Over 100 days and no end in sight to bins chaos - Council the biggest litter lout as a result
By Greg Stone
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As city bin dispute passes 100th day, Newcastle's Lib Dem Opposition issues strong condemnation of chaotic council performance on neighbourhood services
The growing chaos across the city is caused by the city council's inability to get a grip on the ongoing crisis in its Neighbourhood Services department, which has responsibility for bin collections, street cleaning, council tips, and tackling flytipping.
Other neighbouring councils are under equal financial pressure from central government grant reductions but have been able to maintain core standards of neighbourhood cleanliness. Newcastle seems unable to do so.
The Opposition is writing to the council's leadership and senior management setting out serious concerns over performance and the inability to resolve the long-running bin collections dispute - now more than 100 days old - which is causing serious problems as council staff are diverted from other activities to act as auxiliary bin crews.
The Opposition is concerned that the council leadership and management simply do not have a grip on delivery. The bin collection chaos has now been going on for four months, and every day we receive notification of more missed collections. The council is trying to cover up its bungled reorganisation of the bins collections by diverting other council operatives from their normal duties to staff additional bin lorries going round the city to pick up what has been missed by the usual crews the previous day.
The result is becoming starkly apparent citywide. Street litter bins are overflowing. Street sweeping and litter bin emptying has reduced markedly. The bulky waste and flytipping response service has reduced markedly. The council's recycling centres (amenity sites) are frequently closing because the skips are full and the drivers tasked to collect them are on other duties.
The council's inaction is visibly contributing to the deterioration of neighbourhoods and quality of life - it is the biggest litter lout in Newcastle.
The Lib Dem Opposition has highlighted a string of concerns, alleging that:
- the council's Decent Neighbourhoods Standards are meaningless and are not being enforced
- performance levels on basic council services such as street cleaning and flytipping responses are not being met or even measured
- calls to the Envirocall phone line are typically taking between 25 minutes and 45 minutes to be answered - if at all
- requests to the council's Envirocall reporting system are being given no fixed time limit for a response with the council stating it will be tackled "when we are next in your area"
- requests on the council's Envirocall system are being logged as "completed" when no action has been taken -
(very high levels of flytipping in back lanes in areas including Heaton are being recorded as landlords clear out vacated student properties, yet residents are reporting that the council is recording requests for action as "completed" when nothing has been done)
- the council Cabinet member has admitted that the Envirocall system is "unfit for purpose" but has not brought forward any improvement plan
- services including recycling centres (amenity sites), street litter bin emptying and back lane flytipping patrols are no longer functioning normally as a result of staff being redeployed to bin collections
- customers of the brown bin garden waste collections - which involve an additional payment - have experienced more than three weeks without collection in some areas
The Lib Dem Opposition is demanding that the city council to take urgent action to address the chaos, and are calling on the city council to produce quarterly monitoring reports detailing performance on key customer service standards.
They are to request a performance review by the council's Overview and Scrutiny committee and will ask the council to publish information on 20 key areas of environmental services performance. This will ask for the existing performance standards, together with statistics on number of issues reported, average time taken to resolve issues, target completion time, percentage of issues resolved within the target time, the longest outstanding issue at month end, and the percentage of quality checks which were considered to be satisfactory.
These will be requested for the following council services:
1. Bins collections missed (green - general, blue - recycling, brown - garden)
2. Street cleaning / litter
3. Highway and footpath defects
4. Graffiti removal
5. Dog fouling
6. Bulky waste collections
7. Flytipping / dumping
8. Litter bins full or damaged
9. Overgrown trees / bushes obstructing footpaths
10. YHN housing repairs
11. Play equipment / play area defects
12. Public open space / park maintenance
13. Street light faults
14. Street furniture damaged
15. Weed growth (highways and communal open spaces)
16. YHN communal area and garage area cleaning
17. Response times for Envirocall telephone and electronic communications
18. Recycling centre / amenity site performance
19. Pest control
20. Gullies, drainage, and manhole covers
The Opposition has expressed concern as to whether the council still identifies performance standards in these areas, and is questioning whether these are even being measured, let alone met.
Lib Dem leader of the Opposition Cllr Anita Lower said:
"When the Lib Dems ran Newcastle between 2004 and 2011 we recognised that local neighbourhoods were a top priority for the city's residents. We made it a political priority with rapid response teams and improved recycling collections, and people valued the visible and effective service we provided. It is very clear that the current political leadership of the council simply do not share that priority.
It is accepted that funding has been reduced but the council is still increasing council tax for residents and giving them a much poorer service in return. Other local councils are visibly coping much better.
Staff are being diverted from normal duties like emptying street bins and tackling flytipping to act as back-up binmen. The city council's Envirocall call centre and reporting system is acknowledged by the Cabinet member responsible, Cllr Nick Kemp, to be not fit for purpose, yet he has brought forward no plans for improving it. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is a shambles.
The council's so called Decent Neighbourhoods Standards are a bad joke. We believe it is in the public interest for residents to be able to know the council's performance on these key performance indicators on a quarterly basis. It is not clear to councillors or the public that this information is being recorded, let alone published, and this needs to change.
In any other industry this level of consistently poor performance and incompetence would have led to someone being sacked by now. If the Cabinet member is unable to deliver the basic services he is paid to be responsible for, he should go. The city is unkempt - and the council Cabinet should be un-Kemped.