Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Cornwall Council, waste and failure

My column in this week’s Cornish Guardian focuses on Cornwall Council’s new waste collection contract. I deliberately tried to be balanced, but given the extent of complaints that are still coming through I now feel I should have been much less forgiving. The article was as follows:

Launched on 1st April, Cornwall Council’s new waste collection and recycling service, run by private company Cory, has been slammed by thousands of residents as a disaster.

Many hundreds of homes have yet to receive their new recycling containers, there have been many thousands of missed collections, and heaps of rubbish have piled up on the streets of our towns and villages. There have also been numerous other problems, relating to green waste and dog mess.

There were always going to be some teething issues, but the scale of the problems has proved to be truly immense. There have been so many complaints that the Council’s call centre – even with extra staff – could not cope.

Indeed, it has been confirmed that, in the first week of the new arrangements, 50% of calls were not answered. Those people who did get through were promised action within 48 hours, but time and time again, this did not materialise.

It is to be welcomed that both Cornwall Council and Cory have issued a full apology to local residents, and agreed that there should be a full inquiry into what happened.

Like other Cornwall Councillors, I have monitored problems both in my local area and across Cornwall as a whole. It is clear that some dreadful mistakes were made and it has to be concluded that Cory were inadequately prepared for the commencement of the contract which has been mishandled.

Some of the lorries were too large to access certain Cornish streets, the allocation of staff to new rounds compounded difficulties, and the publicity relating to the new service could, and should, have been much, much better. In the former Restormel area, for example, many of the residents did not realise that the Conservative-led administration at County Hall had downgraded their recycling collection from a weekly to a fortnightly service by terminating the SERCO contract (which, for the record, I did not support).

But in all fairness, we must accept that it was a mammoth undertaking to replace individual waste collection services from the former district council areas with one Cornwall-wide service with 470,000 individual weekly collections.

We should also commend those individuals on the frontline – collecting our waste and recycling, or serving in the call centre – who have worked extra hours to seek to resolve the problems caused by a massive failure of management.

However, the time for excuses has passed. The leadership of Cornwall Council and the management of Cory must get to grips with delivering the new service and ensuring that it is of an extremely high standard for all residents.

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