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Critique of outsourced bin services sparks backlash

2000 household bins

More than four-fifths of complaints about waste collection services to the Local Government Ombudsman last year were upheld, significantly more than other complaints.

In 2016-17 the ombudsman received 500 complaints relating to waste and recycling services. In total, 81% were upheld compared with 59% the previous year and 53% on average.

The ombudsman said a common theme of many complaints was poor monitoring by councils of outsourced waste collection services. The report, Lifting the lid on bin complaints, said councils and contractors often blamed each other, adding to residents’ frustrations.

It highlighted one case where a woman had to phone her council every fortnight for three months to get her rubbish collected, and another where a man receiving assisted collections did not have his bin returned to the right place for 10 months.

A message that contractors are to blame for increases in missed collections is unhelpful and counter-productive

Jacob Hayler, ESA

The ombudsman was unable to tell MRW’s sister title LGC what proportion of the 500 complaints related to outsourced services.

Ombudsman Michael King said: “Councils can contract out their waste services but they cannot wash their hands of it. They are responsible and accountable for delivering those services and for putting things right when they go wrong. Outsourced should not mean out of touch.

“Whether the service is outsourced or not, we should not be upholding 81% of the complaints we investigate – this is too much, particularly for a service that should be relatively simple to get right.”

Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association, whose members include leading contractors, said the “real reason” waste collections were under pressure was the “severe funding squeeze faced by councils, combined with legal and political requirements for higher performance”.

“In this context, the outsourcing of collections is extremely beneficial as it can offer councils improved value for money. A message that contractors are to blame for increases in missed collections is therefore unhelpful and counter-productive,” he said.

Lee Marshall, chief executive of Larac, said that, when taken as a percentage of the millions of waste collections across the UK each year, the number of complaints was “very very small”, showing that councils ere providing good services.

“The report shows however that there is still room for improvement and especially where services are contracted out. We would hope this report will act to show both councils and contractors that the response to complaints and the monitoring of services is a key part of the procurement process.

“It also highlights the affects that years of budget cuts is having on local authority waste services and the resources to monitor contracts effectively are being stretched.’

John Fuller, Conservative chairman of the District Councils Network, said the number of complaints was equivalent to “10 complaints a week from a service that covers 468 million collections each year”.

Local Government Association environment spokesman Martin Tett said: “Councils know that having a reliable and efficient waste collection and recycling service is hugely important to residents. It is actually one of the most popular services councils provide, with almost 80% of people happy with the way their bins are collected.”


Readers' comments (1)

  • This article describes a backlash against the report that said 80% of the
    complaints referred to the ombudsman were upheld. To make a complaint to the LGO and get it upheld takes real effort and real dissatisfaction with the service.

    Mr Hayler's excuses ring hollow. Outsourced contractors offer councils supposed big savings over in house waste collection. If a council pays less money and expects a 5 star service they are in for nasty surprise. Events in Sutton where complaints were coming in at the rate of 7,000 per week when Veolia took over the waste contract indicate there is a problem.

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