To receive and note the report, or consider any necessary recommendations.
The DFC introduced the report and informed Members that Serco were now several collection cycles into the new operating model and whilst performance had begun to improve, frustration remained around the rate of improvement. He added that repeated issues seen at Ward level needed to be bottomed-out to resolve ongoing issues for residents. The SCM reported that Serco was in week nine of the twelve week changeover period, with North Norfolk’s changeover being the largest of the tripartite agreement. He added that collection crews had previously operated on an east or west basis, but this had changed to a near and far model, so most crews had new areas to learn, leading to some missed collections in new areas. It was noted that crew members had been mixed to ensure a base level of knowledge across the District, whilst six additional vehicles had been brought-in on a temporary basis to catch-up missed collections with agency crews. The SCM noted that it had been difficult to recruit drivers, which had impacted collections, though a full support crew was now in place with staff working overtime to ensure that bins were collected.
Questions and Discussion
i. The Chairman sought an explanation for missed collections from Serco, to be followed by comment from NNDC officers. The SCM replied that the primary issue was the scale of the change, with over ninety percent of collection days changing, which had caused some residents to put their bins out on incorrect days. He added that drivers had also had to learn new routes as a result of the near and far model, and it could take several weeks for drivers to fully adapt, but maps had been shared with drivers to address problem areas. The DFC agreed that changes to collections had been significant, and it was accepted that there would be a settling-in period. He added that whilst the change would allow Serco to be more efficient, it did come with a degree of unfamiliarity for the drivers and crews. It was noted that there had also been national issues such as driver shortages, which had affected all sectors dependent on HGV drivers that Serco could not fully mitigate. The DFC noted that changeover plans were also based on the premise that everything would go as planned, but this could not account for unforeseen circumstances such as vehicle breakdowns, accidents or significant crew sickness, which would all have an impact on collections. He added that these issues had begun to be addressed with additional agency drivers and temporary vehicles, but there was more to be done.
ii. The Chairman asked with the benefit of hindsight, what might have been done differently in the lead-up to the transition. The DFC replied that Serco had undertaken a significant preparatory work and whilst the vast majority of residents had their bins collected successfully, all efforts were being made to ensure the service ran effectively as soon as possible. He added that it should be noted that some issues were not Serco specific, and that they were working within the constraints of a local government contract, that would not permit highly competitive salary offers for drivers. The SCM noted that driver salaries had risen by over thirty percent since taking on the contract, and this had been a significant challenge for Serco.
iii. Cllr S Penfold asked why crews had been swapped from East to West if they were familiar with existing areas. The SCM replied that this was a result of the near and far model, with second trips local to the waste tip to improve efficiency. Cllr S Penfold noted that graphs showing pre and post go live missed collections used a different scale and suggested that these should be the same. He added that additional agency staff, vehicles and collection crew had been brought in for the twelve week transition period, and asked if there was scope to extend this if issues persisted. The SCM replied that he had discussed the potential to extend this period, and additional staff would stay on if required with Serco expected to cover any additional costs.
iv. Cllr W Fredericks raised the possibility of industrial action and asked whether this was a concern. The DFC replied that most sectors had been going through pay negotiations as a result of the current economic climate, and industrial relations were a matter for Serco to address rather than the Council.
v. Cllr E Spagnola noted that she had spoken to crews who had suggested that staff morale, retainment and mental health was an issue, and asked what support was offered to maintain staff wellbeing. The DFC replied that the question related to Serco labour relations, and whilst any major change would cause a degree of unsettlement amongst staff, it remained a matter for Serco to consider. The SCM stated that local teams were very supportive of staff and took time to speak to crews every day, with mental health taken seriously throughout the company and support services in place, where required.
vi. Cllr N Housden asked whether Serco had a strategy in place to recruit and retain drivers through the Christmas period, as it was likely that many would be tempted away by increased supermarket pay offers. He sought clarification of whether managers were familiar with new collection routes, as drivers had suggested that they did not assist collections. It was suggested that putting managers and senior staff on collections would be beneficial for understanding the difficulties collections crews faced. The SCM replied that he had been in post for four weeks, but had previously worked on a different contract where he had regularly gone out with crews to assist with collections. He added that all managers were encouraged to do this and would be again in the future, with managers using additional vehicles to collect missed bins and better understand the difficulties faced by collection crews. On Christmas cover, it was suggested that magnetic advertisements for drivers should be placed on vehicles to promote recruitment. The SCM replied that Serco were constantly recruiting for drivers and he would consider whether this form of advertisement could be implemented. The DFC added that he expected less drivers would be inclined to leave this year, as supermarket and haulage contracts were short term over the Christmas period, or required working unsociable hours.
vii. Cllr V Holliday thanked collection crews for their work, then referred to repeat missed collections and asked whether this was represented in the data, and whether the additional carbon emissions generated by collecting missed bins had been considered. The SCM replied that he could retrieve data on repeat missed collections and the time taken to resolve, and noted that the carbon footprint of collections was tracked and had been higher during the changeover period, but the overall expectation was that it would see a reduction.
viii. Cllr P Heinrich suggested that overall crews appeared to be doing a good job, and asked how many missed collections could be attributed to Serco issues, as opposed to residents putting their bins out on incorrect days. The SCM replied that it would be difficult to separate information on the root causes of missed collections, as exceptions were raised where bins had not been placed out for collection, but these were still counted as missed bins. Cllr P Heinrich asked whether changes to Christmas collections had been advertised, to which the ESM replied that Christmas collection dates had been included in recent leaflets delivered by Serco, though a further reminder of Christmas collections and general collection information had been considered. He added that with regard to missed collections, Serco had been more flexible with exceptions as a result of the changeover, which made it difficult to differentiate between missed collections caused by Serco or residents. Cllr P Heinrich noted that collection rates in the past week had fallen to 93% which was not satisfactory, and asked for clarification of the target completion rate, and how this would be achieved. The SCM replied that the target completion rate was 100%, and noted that the 93% figure included garden waste, whereas residual and recycling waste collections rates were better. He added that in terms of improving completion rates, additional resources were being used on the same day to seek to bring completion rates up to 100% within two weeks. The DFC reminded Members that the NNDC website did have an option to check your collection day. He added that Members should also note that the successful garden waste collection service had not been subject to any changes, though it was likely that this would be considered in the new year.
ix. Cllr J Toye suggested that the number of missed collections should be placed in context of the total number collected, and asked whether completion rate percentages related solely to the number of bins collected on a given day, or whether the figure included previously missed collections. He added that customer service responses had been raised at a previous meeting and asked whether these issues had been resolved. The DFC replied that he hoped that as the number of missed collections reduced, the level of detail reported would become less relevant. He added that with regards to missed collections, these were categorised as bins not collected on the correct day, however from a residents perspective, many of these were collected the following day, which did not present a significant issue. The ESM noted that there were approximately 70k bin collections per week, with 55k households and 12k trade waste collections. With regard to call centre responses, the DFC replied that a reduction in the number of calls received suggested that improvements were being made, and complaint handling officers had met with Serco and work was planned to improve this process.
x. Cllr L Withington sought clarification on whether missed collections data included every bin not collected on the correct day, to which the SCM replied that the final graph in the supplied data provided information on bins not collected on the correct day, whilst missed collections data included all reported missed collections. He added that he had included both sets of data to compare between the two, with the caveat that some bins not collected on the correct day may have been reported by residents on the same day, in which case it would appear in both data sets. Cllr L Withington noted that she had been in regular contact with officers regarding repeat missed collections, and asked whether there would be a review of rounds if particular locations were difficult to reach. The DFC replied that primarily, Serco should be allowed time for the TOM to settle into normal operating procedure, and if issues persisted, then routes could be reviewed to make adjustments. He added that round optimisation software did not account for difference in street furniture or minor layout differences, and as a result some small adjustments could be expected to simplify collection routes.
xi. Cllr P Fisher stated that he represented Wells which had a high number of assisted collections, where it appeared that bins were not being returned to the correct location. He added that this had caused issues between residents and collection crews and asked if the matter could be rectified. The SCM replied that he would look in to the issue, and noted that for business rated properties such as holiday homes, assisted collections were not available as there was a pull and return scheme in place, and similarly assisted collections were not offered for vacant domestic rated second homes. He encouraged any issues to be reported to Serco so that they could be rectified as soon as possible.
xii. Cllr H Blathwayt referred to a neighbouring authority’s Binfluencer app, which could give real-time updates on bin collections and asked whether this had been considered for North Norfolk. The ESM replied that he had been contacted by the app developer, and had heard evidence of it being active in at least one Norfolk District, though it did not appear to offer any additional information than was already available on the Council’s mobile optimised website. He added that there were potential benefits with phone reminders being available through the app, but there were no immediate plans for introduction in North Norfolk.
xiii. Cllr S Penfold noted that residents often contacted him with issues, likely as they had not been able to get the required information elsewhere, and asked officers if they could be mindful of providing the same level of service and information to residents as Members.
xiv. The Chairman referred to outstanding questions and asked whether officers were happy with the remedial actions being taken to address issues, and whether they were they satisfied with evidence that these measures were working. The DFC replied that whilst he was satisfied with the remedial actions being taken, these actions and issues were influenced by matters beyond the Council’s control. He added that it was clear that Serco were working very hard to resolve issues, and in terms of the overall trend, service delivery was improving, though at a slower pace than desired. It was noted that there would be a seasonal impact on collections, with weather conditions having an impact on garden waste. The Chairman asked when collections performance could be expected to return to normal levels, to which the DFC replied that it was expected within the next two to four weeks.
xv. The Chairman referred to the gap analysis and asked what progress had been made on meeting the contractual requirements. The DFC replied that the number of outstanding issues had been substantially reduced, with the first page of information showing agreed items pending implementation in green, whilst yellow items were subject to further discussion to ensure delivery. It was noted that the second page of items were outstanding items yet to be agreed, which in some cases may no longer be appropriate for delivery. The DFC stated that overall there had been reasonable progress analysis and work would continue to achieve full compliance with the contract by the end of 2023.
xvi. Cllr N Housden asked whether Serco felt they were having to compromise with the terms of the waste contract, to which the SCM replied that he did not feel compromised, but the contract was agreed under different circumstances pre-Covid and pre-Brexit, which made some aspects more difficult to deliver. He added that as a result, Serco were in constant communication with the consortium to agree steps or concessions to move forward with delivery of the contract. The DFC noted that some circumstances could not be foreseen during development of the contract, and some compromise had to be expected to reach consensus between the Council and Serco to deliver outcomes.
xvii. Cllr A Brown referred to in-cab systems and their ability to help support collection crews, and asked whether these were in all vehicles, and whether it supported all collections including residual, recycling and garden waste. The SCM replied that the software was used in all vehicles, though mobile phone reception was a challenge to ensure the system remained up to date throughout collections. He added that the system was used to report missed collections, and efforts were being made to improve the system to a point that it could direct collection crews to avoid missed collections. The DFC referred to an audio beep listed within the contractual requirements intended to alert crews to incoming messages, and noted that this remained outstanding.
xviii. Cllr N Lloyd – Portfolio Holder for Environmental Services stated that he met regularly with Serco and despite concerns there had been a significant effort to resolve issues related to the changeover. He added that whilst 200 missed collections of 70k remained an unacceptable number, it was a very low percentage and the vast majority of residents had their waste collected without issue. It was noted that he was not yet satisfied with the level of service being provided, but he was satisfied with efforts to address issues and return to the pre-changeover level of service.
xix. It was suggested that an update in the new year would be required, to which the DFC noted that the Christmas period would skew data as a result of changes to collection days. It was suggested that waiting until February would allow more time for adequate data to be prepared after the Christmas period.
1. To note the briefing.
1. To request that the next waste update be added to the Work Programme for February 2023.