North Herts waste portfolio holder insists crisis-hit waste contract will work

PUBLISHED: 08:41 06 June 2018 | UPDATED: 08:56 06 June 2018

One of the North Hertfordshire brown bins at the centre of the issue. Picture: Danny Loo

One of the North Hertfordshire brown bins at the centre of the issue. Picture: Danny Loo

Danny Loo Photography 2017

The Govia Thameslink railway contract will never work, but North Hertfordshire’s crisis-hit waste contract will – that was the line last night from the councillor responsible.

Councillor Michael Weeks, who is responsible for waste and recycling at North Herts District Council. Photo: JP AsherCouncillor Michael Weeks, who is responsible for waste and recycling at North Herts District Council. Photo: JP Asher

Councillor Michael Weeks, the executive member for waste and recycling at North Herts District Council, made the remark after answering a series of questions from members of the authority’s Hitchin committee.

The new contract with Spanish firm Urbaser, entered jointly by North and East Herts councils to save money, has been plagued with problems in North Herts – with collections often made days late or not at all.

Last week Urbaser collected all garden waste bins, regardless of whether households had paid North Herts’ controversial new £40 annual charge. And ahead of the meeting, Mr Weeks confirmed this has been done as a stop-gap due to “issues with the reliability of the data held on those customers who have signed up” – which he said were now resolved.

Mr Weeks, who has repeatedly apologised for the fiasco on behalf of the Conservative-controlled district council, admitted to the newly Labour-run Hitchin committee that when the new food waste collections began a month ago, North Herts was short 1,500 of the food caddies issued to households – and had since borrowed 1,000 from East Herts.

He said a lot of people who paid the brown-bin charge online did not have their data transferred across to the Urbaser system, meaning some rounds were not accurately recorded on the firm’s system – “or indeed at all”.

But he insisted that problems were “operational, over which the council does not have a great deal of control”, and down to issues like staff inexperience. Urbaser, he said, was doing all it could to make the contract work.

Hitchin Labour councillor Ian Albert, pictured speaking at a TUC conference in 2015. Picture: Andrew AitchisonHitchin Labour councillor Ian Albert, pictured speaking at a TUC conference in 2015. Picture: Andrew Aitchison

He told committee chairman Ian Albert: “Recovery is making it work – and with respect, Ian, we will make it work in the next couple of weeks.”

The committee was unanimous that compensation should go to households that paid the £40 garden waste charge – a point Mr Weeks agreed to consider.

Liberal Democrat councillor Sam Collins told the meeting that friends of his in East Herts – where the Tory-run district council voted against an extra charge for garden waste collection – had reported no problems with the new waste contract.

The debacle is also set to be discussed next Tuesday night when North Herts’ overview and scrutiny committee meets at the district council offices in Letchworth.

Chief reporter JP Asher was tweeting live from last night’s meeting. To read more of what was said, see twitter.com/journo_JP.

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