The waste paper market is booming, with prices higher than any I have seen in my 20 years in the industry. Clean office papers at £220 per tonne and news & pams at more than £100 mean the good times are back. The dark days of autumn 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed and the Chinese stopped buying paper, seem a long time ago. They were frightening times, and I am sure many people like me had sleepless nights.
Paper Round reacted quickly to the crisis. We trimmed about 10% from our head count. Employees accepted a pay freeze and office staff agreed to work longer hours for the same pay. We re-examined every aspect of our business, streamlining processes and taking out costs. The free monthly massage for staff was cancelled, to everyone’s disappointment.
The result in 2009 was a business that was leaner, fitter, far more profitable and well placed to take advantage of the turnaround in
the paper markets. We had our best ever year and the massages are back!
“Public sector organisations have sailed on for 18 months, bloated and inefficient”
This story will be readily understandable to MRW readers working in the private sector. But to the public sector it might as well be
news from another planet. Public sector organisations have sailed on for the past 18 months bloated and inefficient, painful decisions being postponed.
The Environment Agency (EA) is a key part of the public sector that many of us encounter in our professional lives. It has 12,000 permanent staff and more than 1,000 temporary staff and consultants (2008 Freedom of Information request). This number has grown by 40% in the past decade.
I have found the EA to be agonisingly slow, bureaucratic, box ticking and afraid to go after the cowboys. Our site has an exemption from waste management licensing, but we will still see someone a few times a year wielding their clipboard. They generally find one minor thing to complain about (often incorrectly) and are then on their way.
Down the road, a tyre retreading business regularly burns tyres and pallets, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air. We take pictures and we complain. Is anything done? Of course not. We make the EA staff a cup of tea, listen politely and do as we are told. The cowboys will get the dogs out and order them off their property. This is too difficult, so EA staff make up their quota of visits with the easy ones.
The EA is now facing job losses as, of course, is the wider public sector. The normal response to this is the so-called ‘bleeding
stumps’ strategy: you cut our budgets and we will close hospital wards, fire teaching assistants and close swimming pools, making
the cuts as graphic as possible.
In 2008 I believed that Paper Round was an efficient company. But we still managed to cut 10% of our staff without affecting service
quality. I am sure this is true of most organisations, and particularly in the public sector, where the past decade has seen huge
increases in staff numbers and budgets. It will be perfectly possible to cut staff numbers by 20% and still provide an excellent service.
The EA is a vital part of our industry. We need a strong and efficient regulator to drive out the cowboys and provide an even legislative playing field. The EA needs to embrace the pain of the next few years to emerge, like the private sector has, re-energised
and refocused on delivering value.
Bill Swan is managing director of Paper Round