Agenda item

Waste Contract: Serco Briefing - New Collections Model Update

To receive and note the briefing.


The Serco Regional Director (SRD) and Contracts Manager (SCM) were in attendance to provide an update on the implementation of the new waste collections model and outstanding gap analysis tasks. It was noted that an updated gap analysis was yet to be discussed by officers, and was considered too premature to share with the Committee. It was noted that written reports would be preferred for future meetings. The DFC noted that officers maintained daily contact with Serco to address any issues related to the implementation of the new collections model such as missed collections. The SRD referred to the gap analysis and noted that of the six-hundred items identified, seventy to eighty were yet to be delivered, with approximately thirty percent of these given a date for implementation. He added that meetings had been requested with the three authorities of the joint contract to discuss the remaining items, in order to provide context and agree implementation timeframes, so long as they remained deliverable.


Questions and Discussion


      i.        Cllr S Bütikofer referred to the outstanding actions identified in the gap analysis, and suggested that when the contract agreed, Serco must have known its obligations. The SRD replied that many of the outstanding items were taken from method statements that had been put in for added value which were not universally clear. Cllr S Bütikofer replied that she still expected Serco to have understood the contractual requirements when entering into the agreement. The SRD replied that unfortunately the authors of the method statements were no longer working with Serco, and it was now down to officers to interpret and agree the remaining actions. The Chairman noted that it was the third time Serco had attended the Committee, and suggested that it would have been helpful to hear these concerns sooner.


     ii.        The Chairman reminded attendees that the primary purpose of the briefing was to discuss the ongoing implementation of the new collections model, and noted that he and other Councillors had received a reasonable amount of feedback from the public on missed collections and other issues. He asked for Serco to give their perspective on how the implementation had gone to date, and what their understanding of the customer experience was. The SCM referred to the new TOM, which had been introduced from the 5th September, and informed Members that it was the third implementation for the Norfolk Waste Contract, with Breckland and Kings Lynn both coming before North Norfolk. He added that North Norfolk’s TOM was the largest change, with over ninety percent of collection days being changed across the District. It was noted that previously waste had been collected over zones, whereas the new methodology used a near and far model, which split days into far collections. The SCM stated that the reasons for this change were to reduce mileage and carbon emissions, and noted that with all major service changes there was a twelve week introductory period where disruptions were likely. He added that Serco were currently in week six of this period, with issues such as missed collections higher than expected, though the number was beginning to fall. It was noted that most bin collection crews were working in new areas, which would require a learning period. The SCM reported that to account for these issues Serco had increased the number of call handlers in the customer service centre, increased the number of waste collection vehicles, and sought to increase the number of drivers. He added that it had been difficult to recruit drivers as a result of national driver shortages, but the number of rounds being completed was still increasing, which showed that existing drivers were adapting to their new routes. It was noted that only three routes were reporting as incomplete, though they were achieving 98-99% completion, which should improve with increased local knowledge.


    iii.        The Chairman noted that there had been feedback which claimed unfamiliarity with rounds, with significant areas missed, alongside of a shortage of resources to recover missed collections. He added that there had been positive comments received, and in the past two years satisfaction with the service had been very high even during the height of the Pandemic. It was noted that dissatisfaction with the service had only begun as a result of missed collections related to the introduction of the new TOM, and the Chairman asked whether Serco were cognisant of this issue. The SCM replied that Serco were acutely aware of the issues and missed collections that had occurred, though not all customers had experienced these issues, though over ninety percent of residents had seen changes. He added that heat maps were being produced to better understand and resolve these issues, but Serco continued to struggle to recruit drivers. It was noted that Serco’s Customer Services Team would also take a more proactive role in following-up on issues to ensure that they have been resolved to improve customer perceptions.


   iv.        Cllr N Pearce agreed that the service had performed well prior to implementation of the new TOM, but stated that he had concerns regarding failures, with customer feedback suggesting that the customer service response had been worse than the waste collection service itself. He added that the recent bank holiday had resulted in many missed collections, with no answers or replies given to resolve these issues, and asked what percentage of customer had experienced problems. It was reported that the percentage failure rate, or number of missed collections taken as a whole against the number collected stood at 0.0067% of approximately 55K bins, which meant that Serco had successfully collected 99.9933%. The DFC stated that whilst in context this was a reasonably good collection rate, the service must continue to aim for 100%. He added that Serco had been asked not to work on the bank holiday announced for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, as this was deemed to be inappropriate and no disposal points would have been open. It was noted that whilst this did have an impact on service delivery, crews had agreed to work on Saturday to catch-up missed collections.


     v.        Cllr V Holliday referred to Serco customer service and suggested that the number of staff and training appeared to be lacking, with the service often not meeting customers’ expectations. She asked whether there was an efficiency element to the new TOM, and noted that whilst collections staff were exemplary, they appeared to be rushing. The SCM replied that there was an efficiency and carbon reduction element of the TOM, which meant that Teams were doing less driving. He added that where Teams were learning rounds it was possible that there was a sense of urgency among staff. In reference to the customer service issues, the SCM stated that he had taken time to listen to call recordings and had reviewed call data which did not appear to show the level of dissatisfaction described, but suggested that he would be happy to address issues if specific examples could be provided. The DFC added that as the service delivery improved, the Team would have more time to devote to addressing complaints.


   vi.        Cllr S Bütikofer noted that every household in the District required bin collections, and this was likely the reason that even small issues caused big problems. She added that whilst she accepted that mistakes happened, Members needed reassurance that customers’ problems would be resolved efficiently and effectively. Cllr S Bütikofer sought clarification on whether Serco operatives in North Norfolk had different contractual terms to those in neighbouring Districts. The SRD replied that Serco operatives across the contract were on equitable contracts, though some minor conditions varied as a result of items carried over from previous employment contracts. The SCM referred to customer service issues and stated that improvements were in progress, with complaint follow-ups made a priority. He added that efforts were also being made to improve the missed collection service by providing more specific information about when these would be resolved. Cllr S Bütikofer noted that it was reassuring to hear that efforts were being made to address these issues, but it was important to ensure that trade waste customers were provided with the same level of service.


  vii.        Cllr P Grove-Jones stated that operatives and service provided in the Stalham area were excellent, but noted that she was aware that some residents had complained about the customer service when reporting missed collections. She added that some residents had been told to contact NNDC in this case, which had not been well received.


 viii.        Cllr T Adams stated that he was disappointed with the service provided in the past two weeks, taking into account a four week settling-in period in which teething issues could be expected. He added that the potential for disruption had been expected, but it had now been going on for some time. It was noted that approximately eighty percent of missed collections appeared to be taking place in lokes, alley ways and unadopted roads, which could be considered difficult to find locations, but missed assisted collections and commercial collections were a significant concern. Cllr T Adams stated that it was difficult to understand why these issues persisted when detailed information on the location of collections was readily available. As a result, he asked whether the required level of resource was in place, how long it would take to resolve the issues, and whether full details of assisted and commercial collections had been passed to the collection teams. The SCM replied that major service changes generally took twelve weeks to implement and settle into regular service provision, and at present Serco were approximately halfway through that process. He added that all information on commercial, assisted and regular collections was passed to crews, but many operatives were having to learn entirely new areas which created a learning curve. On resources, the SCM noted that the only resource Serco had struggled with was recruiting drivers, as call centre and collection operatives had been increased for the implementation. Cllr T Adams replied that whilst he hoped it would not be the case, twelve weeks of missed bins for the same individuals or businesses would be completely unacceptable, and stated that all efforts had to be made to ensure that repeated missed collections were resolved in advance of the twelve week deadline.


   ix.        Cllr N Housden noted that whilst he had not personally been negatively impacted by missed collections, he accepted that this was a significant issue for many residents throughout the District. He referred to the methodology, and suggested that if issues persisted, this may need to be reconsidered. Cllr N Housden noted that he had raised the issue of strategic planning at a previous waste briefing, and asked whether there had been any changes to Serco’s strategic planning to address driver shortages. He noted that Serco had also been reported to have inadequately invested or sought to innovate its services to meet contractual demands, and sought assurances that this would not be the case in Norfolk. The SCM replied that references made to the new collection methodology were not necessarily cut and paste as District’s varied, and this was why the twelve week settling-in period was an important aspect of the implementation process. Cllr N Housden suggested that strategic issues such as national driver shortages would not be resolved at the end of the twelve week period, and Serco would need to innovate and invest to resolve these more strategic issues. The DFC noted that there had been significant strategic planning undertaken in advance of the implementation, such as delaying the change until September, taking into account the impact of the tourism season. He added that the pre-existing inefficient collection methodology also had to be replaced at the earliest opportunity, which was expected to present a challenge with the number of rounds increasing from ten to thirteen. The DFC agreed with comments that Serco had not been as innovative as they could have been to improve driver recruitment and retention, but it should be noted that they were working within the confines of a local authority contract. It was noted that competitors in the private sector such as large supermarket chains had previously offered up to a £2k recruitment bonus, which Serco were unable to compete with beyond raising basic pay to market comparable rates. Cllr N Housden stated that he appreciated the difficulties recruiting drivers and suggested that maybe NNDC needed to help Serco innovate in that respect. He added that a contract agreed two years ago may need to be revisited to ensure that it remained viable.


     x.        Cllr G Mancini-Boyle asked whether Serco had anticipated issues during implementation and sought to mitigate these with additional staff and training. He added that an NNDC app may make it easier for customers to raise complaints, and asked whether customers seeking to report a missed bin collection should contact Serco directly, or NNDC. The DFC replied that customers could report via the NNDC website via an online form, after which a report would be automatically sent to Serco. He added that there was also a telephone number for customers to contact Serco directly during office hours, but the web forms provided twenty-four hour accessibility. The ESM noted that customers calling the NNDC customer service number would be automatically redirected to the Serco customer service line. The SCM confirmed that issues had been anticipated and the number of call centre staff had been increased to account for this.


   xi.        Cllr H Blathwayt asked whether Serco had a contingency plan in place to deal with increased refuse in public waste bins during the peak tourism season, and noted that he received significant communication from residents on this issue. He added that reports suggested that public bins were not emptied as frequently by Serco as the previous contractor. The SCM replied that he was working with local collection teams to ensure that this issue was addressed in  2023, with contingency planning already underway. Cllr H Blathwayt noted that these issues also occurred outside of the summer season, on warm bank holidays and other seasonal public holidays.


  xii.        Cllr L Withington noted that whilst the service change had gone relatively well in Sheringham, some issues had been seen on unadopted roads, and online form responses had not been adequate, with quick responses that stated missed bins would not be collected. She asked how long after a missed collection did Serco allow for a report to be considered, and at what point would it be deferred until the next collection date. The ESM replied that the time limit for reporting missed collections was midday on the second day after the missed collection, and noted that there had been increased flexibility exercised during the changeover. He added that the webform had been developed to send automatic replies to anyone that reported a missed collection outside of this timeframe. It was noted that the missed collections system was connected to in-cab software, and any bins not placed out for collection would be marked as such and not collected. Similarly it was noted that bins marked as exceptions due to contamination would not be collected, with missed collection reports automatically rejected. The ESM was able to dispute claims, and dust carts were fitted with 360 degree cameras to confirm or reject. Cllr L Withington referred to whole roads being missed, and noted that residents had still received the same messages. The ESM replied that there was an issue with webforms that needed to be addressed, as there was not a category to note that a street had been missed, and efforts were being made to correct this.


 xiii.        The DFC stated that NNDC were seeking to address issues discussed as quickly as possible, and noted that he did not expect the same level of issues to be present at week twelve of the implementation period. The Chairman noted that waste collections were one of the Council’s most public-facing services, and the Council had to maintain accountability for service failures. As a result, he suggested that it would be helpful to have a further update at the next meeting, in order to ensure that the issues discussed had been resolved.




1.    To note the briefing.




1.    To request an additional briefing be added to the Work Programme in November to provide a further written update on the implementation of the new collections model and progress made with actions contained in the gap analysis.