Kier managers appeared before councillors to answer questions
Managers in charge of Bridgend’s controversial £82m seven-year Kier waste contract appeared before councillors on Monday to answer questions on the first year’s performance.
Heavily criticised when the new system started – missed and delayed collections led to maggots infesting uncollected waste in the early days – councillors say there has since been ‘huge’ improvements.
Below are some of the issues raised during the scrutiny committee meeting.
There are no plans to introduce a black plastic recycling system in Bridgend due to the cost of recycling it.
Mr Akhtar said it would cost around £110k a year to recycle the material.
He said: “The market for black plastic doesn’t really exist.
“There’s hardly any weight in black plastic, it’s more bulk than weight so you would have to get an awful lot together to make it worthwhile.
“It’s something we need to keep on the radar because the markets have significantly changed in the last year for recycling where China has upped the quality of materials they’re accepting.”
Mr Shell said: “It’s worth noting quite a few of the producers of black plastic are cottoning onto the problems to recycling black plastic.
“A number of lightweight trays and supply products are changing.”
Council leader Huw David said: “We need to encourage supermarkets and food manufacturers to undertake that shift because there are alternatives which are recyclable.”
Kier is looking to introduce food waste and card recycling at certain schools in the county.
Currently 14 schools in the county use Kier commercial waste.
The majority of schools have their waste collected by other contractors.
Absorbent Hygiene Product (AHP) recycling
The council currently sends its AHP products to NappiCycle in Ammanford.
Group manager for streetworks Andrew Hobbs told councillors work was being undertaken with the Welsh Government to look at setting up a new AHP recycling facility closer to Bridgend.
Communities director Mark Shephard said residents would also get to have their say over whether the council should continue to run the service when the budget consultation begins.
He said: “My personal view is it’s not something we would want to lose at all but the question is being asked as there is a potential financial saving.
“If it was cut it would have an impact on our recycling and it may be in a couple of years we would want to reintroduce it to achieve the next recycling target.”
An extra collection day for recycled products is taking place on the Wildmill estate in Bridgend to help tackle waste and fly tipping issues around communal bin areas.
Extra recycling bins have also been rolled out on the housing estate.
Webcams at Community Recycling Centres
Webcams are being set up at recycling centres in the county to allow residents to check online before they visit to see how busy it is at the centre.
The first webcam will soon go live at the Maesteg centre and the Brynmenyn one will follow.
Mr Shell said a technical issue with setting up a webcam at the Tythegston centre meant it would be too expensive.
He said: “I think the webcams will be really useful for members of the public who want to go to a recycling centre but they want to choose a quieter time so they can look online and see what’s going on.
“We’ve been sent the first link for one of the sites so we will get it set up on the council website as soon as possible.
“Due to the substantial cost involved with Tythegston and the long-term view to move the centre to a site in Pyle, it seems investing the money for a webcam would be a waste of money.”
Kier says it in discussions with another supplier to recycle polystyrene back into reusable packaging.
Use of Welsh language in the call centre
Councillor Gareth Howells asked about the provision of customer service calls in the Welsh language.
Kier uses a separate Welsh language call centre to its one in Torquay for Welsh speakers.
Mr Akhtar said there were no calls made in Welsh last month and at its highest level, around five or six calls were made in Welsh.
Calendars with ‘wrong’ collection dates for garden waste
Councillor Norah Clarke said there was an issue with Kier not getting the right collection dates which left calendars being sent out with the wrong date and the company then having to send out corrections.
The Nottage ward councillor said: “I have found, especially in Porthcawl, that residents were given calendars saying garden waste would be collected on a certain day and then another calendar came out a week later because the days were wrong.
“Some people didn’t get the second notification so the waste was going out on the first day instead of the right day and that seemed to go on for weeks and weeks.”
Mr Akhtar said that as garden waste was an opt-in service Kier could not be sure what the uptake would be before it began.
He said: “Initially we base the data on how many customers we have and that needs to be rebalanced if we have more customers sign up.
“Last year I think we left it a bit too late, the letters didn’t go out until February.
“This year we will get them out in November which should mean by January we will have the bulk of the customers signed up and we can plan the rounds accordingly.”
From second worst in Wales to second best
When the Kier contract began in June 2017 the new service was described as causing “chaos” with large numbers of missed rubbish and recycling collections which led to waste, including bags of nappies, sitting on kerbsides for weeks.
The new changes left householders limited to two rubbish bags per fortnight and using different-coloured sacks for cardboard, paper, and plastics as well as caddies for glass and food waste and purple bags for nappies.
But the new approach to waste collection has resulted in the county borough’s annual recycling rate soaring from 58% in 2016-17 to 68.5% for 2017-18.
It has gone from being the second worst local authority in Wales for recycling to being the second best in under a year.
Speaking at the overview and scrutiny committee meeting on Monday September 17, cabinet member for communities Richard Young said there had been “a degree of extreme criticism” at the start of the contract but there was “no doubt” the service had got better.
He said: “The start was unfortunate, we worked through it and it has taken the cooperation of Kier, officers and councillors.”
Kier hit with ‘significant’ financial penalties
Communities director Mark Shephard said Kier had been fined a “significant” amount by the council for failing to meet contractual expectations such as missed collections.
He said: “We’ve been advised by our legal team that we can’t discuss the amount as it is commercially sensitive.
“The financial penalties were mainly applied very early on in the contract, they’ve managed to reduce the problem.”
According to a report which went before councillors the fines are based on a points-based system, for example a missed collection is two points and a late container or sack delivery is five points with points multiplying for each additional day.
In year one of the contract almost 425,000 points were calculated. The number currently is around 9,100 points a month which is decreasing.
The council’s head of neighbourhood services Zak Shell said the problems were exacerbated in the first year of the new service due to the series of successive interim management arrangements at Kier.
He said: “Since employing the local manager from within the borough it has very much helped speeding up the process of settling the contract.
“Putting Scott Saunders in place and the team which he now has behind him has improved things markedly.”
Kier regional manager Maz Akhtar said over 50% of the management team in the Bridgend depot had changed in recent months.
He said: “The new team has been excellent, they’ve delivered significant improvements and continue to do so on an almost daily basis.”
Council leader Huw David said he had been one of the first to criticise Kier but there had since been “huge improvements”.
He thanked residents in the county for “embracing” the service saying its success was down to them.
He added: “The year we were introducing the new service we just missed our recycling target and we could have received a fine from Welsh Government
“I had to explain to the Minster for the Environment we were introducing the service and that was the only reason we did not get fined.
“We also know if we are to protect our environment and save the planet we have all got to do do things differently and recycling is a very important part of that.”