Waste Management ““ What Have Stoke-on-Trent City Council Got To Hide?

A while back, I wrote a very dismissive comment regarding waste management and recycling. It was along the lines of “Ëœme and my wife take recycling very seriously, but to be honest, I don’t care what the Council do with my rubbish once they have collected it’. I know now that I was very, very wrong to say this.

Over the past year or so, Pits n Pots have been urged to investigate Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s decision to move to the present method of Waste Management including Recycling.

We have stumbled along, asking here and there. We have read the Freedom of Information requests from Ian Norris and others and we could sense the frustration at the lack of information coming forward from the council.

Our interest was pricked further when a contributor wrote this comment article.

We thought that the claim in the article that the enhanced recycling scheme has incurred £3.49million of cost not budgeted for warranted further investigation so we requested an interview with head of Environmental Services Jane Forshaw which can be heard here.

Now if you listen to the audio clip at the bottom of this article you will clearly hear Jane Forshaw agree to answer any follow up questions that may arise out of her interview. “Just come back and talk to us” she said.

She also said that questions that are asked through Freedom of Information tend to be one dimensional and as a result receive one dimensional answers.

Pits n Pots as requested, submitted the following supplementary questions, expecting Jane Forshaw to keep to her word and offer detailed answers:

1 Why was a ‘collection only’ remit given to WRAP [their report dated 4/3/08 ref ROT019] and not ‘collection and disposal’

2] Is the remit given to WRAP the reason that, in Jane’s view, it was flawed?

3] The report gave various solutions, one of which was option j. This option recommended a solution based on collection and disposal close to the process adopted by NBC who are now achieving a recycling rate of 50% as opposed to our current rate of 40%. were all the options put forward to the EMB, the rest of the elected members, or appropriate overview and scrutiny committee, for consideration?

4] In the absence of any EMB/Councillor involvement, who took the decision to adopt the current enhanced system of recycling?

5] The composting was put out for tender twice, the first time the tender was pulled, why was this?

6] Can we have the exact date that the ‘blue’ bins were ordered?

7] Was this date before the EMB gave its approval for the scheme?

8] Did the NSRP commission an Independent report into suitable composting sites in the City of Stoke-on-Trent?

9] Was this report taken into consideration before placing
the contract with a company from outside of the area?

10] Our current system for collecting food waste means that only potentially only 50% is collected. [once fortnightly in brown bin] That 50% potential success rate will be further affect by the number of households that do not have the 3 bin system. Will this prevent the city achieving the government target of 45% for 2015 and the 50% target for 2020?

Imagine our surprise when we received the following email fro Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Press & Communication Department in response to our request.

Tony,

On returning to this and given the extensive detail of
your questions I am inclined to recommend you forward it as an FOI.

It is beyond a standard media enquiry now and beyond our resources here to keep chasing it. Happy to forward this for you or if you want to take time and consider the parameters of your questions you may want to submit it direct to the Councils FOI team.

Sorry I can’t be more helpful but we do sometimes have to prioritise resources and make decisions on what the press team deal with and what departments deal with through FOI route.
Kind regards

So, what exactly have our City Council got to hide?

I have spoken to numerous verifiable sources over recent days, elected members, former elected members, the great and the good and a picture is starting to form.

I suspect that the smoke screen that now clouds this whole issue is all a cover up.

My sources lead me to believe that there was absolutely NO elected member involvement in the decision to move to the current enhanced recycling method.

One source tells of an EMB meeting where the then interim Council Manager demanded that members of the EMB nod this policy through.

The EMB refused due to the lack of substance to the report. There was absolutely no detail or information put before members so that they could make an informed decision on this matter. There was quite a heated row over the issue.

The Interim Council Manager stormed out of the meeting threatening to “Ëœcall the government for intervention’ allegedly.

To my knowledge this was never put before that particular EMB again.

There was a WRAP Report commissioned by the Council [WRAP ref ROT019 dated 04/03/08]. It was never produced to an EMB, elected councillors, the relevant Overview & Scrutiny Committee. Indeed I suspect that the Portfolio Holder at the time did not know about the WRAP report.

The remit of the WRAP report was Collection Cost only, in other words the “Ëœcheap as chips’ option.

Now, I have seen this report and it gives various options and states that on a cost only basis the method that we eventually opted for.

One of the other options [J in the WRAP report] This option recommended a solution close to the process adopted by NBC who are now achieving a recycling rate of 50% as opposed to our current rate of 40%.

My sources tell me that the WRAP report was withheld from all Elected Members therefore non of the options were put forward to the EMB, the rest of the elected members, or appropriate overview and scrutiny committee, for consideration.

I have also been told by a number of sources that the blue bins were purchased before the results of the trials were known.

Our Councillors are often attacked for their actions and performance and are often described as being poor quality.

On this issue however, no one can or should accuse our councillors of not scrutinising and considering all options to find the appropriate system of dealing with our cities waste recyclables. A system that will not just achieve the current government target of 40%, but a system that will ensure that we hit the future targets of 45% [2015] and 50% [2020].

Had our councillors had the WRAP report issued to them they may well have chosen Option J which may have helped our council achieve their 2020 target now, just like Newcastle Borough.

This whole issue needs further investigation and the Council have to start giving out some conclusive answers to some very pertinent questions.

I strongly suspect that an officer or executive of the council took decision and made sure that there was no elected member involvement.

If future government targets are not achieved, I wonder who will get all the criticism. My Guess? Our councillors.

I urge all elected members to back the calls for the District Auditor to look into this issue in its entirety. Wrap report, tenders, blue bins, the whole sorry affair.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Enhanced Recycling – UPDATED

AUDIO INTERVIEW WITH KEY COUNCIL OFFICER NOW ONLINE!

Following on from the investigation by George Harvey in to the true costs of the Enhanced Recycling scheme operated by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Pits n Pots sent a copy of the article to the city council asking for a response, the following statement was sent

We are very proud of the achievements we have made in increasing recycling rates in the city. In fact our recycling rates have doubled in the past four years and the feedback we get from members of the public is that the system is easy to use and that they feel more compelled to recycle as a result. The new recycling system has allowed us to reach the 40% recycling targets set down by the government in 2007. In choosing which system to adopt, we had to balance the ease of use for the residents, the level of recycling we would achieve and the cost which would best support both. Materials recycled in Stoke go to plants all over the country and the resultant products are used all over the world, and around 99% of what goes into the recycling bins is reused in some way.

Given the nature of the allegations raised in the investigation we did not feel that a suitable response had been made and have asked the following questions:

It does not however, answer ANY of the issues raised in the article. I would therefore request an urgent response to the specific questions below:

  1. Given the Council appointed WRAP to advise on measures to increase recycling in the City to achieve recycling targets laid down in legislation why was this report not made available to the portfolio holder and subsequent cabinet member and the the elected members of the council?
  2. Why were the ‘blue’ bins ordered before the trial? Why did they not go through the normal tendering process? Why did officers insist that blue bins were needed when the WRAP report indicated that they were no additional requirement for wheelie bins? Why did an officer of the council order these bins at a cost of £1.6million without the approval of the council executive i.e the EMB at the time?
  3. Why was the contractor responsible for the existing recycling scheme told that he contract will terminate in April 2009, before the trials?
  4. It appears that a particular Council Officer decided unilaterally to terminate the kerbside recycling contract BEFORE the enhanced recycling trial, orders bins for the whole City BEFORE the trial, buries the WRAP report which is never seen by Cllrs and WRAP are not allowed to present it to them. The WRAP conclusions are then later doctored by the same officer and the City as a result has spent £1.6 million it didn’t need to spend on wheelie bins it didn’t need and issued a 10 year contract to Vital Earth in Ashbourne when a firm based in Stoke was capable of providing this service. Will the CEO and the Council Leader hold an internal investigation into the conduct of this officer and a strategic review of the processes adopted in this matter and investigate whether there is a case of misconduct?
  5. Will the council now accept, that based on the evidence now before them, that they misled the public about there being £1million of savings? Will there be any action taken in relation to the fact that not only were there not savings of £1million but there were £3,498,170 of costs NOT budgeted for?

We would like to formally request an audio interview with the CEO John van de Laarschot and Council Leader Mohammed Pervez in the absence of suitable written responses to the above questions.

We also request a response from the EMB member with responsibility Cllr Joy Garner and the Cabinet Member with responsibility Cllr John Daniels [who we know had concerns in relation to this matter].

We noticed that Jane Forshaw, Head of Environmental Services was seen being interviewed on the One Show on BBC1 last night explaining how good the Stoke-on-Trent Enhanced Recycling Scheme was.

UPDATE: 23:32 Earlier this evening we interviewed Jane Forshaw the lead officer of the department concerned. Please listen to the Audio Below.

If you have any further queries/questions or concerns please contact the site. We have been promised that any supplementary questions will receive a response.

Enhanced Recycling – What Cost To The City?

When it was introduced, the enhanced recycling scheme was sold to residents on the basis that it would save the City £1million per year as well as achieving an enhanced rate of recycling that would enable the council to meet its recycling targets.

Throughout the supposed trial many of us raised objections and asked serious questions about the claims being made by Officers.

As I saw it, the issues at the time were, whether the particular methods of recycling being proposed by the Council provided the best mix of cost, efficiency and, importantly, security. The latter was important as we had just experienced a collapse in global markets for recycled materials and only those of the highest quality were being sold, the rest remained unsold in depots across the country.

The Councils proposals were a retrograde step in this regard and the claimed saving of £1million did not stack up as it had so many glaring omissions, not least ignoring the costs of disposal of the recycled materials.

It has taken some months but now a number of FOIs have begun to reveal the truth which is both frightening and also sickening that the Council can be so bad and cost its citizens so much.

Enhanced Recycling Scheme – Costs not budgeted for

  • Blue Wheelie bins. (It was originally planned for these to be leased) ““ £1,600,000
  • Termination cost for current kerbside contract – £50,000
  • Redevelopment of Burslem MRF – £263,170
  • Increased business rates for Burslem MRF (previously paid by the contractor) – unknown
  • Changes to Fowlchurch depot ““ interim arrangements – £20,000
  • Increased cost of disposal of green and food waste

Under the old scheme:

  • Green Waste Tonnes ““ 7,500 tonnes x £26.00 = £195,000

Under the enhanced scheme:

  • Green & Food Waste Tonnes ““ 16,000 tonnes x £65 = £1,040,000
  • Additional cost – £845,000
  • Increased costs of disposal of green waste from Household Waste sites – unknown
  • Increased costs of park and highways green waste disposal – unknown (The real reason why grass cuttings were left on the verge)
  • Change in costs of disposal of dry recyclables (paper, plastic etc.) – unknown
  • Loss of revenue from Newcastle BC @ £7.00/tonne – unknown (Newcastle used the Burslem MRF until they were kicked out)
  • Cost of diversion of waste from Waste to Energy plant – £645,000
  • Costs of TUPE staff from Abitibi to Council ““ unknown
  • Additional staff brought in to manage scheme;
    2 assistant recycling officers plus 1 coordinator – £75,000

Total Costs not budgeted for – £3,498,170

The purchase of the blue wheelie bins cost the City £1.6million but was not necessary and indeed the Government body appointed by the Council to advise on the scheme, WRAP, advised the Council to go down a different route that did not require purchase of wheelie bins. WRAP advised the use of multi compartment vehicles to allow kerbside sorting of dry recyclables, together with separate collections for food waste and garden waste.

The details are as follows;

  1. The Council appointed WRAP to advise on measures to increase recycling in the City to achieve recycling targets laid down in legislation
  2. WRAP produced a report based on improving the established kerbside sorting scheme and introducing collection of food waste. WRAP concluded that an improvement to this scheme including a weekly collection of food waste (separate from garden waste) would be the best scheme and would only entail the purchase of kitchen caddies (@£2ish each) for the food waste. In their report WRAP never advised the Council to purchase new wheelie bins as none were needed for their preferred method of collection. WRAP are also critical of the scope of the report as they were not asked to include disposal costs. WRAP decided to do so anyway.
  3. The WRAP report was buried, Cllrs were not advised of its existence and no Cllrs saw it until recently. WRAP offered to present to cabinet but this offer was ignored by officers.
  4. A certain officer later produced a report which doctored the WRAP conclusions and claimed WRAP recommended comingled collection (it did not) and that this would require purchase of new wheelie bins (@ £17ish each). Total cost of the bins was £1.6million.
  5. The Council did not go to tender for the bins.
  6. The Council did not get written quotes or written assurances of time for delivery from suppliers.
  7. The same officer stated that only one supplier could supply bins within the timeframe, Craemer. No written evidence exists of any enquiries to Craemer or indeed to any other supplier.
  8. The same officer ordered the bins without authorisation from a Cllr or from the EMB. Note: the order was placed in Oct & Nov 2008, before the recycling trial. It appears the officer had decided strategy himself without reference to any others.
  9. The contractor responsible for the existing recycling scheme is told that he contract will termiate in April 2009, before the trials.
  10. To facilitate the change to co-mingled collection and to bring this service in-house, changes were required to the Federation Road MRF which cost in the order of £ 263,170. See this FOI Request

The knock on effect of this was that the disposal options for the food waste (now to be collected with garden waste) meant that only In Vessel Composting (IVC) was considered a suitable option, Due to the presence of food waste open windrow composting could not be used and AD was dismissed out of hand as too expensive. Note; Newcastle which previously had the same system as Stoke and shared facilities with Stoke followed WRAPs recommendations and now sends food waste to Gnosall to an anaerobic digestion plant (@£35/tonne – note the price), garden waste still goes to Simpro @ £26/tonne.

The next steps in the story are;

  1. A tender was issued for IVC in the City.
  2. Vital Earth from Ashbourne complained angrily and verbally about the limitation on having a site within the City and claimed it prevented them from tendering. It did not they just had to acquire a suitable site as any other competitor would have to.
  3. This same officer then stated that there was no suitable site within the city, this despite having received a proposal from Biffa for exactly this at their Newstead site a year previously and despite the City Planner being in talks with other companies about AD/IVC at a particular site in the City. Following this an independent report on availability of suitable sites in Stoke was done which identified over 20 suitable sites.
  4. The tender is pulled by this same officer and re-issued allowing companies to bid whose sites are not within the City. Biffa (Newstead site) refuse to tender in the second round “it’s a done deal” was their view. In the second tender, Vital Earth put in a tender and guess what, they win. Price is £65/tonne to start with. Compare to Newcastle’s costs?

So, to sum up, it appears that a particular Council Officer decided unilaterally to terminate the kerbside recycling contract BEFORE the enhanced recycling trial, orders bins for the whole City BEFORE the trial, buries the WRAP report which is never seen by Cllrs and WRAP are not allowed to present it to them. The WRAP conclusions are then later doctored by the same officer and the City as a result has spent £1.6 million it didn’t need to spend on wheelie bins it didn’t need and issued a 10 year contract to Vital Earth in Ashbourne when a firm based in Stoke was capable of providing this service.

There are many more aspects to this story which relate to the best methods of collection/recycling, joined up working etc., but the few details above are enough to illustrate the lack of strategic thinking and lack of any kind of effective management in this section of the Council.

What do our Councillors make of this? Any of them care to comment?

Links to other relevant FOIs are below