Delays to thousands of bin collections across Breckland
- Credit: Archant
Thousands of households in a Norfolk district have seen delays to their regular bin collections as a row erupts over working conditions and a poor standard of service.
Wheelie bins in parts of Breckland have not been collected on time since Monday, with as many as 2,500 left unemptied by Wednesday evening.
Problems continued into Thursday morning in the Thetford and Dereham areas.
It comes as district councillors launched a stinging attack on Serco, the company in charge of waste collection in Breckland, North Norfolk and West Norfolk.
Roger Atterwill, who represents Lincoln ward, near Dereham, said the situation had been "absolutely appalling" since a new £230m deal began earlier this year.
Breckland Council has put this week's disruption down to staff sickness, rendering smaller crews "unable" to complete scheduled rounds.
But Unison, which represents a large proportion of the workforce, said employees were already being "run ragged".
Moreover, the EDP understands an incentive for binmen to complete rounds quickly no longer exists.
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One source told this newspaper: "There's a huge amount of unhappiness among disgruntled binmen.
"Things have changed since the new contract came in. There used to be an incentive for roundsmen to get done sooner but that has gone.
"You used to see binmen running between houses but that's not happening any more, which is leading to the build-up."
With the collection backlog growing worse, crews are set to work into the weekend to catch up.
Residents have been instructed to leave their bins out, including in the following locations:
- Attleborough (Leys Lane, Halfords and Pine Court)
- Saham Toney
Sarah Suggitt, Breckland's cabinet member for contracts, insisted the setback was down to staff absence.
"Staff are working extra shifts and will be collecting outstanding bins over the weekend to make sure we are caught up," she said.
"We apologise for any inconvenience caused and would like to thank residents for their patience."
However, Cameron Matthews, eastern organiser for Unison, argued too much was being asked of workers.
He said: "Breckland’s bin workers are being run ragged. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to complete the job Serco expects.
"Rather than allow more time, Serco has banned overtime and told staff to get on with it.
"Workers report feeling threatened to keep going beyond their normal workday to finish the job.
"When everyone is stretched to their limit, there’s no-one left to pick up the slack if people are forced to go off sick."
Serco's deal with the trio of councils is set to continue for nine years, but it has been far from smooth sailing thus far.
Terry Jermy, district councillor for the Thetford Burrell ward, said there had already been countless headaches.
"We have been raising concerns about Serco for months," he added.
"It's almost amusing to hear of the delays to bin collections, as that is the only area where they have been performing well.
"Grounds maintenance has consistently been a problem. We have had rampant weed spraying, and certainly in Thetford we had overflowing litter bins.
"They are not supposed to shred litter when they are grass cutting because it leaves dangerous bottles and cans, but they have been."
Mr Jermy's council colleague, Mr Atterwill, added: "We've got massive problems with the grass cutting element of the contract. They have not been attending anywhere near often enough.
"In Swanton Morley they left a month between visits, and you can imagine how long it gets in that time.
"They are supposed to cut around street signs and bins as well, but instead they are spraying weed killer everywhere because it means they don't have to come back and strim it.
"There seems to be a big problem with this contract, full stop."
Ms Suggitt said the council was aware of "operational issues" at Serco, but confident they would be addressed.
"Covid has played a big part in this, including delaying the delivery of brand new equipment and changing how we all use our household and public bins," she added.
"Other initiatives such as ‘No mow May’ have seen the council deliberately let some wildflower areas grow long in order to boost bee numbers."