Executive Councillor for Bins Speaks On Cambridge’s Bin Emptying Crisis


Thursday, April 27th, 2017. 4:29pm

Emptying the bins is one of the most important things Cambridge City Council does. The council has an executive councillor for bins, that role is currently held by Cllr Peter Roberts (Labour, Abbey). A bonus allowance of £8,346 per year is offered to each executive councillor.

Cambridge City Council has been missing bin collections and, commendably, issuing regular updates what’s been going wrong; the latest at the time of writing is for yesterday, Wednesday 26 April 2017, and states:

We have not collected green bins on Stourbridge Grove and Brampton Road.

We also have not collected blue bins today on St Matthews Street.

There have been many tens of these reports over the last few weeks following changes described as streamlining and an “efficiency drive”.

People have been complaining on social media; with one resident saying they were left with full black bins for nearly a month:

The cancellation of a planned full council meeting on the 20th of April has denied the public and elected representatives the opportunity to formally question Cllr Roberts on what is happening and what he is doing about it.

I spoke to Executive councillor Peter Roberts outside the guildhall after a meeting of the Cam Conservators where he serves as a council appointed Conservator:

Richard Taylor: Cllr Roberts, can I just ask you about the state of bin emptying in Cambridge? What is the problem at the moment and what are you doing about it?
Executive Councillor for Bins Peter Roberts: Hi Richard, How are you?
Richard Taylor: Alright thanks.
Executive Councillor for Bins Peter Roberts: At the minute in Cambridge we’ve got a 99.6% emptying rate. We’re doing an awful lot; it’s improving week on week, which is good to see.
Executive Councillor for Bins Peter Roberts: To begin with, where we’ve had issues that have been highlighted it is mainly related to flats, now there’s two issues obviously there, one is that there’s an issue which is when bins are blocked so it’s more to do with clearing the space and the actual emptying of the bin and the bin people can’t come along, for example if you’ve got a big recycling bin and its blocked with black bin waste then obviously that needs to be removed by a different group, a different team goes out and that’s something we’re working an awful lot on.
Richard Taylor: There are also things which aren’t flats aren’t there. We’ve seen council press releases, regularly, which is excellent,
Executive Councillor for Bins Peter Roberts: We are being very open.
Richard Taylor: Yes you are being very open with the press releases, and I’ve said that’s brilliant, but regularly we’re seeing streets missed.
Executive Councillor for Bins Peter Roberts: Over the last twelve days or so it has greatly come down; most days now we don’t have a street missed, it’s more an individual bin that has been missed, that’s the issue, where for example where a crew isn’t used to the round and a bin has been missed, or obviously with Easter and different things happening people have either there’s slight confusion over the day the bin is supposed to go out and so on, so if you look at the missed bin tab on the council obviously it has greatly reduced over the last two weeks or so
Richard Taylor: One more question before you go?
Executive Councillor for Bins Peter Roberts: That’s absolutely fine, absolutely fine.
Richard Taylor: So why are the statements coming from officers and not from you as the executive councillor?
Executive Councillor for Bins Peter Roberts: Two reasons. Purdah and secondly I’ve had to be away [councillor Roberts went on to explain a member of his family has been ill; he asked me not to publish the details of what he said there, so I haven't].

It appears councillor Roberts doesn’t think he is presiding over a major crisis.

Some Recent Council Admissions of Missed Bin Collections

We have not completed black bins today on Cowper Road, Neville Road and Chartfield Road.

We also have not emptied blue bins on Baldock Way, Hills Avenue, Hills Road and green bins on Coniston Road, Derby Road, Purbeck Road, Baldock Way.

Outstanding from Friday 10 March are black bins on Union Lane, Pearl Close, Kinross Road, Sterling Close, Edinburgh Road, Inverness Close, Elmfield Road, Eastfields, Ashfield.

13 March 2017

We have not completed blue bins today on Lyndewode Road, Mawson Road, Montreal Road, Montreal Square and Natal Road.

We are also to return to outstanding bins on Austin Drive – all bins, Ekin Walk – black bins and Temple Moor Close, Glebe Road, Defreville Avenue, Highworth Avenue – green bins.

14 March

We have not completed blue bins today on Hertford Street, Magrath Avenue, Magdalene Street, Thompson Lane, New Park Street, Thompson’s Lane, Park Parade, Lower Park, Portugal Place, Chesterton Road (between Alpha Street and Magdalene Street) and St Johns Road.

We have not completed black bins today on Malcolm Street, Kingfisher Way, Wilkinson Place, Richard Foster Road, Shaftesbury Avenue, Fitzwilliam Road, Glenalmond Avenue and Clarendon Road.

15 March

Green bins have not been collected today from Canterbury Street, St Stephens Place, Westfield Lane, Priory Street, Benson Street, North Street, Westland Terrace, and St Christopher Avenue.

Black bins have not been collected today from Brimley Road, Wavell Way, Roland Close, Cunningham Close, Essex Close, Durnford Way, Wynborne Close, Redfern Close, Montgomery Road and part of Alex Wood Road.

16 March

We have not collected black bins on Barrows rd up to Pursan Road, Burrow Close, Trumpington Road (from Person Road to Long Road), Trumpington Road (from Long Road to Leys School), Lattham Road, Lattham Close, Chaucer Road, Chaucer Close, Southacre Drive.

We have not collected blue bins today on Storeys Way and Herdert Street.

There are also outstanding green bin collections from Tuesday 11 April on Rustat Avenue, Davy Road, Corrie Road, Rustat Road (from Rustat Avenue to William Smith Close).

12 April

We are sorry to say that some green bins have not been emptied today in Trumpington on the following streets:

Beech Drive, Martin Road,Cedar Road,Harness close,Barn Road,Glebe Farm Drive,Tebbit Street,Elm road,Spinney Road

We apologise for the inconvenience caused. If you are affected, please leave your bins accessible on the kerbside for collection and a crew will return as soon as possible.

20 April

19 comments/updates on “Executive Councillor for Bins Speaks On Cambridge’s Bin Emptying Crisis

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    Today Cambridge City Council have, with commendably openness announced they have failed to collect the bins as planned on sixteen roads in the city, they have written:

    We are sorry to say that we have not completed collections of black bins today on Corona Road, Greens Road, Primrose Street, Fortescue Road, Humphrey Road, Alex Wood Road, Wavell Way, Brimley Road, Essex Close, Durnford Way, Redfern Close and Mansell Way.

    We have not completed collections of blue bins on Arundel Close, Cliveden Close, part of Tavistock Road and part of Warwick Road.

  2. Iain Coleman

    I don’t live in Cambridge any more, but I did for many years, and from 2004-6 I was the Executive Councillor for Environmental Services, or “Minister for Bins” as my colleagues liked to put it.

    The current problems are the result of a major change in the bin service. I have some experience of this: in my time in the role I was responsible for the change to alternate weekly refuse collection and the simultaneous introduction of doorstep plastic recycling.

    I worked closely with the council officers in Environmental Services, who I must say were excellent, hard working and dedicated. We were well aware that there was the potential for widespread problems when the new service was introduced. Because of thu, we put a lot of time into detailed policy development, trying to anticipate problems before they arose, and crucially we secured extra resources to provide additional staffing for the first few weeks, so that whenever problems did arise they could be dealt with swiftly. We were well aware that if problems weren’t quickly resolved they would build up and rapidly overwhelm our capacity to cope.

    As it happened, the change went more smoothly than expected, and although there were a few problems we found we did not need the full extra resource that we had put in.

    The Council has now made another major change, this time jointly with another council, which inevitably makes things tricky. It seems to me that they have not put sufficient effort into ensuring the robustness of the system before implementing the change, nor have they put in sufficient resource over the transition period to deal with problems effectively.

    The responsibility for this lies principally with the Executive Councillor (who I have never met, and whi I dare say is just a decent enough guy out of his depth), but is shared by the whole of the City Council ruling group, who should have worked with the Executive Councillor to ensure a robust policy and allocated sufficient resources to make it work with minimal problems for residents.

    The collection percentages sound impressive, but with about 40,000 households in Cambridge that’s still hundreds of people suffering from an inadequate service. It sounds very much like the sort of line an officer would give an Executive Councillor to say. I am sympathetic about his family problems, which have evidently come at an unfortunate time, but he must not fool himself about the significance of the crisis.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridge City Council’s notification of roads with missed bins on Tuesday the 2nd of May:

    We are sorry to say that we have not completed collections of black bins today on Almoners’ Avenue, Beaumont Road, Beaumont Crescent, Chalk Grove, Maners Way, Kinnaird Way, Netherhall Way and Topcliffe Way.

    Source

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    Today, Tuesday the 16th of May 2017, sees unemptied bins in thirty-nine Cambridge streets.

    Green bins: Glebe Farm drive, Martin rd, Corn Lane, Cedar road, Beech Drive, Elm Rd, Harness Close, Spinny rd, Barn Rd, Harvest Rd, St Michael St, Vicarage Way, Tebbit St, Overhill Way

    Blue bins: Plantation Ave (Clay Farm AURA), Devonsire Road, Angus Close, Tenison Rd, Tenison Ave, George Pateman Ct, St Barnabas Rd + St Barnabas Ct (and 2a, Lime Tree House Flats), Mawson Rd, Lynewood Rd, Ravensworth Gardens, Highsett Flats, Trumpington Place, Exeter Close, Bishops Road, Bishops Ct, Lantree Crescent, Cranleigh Close, Craven Close, Shelford Rd – ONE SIDE (Evens from Addenbrookes road traffic lights to Hauxton Rd Junction), Alpha Terrace, Scotsdowne Road, Beverley Way, Davy Road and Rustat Ave (Coleridge ward).

    Source.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I’ve had a message saying despite the council saying they missed the blue bins on Devonshire Rd today it wasn’t blue bin collection day there; I’ve checked and the council’s bin calendar appears to suggest was a black bin day. Total confusion!

    2. Richard Taylor Article author

      Cambridge City Council have silently changed their list of missed bins for Tuesday the 16th of May; it now states:

      Green bins: Glebe Farm drive, Martin rd, Corn Lane, Cedar road, Beech Drive, Elm Rd, Harness Close, Spinny rd, Barn Rd, Harvest Rd, St Michael St, Vicarage Way, Tebbit St, Overhill Way, Trumpington Place, Exeter Close, Bishops Road, Bishops Ct, Lantree Crescent, Cranleigh Close, Craven Close, Shelford Rd – ONE SIDE (Evens from Addenbrookes road traffic lights to Hauxton Rd Junction),

      Blue bins: Plantation Ave (Clay Farm AURA) – Due to parked cars, Alpha Terrace, Scotsdowne Road, Beverley Way.

      Black bins: Devonsire Road, Angus Close, Tenison Rd, Tenison Ave, George Pateman Ct, St Barnabas Rd + St Barnabas Ct (and 2a, Lime Tree House Flats), Mawson Rd, Lynewood Rd, Ravensworth Gardens, Highsett Flats, Davy Road and Rustat Ave (Coleridge ward).

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have spoken to someone who works on Cambridge’s bin lorries about the problems with collecting the bins, they said:

    • The key underlying problem is South Cambridgeshire District Council not giving overtime to its staff any more, and that’s the change which has resulted in a staff shortage which in turn is leading to the remaining staff having more work than they can handle, leading to missed streets of bins.
    • Council managers are going out on the bin lorries, doing the driving and collecting of the bins, in the afternoons after the usual bin collection staff have gone home.
    • Many tens of agency staff are being brought in at great cost to cover the shortage in staff. The costs of the agency staff are resulting in the expected savings from the merger and reorganisation not being achieved.
    • Despite the claims of a merger between South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge City Council in practice the services are still being run independently.
    • Staff from South Cambridgeshire are being given less to do than staff from Cambridge City
    • Executive Cllr Roberts was wrong to characterise the problems as being individual bins missed when I spoke to him (video above), and it is whole roads being missed.
    • Cambridge City Council has lied blaming vehicle breakdowns for failures to collect the bins.
    • Those working on the bins don’t want more overtime; once they’ve worked 6am to 2pm they don’t have the capacity to go out and do more.

    I have submitted Freedom of Information requests, in public, using mySociety’s WhatDoTheyKnow.com service to see if the claims made are accurate:

    Request to Cambridge City Council: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/new_domestic_bin_collection_arra
    Request to South Cambridgeshire District Council: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/new_domestic_bin_collection_arra_2

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    Jane Hunt the head of the Cambridge City Council – South Cambridgeshire district council “Shared Service” which collects the bins called me. Hunt said she was disappointed one of her staff had called me to tell me about the problems they see in the service; I asked what the problems are from her perspective and she said:

    • The problems emptying bins in Cambridge are due to normal operational incidents such as, yesterday, a vehicle breakdown.
    • Other routine operational incidents which prevent bins being emptied include workers becoming ill while on a round, traffic and access problems. Work can be slow when there is a greater volume of rubbish.
    • There are no plans for the councils to get more vehicles or staff to improve resilience to problems which arise (it would be too expensive); however the vehicle maintenance supplier is being asked if they can provide a spare vehicle when refuse lorries go in for repairs.
    • The problems with vehicle breakdowns aren’t expected to be addressed by the purchase of new vehicles by Cambridge City Council. Occasional breakdowns will still happen.
    • Currently there are extra staff and three extra vehicles running – this is to help out during the transition and the plan still is to withdraw these.
    • South Cambridgeshire hasn’t paid any overtime for its refuse staff for a while.
    • The service is combined, and there are joint crews.
    • Supervisors do go out to collect missed bins; but this isn’t routine. No council officers/managers above supervisors have been out working on the refuse vehicles.
    • Agency workers go out with trained staff so there isn’t a problem with them not knowing routes.
    • People don’t always put their bins out; so it has taken three times of running the new cycle to get good data on how long the new rounds take.
    • There is some unfairness between what the Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire crews are being asked to do; and this is being addressed
    • Drivers make their own judgements as to the best routes to use to complete their rounds.

    I also asked about split green bins in Cambridge but Jane Hunt didn’t appear aware that was a current problem and had nothing to say on the subject.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have had further information passed to me; which looks credible:

    • There were vehicle breakdowns yesterday but they were not the cause of all the unreached bins in Cambridge; it was also a case of staff being asked to simply do too much work.
    • There are plans for Cambridge’s Green bin collections to go monthly, at least for part of the year. (This already happens in South Cambridgeshire; and is apparently due to be brought in later this year in Cambridge). There is a suggestion that cracked green bin replacements might occur at the same time; as people will be keeping green waste longer.
  8. Brian hall

    I am also a bin man in the city of cambridge
    And all I can add to what has already been said is that from my own experience.
    Is that I am being what I fell as unnecessarily pressured, beset if you will from the supervisors to do more work. All I keep hearing is that I am not trying hard enough, and as far as I am concerned I am doing my best. I.E as in turning into work everyday and working my hours. As of recently I had been working with the same crew in cambridge city for the past 3 1/2 years and as a result of my not trying hard enough they have taken me from a my usual crew and round that I new really well,to putting me anywhere they want even as far as having me litter pick a trunk road into there waterbeach depot. I am starting to feel unwelcome at south cambridge district council.
    Also might I mention that on some occasions when residents have there missed bins collect the next day all the different coloured bins are being put into one lorry and being deposited as household waste rather than the three separate wastes there are.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    The council have missed about twenty streets worth of bins in Cambridge on Wednesday the 17th of May; they blame breakdowns and vehicle issues. Their update states:

    We are sorry to say that some streets did not have their bins emptied today. This is due to vehicle breakdowns yesterday and further vehicle issues today.

    The affected streets are:

    Green bins: Oyster Row, Garlic Row, Brookside, Pemberton Terrace, Saxon Street, Russell Court, Norwich Street, St Eligius Street.

    Blue bins: Norwich Street, Panton Street, Russell Court, Coronation Street, George VI Street, Union Road, Parker Street, Orchard Street, Victoria Street, Earl Street.

    Black bins: Storeys Way, The Crescent.

  10. brian hall

    I would like to retract the statement I made in a comment I made on the 17/5/2017.
    The statement was not made with any malicious intent.
    The error was an unfortunate result of, personal difficulties in my home life as well as work. I completely retract the comment and apologize for the mistake.
    Sincerely Brian hall

  11. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have now received a response to my FOI request.

    The information released shows there has been a reduction in the number of hours worked by directly employed staff, made up for by agency workers, with a reduction in overtime for the directly employed staff to 30% of the original level.

    April 2016 April 2017
    standard hours Overtime** Standard hours Overtime**
    Directly employed refuse collection staff 16224 370.5 15540 115
    Agency workers 3435 N/A 4601 N/A
    Total Hours 19659 370.5 20,141 115
    Total Hours 20,029 20,256

    The above table shows 226 more hours in a month being worked by bin collection staff under the new arrangements.

    Astonishingly the FOI response says there are no regular management reports on the performance of the bin collection service. Without management reports how can those councillors paid substantial bonuses for their roles as executive councillors for bins be monitoring how the service they are responsible for is being run?

    I note the report to the Cambridge City Council 27 June 2017 Environment scrutiny committee referred to came after my FOI request.

    Thousands of bins were being missed most weeks since the new arrangements started on the 1st of February. The worst week was the week starting the 6th of March with 7,021 missed bins. For the week starting the 29th of May 3,644 bins collections in Cambridge were missed.

    (Those looking at the stats “individual missed” bins are those where the whole street wasn’t missed)

    The costs of agency workers have been released:

    April 2016 £41,631
    February 2017 £37,209
    March 2017 £61,228
    April 2017 £55,217
    May 2017 £47,895 (to date)

    The response reveals a council manager on £32-£36k has been emptying the bins to cover for the lack of staff.

    The response also states:

    To date no meeting involving officers and councillors and union representatives has been held.

    This again raises the question of what our executive councillors are doing.

  12. anadapter

    It seems (almost?) scandalous that the city council scrutiny committee believe that just having a meeting on this, where a Lib Dem councilor has to fight to ask questions is enough. This isn’t about politics, it’s about working out exactly what went wrong, coming clean about what went wrong and fixing it. At the moment all the public can see is the council hampering that process by trying to avoid it.

  13. anadapter

    Incidentally, isn’t there are charge for councils that don’t manage a certain percentage of recycling? (Now checked. It’s actually a landfill tax. http://www.letsrecycle.com/councils/legislation/) How does this square with blue bins being added to ‘black bin’ collections? And when will councillors admit there is a big problem here? What do we have to do to convince them? (Other than vote them out.)

  14. Richard Taylor Article author

    I observed the bin emptying scrutiny committee on the 27th of June 2017:

    Some of my tweets about the meeting:

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