Changes to the way Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council collects recycling led to overwhelming demand for the service that could not have been anticipated, according to an independent review.
Howard Davis, a former Chief Executive at Tewkesbury Borough Council in Gloucestershire and Teignbridge District Council in South Devon, was commissioned to review the Council’s new recycling service at the request of Cllr. Elizabeth Shenton, Leader of the Council.
Mr Davis has made specific recommendations but says that there was widespread acceptance that the Council’s new approach to recycling was the right one.
Reports that the recycling vehicles were too large were “a myth”, said Mr Davis as the new vehicles were actually slightly smaller than the ones they replaced.
However, his report goes on to outline where lessons can be learned for the future.
The new recycling service was introduced in July this year after around three years of planning by the Council in partnership with WRAP, the national Waste and Recycling Action Programme.
Best practice visits were undertaken and a huge amount of research and evaluation was carried out – particularly by an all-party Cabinet Panel which put in significant efforts.
However, there was an initial huge response to the new recycling service and this lead to problems for the Council and also for residents.
Following the first few weeks where staff were dealing with the initial missed collections, longer term plans were implemented which, said Mr Davis, has placed the service on a “sound footing” and will “improve long-term resilience”.
Cllr. Shenton said: “It is clear that moving to the new recycling system was the correct option because of the savings it will deliver as well as improving the amounts recycled in this borough.
“Having said that we recognise everything didn’t go to plan, there were issues and we didn’t get the service right for everyone from the outset.
“I apologise to residents for that and they can be reassured that for any future major projects they can have confidence that the right lessons have been learned.
“There were teething problems and the initial increase in recycling was much higher than anyone could have anticipated. I’d like to thank residents for their patience and the current volumes of recycling we are seeing says to me their enthusiasm for recycling in this borough continues. We can now move forward with confidence.”
In his report, Mr Davis praised the Council for its planning in the lead-up to the changes, stating that staff transfer (from an external operator) was well-managed, new vehicle procurement was cost-effective and the Council undertook an extensive public communications exercise for the service which makes 110,000 collections each and every week.
However, demand for the service from the public was far higher than anyone had anticipated, said Mr Davis.
WRAP, with knowledge of service changes across the country, carried-out modelling based on an eight per cent increase – the actual increase was up to 25 per cent.
This led to issues with collection rounds not being completed and then when residents tried to contact the Council to report their issues they found it difficult to get through because of the volume of complaints.
Mr Davis’ report – which contains 13 service specific recommendations as well as six general recommendations – has been circulated to all borough councillors by the Leader.
It will now be considered by one of the Council’s scrutiny committees.