I would like to apologise for the missed collections and inconvenience caused.

Below is an update on yesterday’s press release regarding the considerable issues experienced within the waste and recycling service:

The new waste and recycling service began on 27 November 2023 and was the culmination of a two-year project.

The results for the first four weeks after launch were encouraging with a more than 99 per cent collection rate. The teams are working through teething issues with the new fleet vehicles whilst crews become familiarised with the new routes. We had expected 6 x full 2-week cycles for the new system to fully bed in.

 The Christmas week was expected to be a challenge with the loss of two working days, but plans were put in place to combat this with crews working on a Saturday and extra hours available.

 Through the remaining days of the Christmas week, it was noted that the amount of cardboard being collected, although expected to increase, was considerably higher than could be accommodated, presenting a capacity issue for the new recycling vehicles. This compounded collection challenges as the wagons had to return more often to the depot. This also created an efficiency issue as, although the cardboard compartments were full and therefore had to return to the depot, the other collection pods had unused capacity. Recycling vehicles queuing to be unloaded at the depot also present efficiency challenges and lost time when additional visits are required. 

This issue presents a systemic problem, not teething issues, when the system is overwhelmed over the Christmas period and will require a robust solution to ensure the same problem does not occur next year. We have approached South Swindon Parish Council and are in early discussions to see if we can plan to bolster the service for the Christmas period next year by strategically engaging their resources. The Parish have already been of great assistance in this difficult time. We will expand these discussions to other Parish Councils.

 The knock-on effect has been significant for those with collections on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, with delayed collections experienced in a number of areas across the Borough and crews are working very hard to bring the service back under control. Christmas Day and Boxing Day represented 40,000 collections that needed to be caught up whilst the capacity issues added another 7,000 missed collections. It is believed that the current total outstanding collection total is closer to 30,000 and good inroads have been made to continue to reduce this number.

 I met with supervisors yesterday who are currently working on a recovery plan that will see additional vehicles and wagons supporting the crews. Three new drivers started today, and additional vehicles will be brought into service to assist teams with the recovery. The recovery plan is fluid position as additional resources are added when they become available. At the current recovery rate, we are expecting to have made significant inroads into the backlog over the next 2 weeks. Due to the fluidity of the position, it is not possible to give exact dates for the backlog collections and therefore would ask that residents leave uncollected waste out. 

Most of the Christmas Day collections have been brought in and the crews are working to weave in the Boxing Day routes within their normal collections supported by additional resources. If your Boxing Day collection has not happened by Friday, 5 January, then this will be collected on Tuesday, 9 January.

I have been asked why the service was launched on 27 November 2023.

The service delivery method was agreed by the previous administration December 2021, wagons ordered and paid for in October 2022 with a scheduled start date in October 2023. (There was a 12-month lead time for delivery of the wagons) 

Due to a delay in the delivery of refuse wagons, the start date was moved to the end of November. The reasons why the new service could not be delayed further or until after Christmas were:

  • It was a legal requirement for food waste to be collected across the Borough by 2024
  • It was imperative that we replaced an aged vehicle fleet that was unreliable, rapidly becoming unserviceable, expensive to run and required an expensive rental solution to supplement frequent vehicle failure.
  • The recruitment process for a considerable increase in loaders and drivers was in an advanced stage and could not realistically be restarted without detriment. 
  • The cost of lost food waste revenue would have been approx £30K per week.

The change of administration at the Council happened after the election in May 2023 where I became the lead member effectively starting in June 2023. Whilst I had no involvement in the procurement or design of the new system, I am determined to ensure that we work through all teething and systemic issues to recover the position. I understand that there are those who seek to make political capital from the problems being experienced and I will endeavour not to become embroiled or deflected whilst we concentrate our efforts on resolving the issues.

Once again, I would like to apologise for the missed collections and inconveniences caused and assure you that I will continue to work tirelessly to support the service through its recovery.

Best Regards

Chris Watts

Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment

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