Last nightâ€™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 â€œa solutions personâ€, is Cllr Bassam Mahfouz, the portfolio holder for Environment and Transport. He said: â€œI reiterate our unreserved apologyâ€. A more direct form of words such as â€œI am sorryâ€ might have made him sound a little more contrite but contrition isnâ€™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 â€œYou didnâ€™t askâ€.
After Labourâ€™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 â€œfiascoâ€. In his speech Bell claimed that â€œTodayâ€™s missed collections were very fewâ€ and that the service was â€œessentially back to normalâ€. 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 Â£85 million of cuts. Labourâ€™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, Labourâ€™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 â€“ 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. â€œBack to normalâ€. No. I fear that we have achieved a rather worse new normal.