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Ealing and Northfield

Rubbish Ealing fiasco

Last night’s extraordinary council meeting ended up being not very illuminating. Labour apologised and agreed that the new waste contract in Ealing was a fiasco but would not go as far as to accept that it was a disaster. I will settle for fiasco.

The man in charge, who called himself “a solutions person”, is Cllr Bassam Mahfouz, the portfolio holder for Environment and Transport. He said: “I reiterate our unreserved apology”. A more direct form of words such as “I am sorry” might have made him sound a little more contrite but contrition isn’t his thing. Mahfouz does smirky and huffy rather better. When it emerged during the debate that Mahfouz had known in advance that the contractor did not have the required vehicles in place at the start of the contract his response to opposition incredulity and questions as to why this information was not passed on was “You didn’t ask”.

After Labour’s library foul up, where the leader had to step in and do the job of the portfolio holder, again it has been council leader Julian Bell who has had to take the lead with this “fiasco”. In his speech Bell claimed that “Today’s missed collections were very few” and that the service was “essentially back to normal”. Although he claimed to have checked the stats he failed to give any hard numbers. He made reference, as did most of the Labour speakers to £85 million of cuts. Labour’s get out of jail free card played again.

The other line that Labour tried was that the new waste contractor was really quite good and had done a good job for other authorities. Both Cllrs Mahfouz and Daniel Crawford tried this line. I would like to see them try this with residents. A few of the Labour councillors tried to suggest that the extra meeting was a waste of public money. Cllr Johnson, Labour’s finance lead, said that the cost of the meeting could have been spent on remedial action. I reckon that giving Labour and the administration a good roasting on this subject is the most effective remedial action an opposition can take. Incidentally a couple of Enterprise managers had to sit through the whole event so that probably justifies the cost of the exercise right there.

In spite of repeated questioning neither Cllrs Bell nor Mahfouz could give any clarity about how early they escalated the rubbish Ealing fiasco to the Chief Executive of Enterprise. They claimed to have had lots of meetings but the lack of names and dates was telling. We heard a lot of slightly quaint stories from Bell and Mahfouz about their cycling around the Borough on their bikes over Easter and having daily meetings exhorting the Enterprise line managers who screwed up in April to do better. The word ineffective comes to mind.

Labour was determined that no real facts would emerge and the Labour chief whip pretty much taunted us that no facts would emerge. The Tory spokesman on environment, Cllr Tony Young, had been chasing for recycling and waste stats for a week since month end and been refused. I myself asked about the amount of dry-recycling diverted to the famous MRF in Kent and was also refused. An officer told me:

The figures will require validation by the Council in terms of audit trail and cross referencing with Enterprise weighbridge out records.

This is nonsense of course. We overheard when we visited the site a week earlier that for three out of four weeks in April 500 Tonnes Ealing dry-recycling has been processed by the site. In a normal month Ealing collects 1,200 Tonnes so around 55%, over half, of the hard work put in by residents to separate their waste has been wasted in April with no end in sight – only today I saw my carefully separated re-cycling chucked in the back of a garbage truck. Six weeks of wasted effort.

Labour tried to deny these figures but they all come from officers. Labour are trying to hide the embarrassing truth. When the numbers do finally emerge the administration will have to explain their glib assertions. “Back to normal”. No. I fear that we have achieved a rather worse new normal.

12 replies on “Rubbish Ealing fiasco”

Phil

Bassam may be the kicking boy, but are you really saying (by omission) that the senior Officers are immune? Why?

The residents want to know that answer, so please don’t go silent.

we did get one interesting answer from the leader of the council. He claimed that exactly 0% of the waste that goes to the MRF in kent goes to incineration.

George,

What we learned in our time was that you can’t just sit back and leave it to officers.

The recycling question is a good example of this. The officers are happy because the stuff is being collected and re-cycled and Enterprise is having to bear the cost of using the MRF as opposed to processing high quality kerbside sorted recycling.

This view ignores the hard work done by residents. That is where the politicians come in. Our long term interests are in fostering kerbside recycling. This requires huge effort and buy-in on the part of the public. The last six weeks have seen half of residents’ recycling effort wasted. The council as an institution has been protected in the short term but the officers need strong direction on the long term priorities.

Phil – I don’t try lines, I talk about what I genuinely believe, as I tried to do last night. I have frank discussions with my residents and build relationships with them. I honestly wonder whether it was worth standing for election to the Council currently.

I am, of course, still awaiting an apology for your slanderous and damaging allegations about my conduct over the Friars Green CPZ. Given the tone of this posting I shan’t be holding my breath.

I would, however, be interested to know which sessions of the Social Media briefing organised by the Council’s Head of Legal yourself and Cllr. Costello will be attending as it may be beneficial to have a full and frank discussion about blogging there.

Best Wishes,
Dan Crawford
Labour councillor for Acton Central ward

so whats the point in paying an officer £100k + to manage/ administer the environmental services contract?

and does the council not have a responsibility in minimising their contractors carbon footprint?

lastly officers are (should be) employed in their specific positions due to their experience + expertise in that particular field. in most instances officers (in mid – senior level positions) guide and inform politicians on regulations, policies, best practise, latest technologies etc etc

these officers are not 5 year old kids – so why teat them as such?

Daniel,

In your remarks at council you pointed to Enterprise’s good record in Liverpool and the City of Manchester. This is nice to know but was pretty irrelevant to our immediate problems in Ealing. I know Labour members were searching for something positive to say but bigging up Enterprise’s record was out of place on Tuesday.

As for the Friar’s Green CPZ you are a bit late in bringing this up. I raised this on July 12th last year. I said:

“One can only speculate as to what the administration is doing. Mahfouz may just think he knows better than residents. Of the three Acton Central councillors Patricia Walker lives in Elgar Avenue, Ealing so I don’t suppose she has much skin in the game. Cllr Abdullah Gulaid lives on St Dunstan’s Avenue in the core area so it might be a case of I’m alright Jack for him. Cllr Daniel Crawford lives with his mother, East Acton councillor Kathleen Crawford, at Lynton Road in the outer area. Are the Crawford’s influencing this? Who knows? It is all murky, undemocratic and so typical of Ealing Labour. ”

I am really not sure what is slanderous or damaging about this. Facts can’t be slanderous. Typically questions can’t be. The damage was done by the lack of explanation. I just asked the questions. Maybe it is time you answered them. Why did Labour make this strange decision to undo a democratic decision discussed and made in public at cabinet? Why did you do it behind closed doors? Why was it decided to only do one half of the scheme? Why didn’t you explain yourselves? I predicted in advance that it would go wrong and it did. Please explain now.

Nathan,

It would be nice to know your surname – I like people to identify themselves properly here.

You are right that the officers are well rewarded and on the whole very capable. They are not though subjected to the competitive pressure that most businesses are. Their customers have no choice about using the services provided by the council. The councillors have a role therefore in being the voice of the consumer. Like I say from the officers’ point of view the rubbish problems have been contained – no financial penalty to council, no bags on the street after the first couple of weeks or so. But, for six weeks the council has been quietly wasting the time of half of the recyclers in the borough who willingly give up their time and space in their houses so that the council can save money. This is the big customer service issue that the Tory councillors want to see rectified quickly.

Phil

I am having a problem with this and so are many others.

You are a politician and if you make a decision which then is overturned or nearly so by another politician who knew of the problems but apparently did nothing about it, then it is understandable that you jump up and down. As politicians you are all out to discredit the other side etc, etc.

And on the recycling front where by virtue of a political decision you Tories improved the operation at several levels it is completely understandable that political incompetence on the part of Bassam is a point for valid criticism, where it undermines a previously good decision.

The residents expected the opposition to make political hay, but on this occasion they wanted something else AS WELL, and this time you all had advance notice.

I asked you above to comment on something which is not political.

Since you have avoided the question I am going to spell it out.

When a contract is let to a new supplier it is incumbent on the Officers, with a fine tooth comb, to check that the new contract will work. So, with bags of time, they had to check the schedules, and also whether the right vehicles were going to be provided. They then had to tell the boss, the employer i.e. the Councillors that all was set fair as regards the new contract.

That’s Officer work. That’s not political. Residents don’t want incompetent Officers.

If as you say they are not subject to competitive pressure, then in a modern world what we do need is people who do have the appropriate experience to do the job properly. However checking schedules competently barely requires an ‘O’ Level.

So the questions are:
What is the employer going to do about incompetent Officers?
And why was this not bottomed out at the meeting?

Phil

You have slightly missed my point in the previous note.

However in reply the government sets recycling targets for local authorities – Ealing have proposed a number of initiatives to meet these targets including increasing/ encouraging public participation in kerb side recycling. Officers have a responsibility in ensuring this happens.

Officers have a responsibility in minimising their contractors carbon footprint – this has historically been achieved by the participation/ cooperation/ assistance of residents who separate their recycled waste (eliminating the need to use the MRF facility).

Why is it acceptable to pay someone £100k + to manage/ administer the environmental services contract who clearly is unable deliver a basic contract service (after 8 months of forward preparation)? Why is it acceptable to accept substandard officer work?

Nathan Larkin

George and Nathan,

You both seem to be frustrated that the role of officers in this event has not been publicly dissected. Very few organisations want to put their key people in the public stocks when they are actively engaged in sorting out a problem. If there is a case to answer then people will be held to account. If the council did this in public and didn’t apply due process it would get taken apart very expensively at an employment tribunal. At least the political noise let’s us communicate the seriousness of this issue to officers and the supplier. They will all be keen to make the problem go away and the best way of doing that is to fix it. The politics does have a point.

Phil

I fear you have missed the point again – take the politics out of it, and have a real think about how this service has been delivered.

And considering this, how would you fix the problem?

Nathan

Phil

I have to agree with Nathan

There are two problems not one.
Sorting the mess, but also attending to incompetence on the part of the Officers which is the other problem.

I am not prepared to see any local politician sweep incompetence the under the carpet; otherwise it will be repeated. Nowhere have I suggested that this should be a Tribunal issue.

There is a sense here of the Westminster Village, translated locally into Ealing High Street, going on here. The public is being excluded.

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