Derbyshire council asked army to help empty bins as collection service collapses

Derbyshire Dales District Council has unsuccessfully called on the military and fire service to help it collect bins, with private firm Serco missing thousands of pickups.

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 9:18 am
Updated Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 4:58 pm

Meanwhile, the private firm is asking the council to cough up thousands of pounds to help prop up the floundering service.

Driver vacancies, self-isolation, Brexit, lockdown blocking driver training and the cost of salaries have all been put forward to explain the faltering bin collection service in the Derbyshire Dales.

This has left many households with piled up stacks of recycling and overflowing bins due to missed collections, for which they contribute a substantial portion of their council tax.

Driver vacancies, self-isolation, Brexit, lockdown blocking driver training and the cost of salaries have all been put forward to explain Serco's faltering bin collection service

Derbyshire Dales District Council has dubbed the situation an “emergency” which is “deteriorating daily” and has been in talks with Serco over its handling of the contract, including legal duties.

Serco, which expects its annual profits to soar to £120 million due to Covid contracts, six times the entire annual spending budget of Derbyshire Dales District Council, to cough up the price of a pay rise for bin collection staff, in an aim to bring in new recruits.

This would see the private firm, which has already been propped up by council taxpayers to the tune of more than £350,000 in the past year, passing on a potential burden of between £7,214 a month to £37,712 a month – depending on employee pay bands – to the council.

A rate of £12 an hour for each employee would trigger the lowest sum, increasing by £1 an hour for subsequent bandings up to £17 an hour leading to the largest monthly sum.

Council officers say the authority should not be responsible for 100 per cent of the fees and have suggested paying half instead, which would leave the potential extra required from the council at between £3,607 and £18,856 extra a month.

These increased fees, they suggest, would remain in place up to the end of next March, with the hope that the driver “shortage” will stabilise and that “some form of Government intervention is made to improve the situation”.

The cost to the council, at 50 per cent, to hike pay for the next eight months would cost between £28,856 and £150,848.

Serco says it has a requirement for a total of 30 bin collection staff to maintain the service and allow for holiday and sick cover. However, it currently has just 17 staff to carry out its duties, as of July 19, the council says.

The council says it could enforce the legal obligations of the contract and could employ an alternative contractor to cover the services which have not been delivered – and recharge that back to Serco.

However, council officers say this “could take some time and may not be successful on all counts”, due to the pandemic and the driver “shortage”.

They also say serving this form of notice would be “very confrontational” with disruption to bin collections continuing until an agreement was met.

The council says it has asked for help from other Derbyshire councils but this has been unsuccessful, because they, too, are in difficult situations with either in-house or privately-run bin collection services.

Officers also write: “The council have also recently requested support from Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service and even the military, who so far have been unable to provide the required support.

Council officers say that suspending garden waste collections for a month, for which residents have to opt in to at a cost of £50 a year, would free up five drivers.

This would allow crews to get through the backlog in collections across the district but would mean the council misses out on £55,000 in “recycling credits”.

Officers say suspending the service for a month carries a risk of “reputational damage”, with this being the first year in which the garden waste scheme, at £50 a household, was introduced.

This had been part of an inflated new contract with Serco which started last August, costing taxpayers £1 million a year – a total of £3.1 million annually.

Officers say that if councillors chose to suspend garden waste collections they should offer residents subscribing next year a reduced price of £35 for the service “by way of an apology and recompense for the current disruption”.

Serco has also asked for an additional vehicle to help with garden waste collections, and has asked that the council pay the full fee of leasing this from the private firm itself. The cost of leasing the extra vehicle for eight months – until the end of March 2022, has not yet been disclosed but is likely to be thousands of pounds.

The private firm, which is requesting thousands of pounds from a public authority it dwarfs, says the council maintaining key performance targets for Serco – based on its management of the contract – is “unreasonable”.

Council officers say: “Whilst there is clearly an impact on the service delivery as a direct result of the national shortage of HGV drivers and the global pandemic, it is recommended that the key performance indicators remain in place to help monitor and manage the behaviour of the contract.”

Officers also say, in response to residents requesting letters updating them on the situation regarding bins, that this would cost around £5,000 per batch, and says it will continue to send out a newsletter, emails, updates on social media, notice boards, press releases and work with town and parish councils to get the messages out instead.

Serco has been approached for comment but has not responded at the time of this article’s publication.

Decisions on all the above will be made at an “extraordinary” meeting on Tuesday, July 27 from 6pm, which up to 20 members of the public and press can attend in person and will also be streamed live on YouTube.