Dorset collection ‘fiasco’ finding its feet

A scrutiny report into the ‘catastrophic’ roll out of Dorset Waste Partnership’s  (DWP) county-wide ‘Recycle for Dorset’ collection scheme has found that many of the initial problems with the system have been solved, but that lessons can be learnt for future programmes.

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council (WPBC) commissioned the report from its Scrutiny and Performance Committee in April, after local councillors found the DWP’s October 2014 roll out of the ‘Recycle for Dorset’ service in the area to be a ‘fiasco’.

But, the ‘Scrutiny Review – Dorset Waste Partnership: roll out and service in Weymouth and Portland’ report concluded that despite the initial problems with the recycling service, it was now meeting targets to increase recycling and reduce costs to councils.

Service background

Dorset collection ‘fiasco’ finding its feetDWP was formed by seven Dorset councils (all but Poole and Bournemouth) in 2011 to join up waste services across the county. As part of introducing a uniform system across the county, DWP agreed on the standardised recycling and refuse collection service, ‘Recycle for Dorset’, to replace all other collection systems by 2015.

But the roll-out of the new service in Weymouth and Portland, the fourth location to make the switch, suffered immediate problems, leading to the council commissioning the report six months into the system.

Councillor Michael Goodman MBE, responsible for Community Safety at the council told Resource at the time that the kerbside recycling service had been ‘an absolute catastrophe’ following the switch to a co-mingled recycling service with separate glass collections.

Goodman stated that although the service had been working well in some areas of the county, changes in subcontractors for certain stages of the roll out had left the service poorly coordinated, and of an inadequate standard.

This, he said, was shown by collections being missed completely, household bins being taken and replaced by bags, assisted collections being ignored, and green waste being taken on incorrect days.

Indeed, local media reported that over the course of the new system’s first week in 2014, DWP received 1,400 complaints to its helpline a day.

However, the results of a DWP survey, released by the partnership just a week after the council commissioned the report, found that 85 per cent of respondents said they recycled more under the ‘Recycle for Dorset’ scheme than they did previously. In addition, nearly 90 per cent of the 4,471 respondents said that they were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the new service.

Compounding the teething problems with the service, was the news in March that Steve Burdis, Director of the DWP had been temporarily suspended from his role after the body overspent its 2014 budget by £2.8 million.

This is the subject of three other reviews carried out by the South West Audit Partnership, Dorset Councils Chief Executives and Leaders and by a peer review process set up by the DWP. Burdis remains suspended.

Report details

Despite these problems, however, the WPBC report stated that although problems had been caused by trying to implement a completely homogenous system across urban and rural areas in the county, the collection system has generally resulted in cost savings.

Collections being missed, it found, were due to problems with the vehicle fleet leading to an unusual amount of breakdowns, but that since Christmas 2014, these issues had decreased. A new order of vehicles began to arrive at the end of May, further strengthening the fleet. However, this also contributed to the unbudgeted hire of vehicles ‘without a proper tendering process’, which contributed £1.5 million to the budget overspend.

The report also found that some issues were caused by a lack of communication between DWP and residents, and special arrangements under the old system were not carried over, leading to complaints.

Others, the report suggested, had not taken notice of the information provided , due to literature being sent out up to five months before the change, a fact that the Scrutiny Committee felt the DWP underappreciated.

It concluded that, currently, all major problems with the service in the WPBC area had been addressed, with further issues being looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Lessons learned for future DWP roll outs

The report did pick out some lessons to be learnt, which the committee hopes will help DWP with the roll out of the fifth location to receive ‘Recycle for Dorset’ – Bridport and the surrounding areas.

These included:

  • pay more attention to the different nature and requirements of areas with targeted communications to different areas or properties.  Communications in general should be much simpler;
  •  ensure that the contractor delivering the waste and recycling containers has allowed an appropriate timescale for undertaking this task;
  • ask staff to continue using their goodwill to help residents who require extra supportor provide clear communications to explain why this could not continue;
  • provide an appropriate level of resources in place to continue operating business-as-usual services at the same time as undertaking a roll out of a new service.

Council still concerned with standard of service

Councillor Ian Bruce, Chairman of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council’s Management Committee, said: “We still have concerns that the Dorset Waste Partnership is not delivering the service that was expected in parts of our borough and there is certainly still work to be done.

“The partnership must put the needs of our residents first. Our officers will continue to hold the partnership to account and I hope the issue of the waste partnership disappears soon from our agendas soon as that would show it was working well.”

Councillor Ian Roebuck, briefholder for environment and sustainability, said: “The Dorset Waste Partnership are making progress. The borough council will continue to push for further progress. The good news is that recycling rates have increased and the amount of waste going to landfill has fallen.”

Find out more about ‘Recycle for Dorset’.

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