Eleven local authorities in London awarded a framework agreement contract during 2013 for their textile bank material to London-based textile recycler LMB.
The four-year agreement involves the company providing and maintaining banks, and collecting textiles, then sorting them in its plant for onward reuse and recycling.
This joint working approach is seen as pioneering and is driven by the benefits it brings to the councils involved, including: procurement savings, efficiencies, greater income, better protection from market volatility and better service provision.
London Councils did an initial scoping exercise back in 2011 to see if there was an appetite for such an approach, and found that 15 of London’s 33 council were interested, but only 11 eventually signed up and can use the agreement.
Ahead of its formation, concerns were raised by the charity textile sector about loss of income, but charities along with commercial textile operators were able to respond to the tender.
Lewisham is the lead council on the framework agreement, meaning it is the one that has a contract with LMB. The other councils involved have all signed a framework agreement which allows them to access Lewisham’s contract but they manage their own relationship with LMB.
Sam Kirk, strategic waste and environment manager at Lewisham, says that some councils which did not sign up originally to the framework have since wanted to be involved, but cannot until a new contract is put in place, likely to be in 2017. Councils could have signed up to the framework but not accessed it, giving them the option to do so at a later date.
For Lewisham, which did not have a contract with its previous textile recycler, the new agreement has resulted in it getting around £150 per tonne more for its textiles in the first year.
The pricing structure is based on tonnage banding, with more being paid per tonne the more volume is generated by the banks involved. Prices are currently fixed, with a review in year two based on the current market and the price banding system used.
Kirk explains that the arrangement has standardised its textile collections and put in place a safety net for those involved: “By formalising the contract, we now know that if we report an overflowing bank, within 24 hours it has got to be cleared. We have got all of those performance measures that we never really had before.”
She adds that, while the council did not gain any benefits or savings from a procurement point of view, it was clear that the joint approach was helping other authorities because they did not have to go through it themselves.
“The other thing I found really useful was learning from other people, because you can get so stuck in your own way of how your local authority does something. It was really invaluable to get all the information, both from a service point of view and a procurement and legal point of view, and go through that with other councils. And, obviously, we are getting more money, which is clearly a benefit,” she says.
It was a partner authority that suggested the pricing structure used by the framework. But having several councils involved can make it a drawn-out process – it took upwards of two years to get the framework contract put together and agreed.
Kirk adds: “If I was doing it again, I would get at least one other council’s procurement team to come to the meetings [not just their waste officers]. I would have at least one other council’s perspective on it.”
She suggests a one-day workshop with representatives from some other departments, such as legal, would potentially make the process more efficient because issues could be discussed and resolved straight away, rather than each waste team having to feed information back to their relevant teams and returning with additional points needing further discussion and clarification.
Next year, Lewisham and its partners will have to look at starting the whole process again, ahead of the current contract expiring in 2017. But it should be able to use the same documents if all involved are happy with the arrangements. And having proven the success of this model of working it may well find that more councils in London want to be involved.