets.
Councillors have now reached the conclusion that the contracts with Veolia, as drawn up by council officials, are not fit for purpose and require extensive renegotiation. Neither Sutton nor Kingston are prepared to increase the amount that they will pay Veolia under the existing terms of their deal.
Labour-controlled Merton broke the news that it “is set to exit its contract with Veolia Ltd for street cleaning and waste collection when it ends in 2025”. The decision is due to be confirmed at a cabinet meeting next Monday.
Andrea Keys, partnership director for the SLWP, the unaccountable council quango, told BBC London that “after taking all things into account, officers [that means council staff] in the four partner boroughs have decided to recommend to their members [that means elected councillors] that recommissioning the services would be in the boroughs’ best interests”.
“But the contract has also had its challenges. Veolia’s proposal to extend the contract reflects the significant changes in the wider market since it was signed five years ago, and, following a detailed options appraisal, the outcome shows that the partners may benefit from new specifications that reflect borough-specific service priorities and performance standards. After taking all things into account, officers in the four partner boroughs have decided to recommend to their Members that recommissioning the services would be in the boroughs’ best interests.”
The SLWP says “a comprehensive programme of resident engagement will be held during the autumn providing local people with an important opportunity to provide feedback on waste collection and street cleaning services; what currently works, what doesn’t and what the priorities should be for the future”. Oh yeah.
They also claim that, “The opportunity to recommission services comes at an opportune time for a number of reasons”.
Apparently, the four boroughs “are all at a pivotal point in their carbon reduction agendas”. Yes: the same four boroughs whose recycling rates have plummeted since they started shovelling a large chunk of the waste Veolia collects each week into the polluting Beddington incinerator.
SLWP also says that “covid-19 and the resulting increase in home-working has had a significant impact on the volumes and types of waste being collected from homes across the region”.
They are also gearing up for “major legislative changes” such as Consistency in Collections, Deposit Return Scheme, Extended Producer Responsibility and the Plastic Packaging Tax.
“Recommissioning will allow each borough to review and redesign their services in order to reflect these changing needs,” says the SLWP – which, remember, is never accountable at the ballot box for any of its decisions.
There’s more than a hint that the four boroughs, having tried to get the job done on the cheap by negotiating the waste contract together, might soon start to go their own ways again. Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Croydon “will also be free to make their own decisions on how best to maximise joint working opportunities”, the SLWP says.
“There will certainly be things that are still best done together, and these new arrangements will not prevent that from happening.”
Veolia say that “service requirements and the wider market have evolved substantially” since they won the contract in 2017. Which is, of course, bollocks: residents still expect their bins to be collected regularly, and they live in hope that their streets will be swept frequently, just as they did five years ago. But they are two things which Veolia has failed to do all too often, while the four local councils have usually been reluctant to act as anything other than apologists for their contractors.
“We look forward to reviewing new contract specifications when these are available and will respond accordingly in the new bidding process,” Veolia said, knowing that they now have the four councils over a barrel of mediocre service for the next three years.
“In the meantime, we are committed to continuing to deliver the best quality services to residents until the completion of the contract in 2025.” Oh yeah…
Croydon’s part-time Mayor, Jason Perry, has so far been silent on the matter.
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