Careful what you wish for as we bin rubbish contractor Veolia

CROYDON COMMENTARY: The news that Veolia won’t have their four-borough deal extended once it expires in 2025 has prompted loyal reader LEWIS WHITE, pictured right, to question our councils’ roles in the service decline

From the comments made in response to the Inside Croydon news report about the ending of Veolia’s contract, it would seem that residents in some areas find little or no fault with the service provided by the contractor’s operatives themselves, while in others, there are problems.

Rubbish pay: Veolia workers in Croydon have been paid significantly less than their colleagues working in neighbouring boroughs

Why is this?

Variable standards exist where there is not consistent management, but they can also arise from local factors, such as the difficulty of collection in places with lots of parked cars.

There ought to be a council refuse management team in place with enough staff to enforce standards across the borough, check on and enforce quality control, and deal with the day-to-day complaints and then direct the contractor to address the issues such as missed collections and rubbish dropped during the collections and left in the street.

Self-policing of a contract by the contractor clearly has a fundamental weakness.

Poor drafting of the detail of a contract, which fails to specify in depth exactly what is expected, could be a problem. A good working relationship (one that communicates quickly) is needed between the client and a responsive contractor, but not one where one party – the client – allows standards to slip on quality control.

Binned: cuts in Croydon has seen some rduction in cleaning service

I have no idea of the relative strengths and weaknesses of Veolia and the council team, but we know that year-on-year cuts have forced the council to save money by instructing Veolia to reduce frequency of some services, such as litter bin emptying, and street sweeping.

Refuse collection – once upon a time, just dustbins – is a statutory service that the council must provide.

I don’t think that street sweeping (whether by a person and broom or a person driving a big mechanical sweeper) is such a service. Nor is picking up the leaves in autumn – hence Croydon streets with big trees are often covered with leaves, then caked in mush as the leaves get mashed up by cars in the wet, all year round.

It is therefore not Veolia who decides whether to pick up the leaves or have the street swept on a more frequent basis. It is, however, their responsibility to adhere to the specification. If the specification from the council is… er… rubbish, then the results will be rubbish, too.

Again, the number of rubbish bins on the high streets and at bus stops has been reduced at the council’s direction. Surely, Veolia would not get away with going around taking bins away if the council wanted the bins to stay?

With local authority services, such as outsourced IT provision, the fact is that after getting in to a council by winning the contract, and after a honeymoon period where the service is great, over time – unless the council has the staff resources in place to police the contract properly, and actually does so – the standards often can will slip. Some well-known contractors have an unwritten business model of being as “bad as possible without being sacked”. Or, as bad as can be got away with, without sustaining too many contract penalty payments.

I am not saying that this is Veolia’s philosophy. Presumably, the four councils in the South London Waste Partnership – Sutton, Kingston and Merton, as well as Croydon – would not be terminating the agreement unless Veolia were seriously underperforming without improvement over time, taking into consideration all the variables and problems.

An issue is that today, there are not that many refuse collection contractors operating in the municipal world. Another is that everything now seems to be wrapped up into “super contracts”, lasting for more than five years, sometimes even 10 (Veolia’s deal through the SLWP was for eight years, with two possible eight-year extensions). The urgency seems to have gone out of local authorities. Maybe they are punch-drunk from dealing with the funding cuts, which have depleted most council services.

We the public have become less demanding – our expectations are low.

Read more: After decades of clean-ups, we’re still polluting precious rivers
Read more: The day I saved 7 street trees – with the help of Inside Croydon
Read more: Public parks are suffering effects of decades of malign neglect

  • Coulsdon resident Lewis White is a retired landscape architect with decades of experience working for local authorities in south London

Croydon Commentary is where our readers can offer their personal views about what matters to them in and around the borough. To submit an article for publication, just email us at, or post your comment to an Inside Croydon article that has caught your attention

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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
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2 Responses to Careful what you wish for as we bin rubbish contractor Veolia

  1. The street cleansing contract should reflect what is enshrined in law.

    The Environmental Protection Act 1990 imposes duties under on certain landowners and occupiers to keep specified land clear of litter and refuse, and on local authorities and the Secretary of State to keep clean public highways for which they are responsible.

    You can read all about the Act and the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse by going to

    It should be compulsory reading for any Croydon councillor who either will take a decision on the new arrangements or has ever been on a litter pick in the borough and taken a selfie to prove it

  2. Evren Turan says:

    I’ve been happy with Veolia’s service, including the garden waste service which we pay an optional extra for but represents good VFM in my opinion. The real problem is there are too many residents and small businesses with poor or even non-existent etiquette when it comes to taking responsibility for their own astronomical consumption and waste production.

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