‘Don’t judge us on difficult start’, say North Herts bin contractors Urbaser

Urbaser contract manager Glyn Jones and business development manager Mark Pigott. Picture: JP Asher

Urbaser contract manager Glyn Jones and business development manager Mark Pigott. Picture: JP Asher - Credit: Archant

The contractor now handling North Hertfordshire district’s waste and recycling says a data issue that plagued its work for the first month has been fixed.

Urbaser business development manager Mark Pigott and national operations boss Chris Minnis met this paper at the firm’s Letchworth depot yesterday afternoon.

They said missed or late collections since they started in North Herts on May 6 had been down to IT issues involving the data on which homes had opted in for garden-waste collections.

The brown bins containing garden waste are now only collected from households in North Herts – which includes parts of Great Ashby in Stevenage – that pay a £40 annual fee to the district council.

Mr Pigott said the problem had come in the way sign-up data had been recorded, and that Mr Minnis and his team had been “working silly hours” to get this all sorted out.

“Part of the problem is that the system has been designed with people putting in their own property addresses, and what is entered doesn’t necessarily match up with the gazetteer data,” said Mr Pigott.

“We’ve worked tirelessly to resolve that and we’re incredibly pleased we’ve seen a reduction in complaints. We’re confident that the issue has now been resolved and residents can have the kind of service they deserve.”

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He added that they had since had only seven complaints of missed collections out of 3,000.

The number of complaints before was difficult to quantify, he said, partly because people who hadn’t paid the new brown-bin charge were still sometimes reporting missed collections.

Mr Pigott said about 50 per cent of North Herts households had signed up for the £40-per-year garden-waste bin collections, for which there was previously no separate charge. While fixing the data problems Urbaser collected all brown bins in the district, regardless of whether households had paid, to ensure a clean slate.

East Herts District Council – which appointed Urbaser jointly with North Herts to save money – voted against a charge for garden-waste collections. Urbaser has not had problems there.

Councillor Michael Weeks, North Herts’ portfolio holder for waste and recycling, told the authority’s Hitchin committee last week that problems were partly down to staff departing amid the transition from the old contractor Veolia, with the result that Urbaser needed to train up new people – but Mr Pigott said this was not the case.

“We’ve not experienced a high turnover of staff and the local knowledge is retained,” he said. “We have the same management team as before, and most drivers and loaders have been retained.”

Mr Pigott moved to allay concerns about waste collectors tipping the contents of the new food caddies into purple bins, which are usually used for general waste. Purple bins were used just because they had some spare, he said – the idea was to save time by having the food waste tipped into the truck in one bin. To avoid further confusion, he said, they would be using brown bins for this purpose in future.

Staff speaking to this paper anonymously have claimed that collectors are being made to do a near-double daily workload.

“It’s not double, it’s just a different way of collecting,” said Mr Pigott – who said there had been no change to working hours or times, and that anyone who ended up working beyond 3pm got overtime pay in any case.

He said there had been several cases of staff being verbally abused by the public, mostly over the brown-bin charge – and that they would ask the public to treat the waste crews “with respect”.

North Herts staff have claimed their East Herts colleagues are paid 20 per cent more for the same work. Mr Pigott acknowledged a pay disparity, but said it was “a fraction” of 20 per cent.

He said this was a holdover from when the two councils had separate waste contracts, and that Urbaser would be bringing pay in line as soon as possible – in a way that “doesn’t come at a great burden to North Herts”.

Asked what he would like to tell the people of North Herts, Mr Pigott said: “We are incredibly sorry for missing the bins that we missed. We’re confident the service is back on track.

“Please don’t judge us on two out of five weeks that didn’t necessarily work in part of the area. We apologise and accept it wasn’t good enough for those we did miss. On the whole it wasn’t a significant proportion, but no bin should be missed.”

Mr Minnis saluted the hard work of Urbaser’s front-line crews, saying: “The lads on the ground have been patient and have worked very hard to get us to where we are.”