Stoke-on-Trent City Council Waste Management ““ Lessons Must Be Learned.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Audit Committee have today [Wednesday] concluded that the Authority must learn the lessons from the issues raised in an Internal Audit into the Waste Management services which led to the purchase of 84000 wheelie bins without the knowledge of any elected representatives.

The committee also moved a motion accepting the Internal Audit’s recommendations in their entirety and they also noted a letter from the District Auditor which supports its findings.

There will also be an Action Plan implemented that will ensure that officers keep elected members informed of the progress in meeting the Internal Audit’s recommendations.

4.1 It is acknowledged that many of the issues raised in this report took place at a time where the organisational structure and arrangements of the Waste Management Service was going through substantial changes; this led to a significant loss of expertise. Furthermore the staff who were in post when decisions were made/actions taken are no longer employed by the council and as a result any potential recommendations involving disciplinary action have not been made. However Recommendation 4 acknowledges that although issues have been identified within Waste Management which cannot be taken up with individuals, they highlight a need for a council-wide response. In light of the findings contained within the above report, the following recommendations are made:-

R1 That a comprehensive cost analysis is undertaken to
establish the full costs of both the enhanced recycling scheme and its predecessor. This analysis should take into account all associated costs (and revenues), for example income from saleable recyclables, achievement of savings, and costs of changing systems such as compensation arrangements. This should be reported to Cabinet and the appropriate Overview and Scrutiny Committee at a date to be agreed.

R2 That ongoing analysis and reporting of performance against government recycling targets is maintained, including an analysis of costs in the areas under scrutiny. This must take into account known variances and the impact this may have on future performance.

R3 That a cross party working group be established to review the council’s current and future waste management policy.

R4 Building upon the implementation of the council’s accountability framework, that a mandatory training programme is instigated to all council employees to strengthen compliance with regulations, including the specific requirements of the constitution.

R5 Building upon earlier requests that reports contain accurate and timely information and are clear and transparent and have been rigorously reviewed by Legal Services, Finance, HR and contain appropriate risk management information.

R6 That appropriate succession planning is implemented immediately to ensure that information is retained and appropriate handovers take place so that there is consistency in service delivery when key staff leave. This is particularly important in the current climate.

R7 That officers are reminded that disciplinary action will be taken in cases of serious breaches of Financial Regulations and Contract Procedure Rules.

Committee councillors voiced their disappointment over the
actions of officers involved in Waste Management, the procurement of the blue bins at an unnecessary cost of £1.63million and that the WRAP report had no member involvement.

They also took the opportunity to voice their anger over the city’s governance arrangements at the time of the fiasco. Councillors, Salih, Brian, John Davies and Coleman all cited the Elected Mayor/Council Manager system as being the catalyst for officers to treat elected members as if they did not exist or were of no importance.

Labour Councillors Hill, Hamer and Dillon insisted that relationship between officers and elected members must improve especially as many officers were losing their jobs and some were being relocated to different jobs and in some cases, different departments. There was a concern that some officers were taking on new duties without the appropriate hand-over period and information.

Cllr Hill said that it was irrelevant what the relationships between officer and members was like in the past but is was essential that communication between the officer core and members improved dramatically in the future as it was essential to the relationships that councillors had with the electorate and how communities engaged with the process of the city council.

Cllr Mick Salih voiced his anger that the Internal Audit did not name any officers involved but did contain the names of any elected members that were involved at the time.

He said that it was in the public interest that the officers involved in the issues highlighted in the Audit report were named even if they had left the city council and were employed in other authorities.

I do think that there have been some failings in the decision making and procurement arrangements.
I share the Internal Audits concerns about the process leading up to the decision to change recycling arrangements in 2008. As a result the City Council is not in a position to clearly demonstrate that value for money was achieved.

He said that he supports the Internal Audit’s recommendation that “Ëœa comprehensive cost analysis is undertaken to establish the full costs of both the Enhanced Recycling scheme and its predecessor’.

The Internal Audit investigation has highlighted several procedural defects including:

“¢ Failure to secure an approved Exemption Certificate for the temporary variation to the City Council’s green waste contract.

“¢ Poor record keeping in support of the blue bin purchase.

“¢ The fact that the bins were purchased before members had approved any requirement for them.

“¢ Purchase of the blue bins was not in the Forward Plan, nor it appears were urgent decision processes followed.

“¢ The lack of clarity over the decision to abandon the first composting procurement; and

“¢ The failure to ascertain why companies who tendered on the first occasion chose not to re-tender.

Clearly this situation is not satisfactory. However I am reassured that the City Council asked Internal Audit to investigate these events; their report has been made public and agreed by the Chief Executive. I do not currently believe that there is a case for a formal audit action on my part, but I will keep developments under review as I have said above and i will take these matters into account in my value for money conclusions for the relevant years.

Pits n Pots carried out a comprehensive investigation into the Waste Management and Enhanced Recycling procedures at Stoke-on-Trent city Council and we conclude that the Internal Audit proved our concerns valid.

We went into this investigation to highlight that under the Elected Mayor/Council Manager system of Governance there was a culture among certain high ranking officers that the individuals that we, the people of Stoke-on-Trent, elect to serve us were treated appallingly and were considered irrelevant in certain instances.

We believe that this reports that the WRAP report was “Ëœburied, and its recommendations never discussed with elected members.

We believe that 84000 blue bins were purchased at a cost of £1.63 million when there was not member approval and were not necessarily required.

We believe that there were never budget savings of £1million as stated by the City council.

We also believe that under the new system of Governance and under the direction of the new Chief Executive Officer there has been a considerable move to great openness and transparency. We feel that this internal audit is evidence of that.

We would like to thank those councillors who met with us and talked to us and gave us the help and assistance to bring this matter out into the open.

Please now take the time to read the Internal Audit Report and the letter from the District Auditor which can be found by clicking the links below.

Enhanced Recycling Scheme Goes To Audit Committee

This morning Stoke-on-Trent City Council Audit Committee are sitting and will be reviewing the Waste Management Services Audit Report.

The Waste Management Services Audit Report is the internal review which was instigated after Pits n pots investigated the procurement of the Blue Recycling bins & the enhanced recycling trial.

The 25 page internal audit report, is item 7 on the agenda.

Having read through the report it seems to generate even more questions than it provides in answers. Reading the Executive Summary of the report shows that:

Officers presented a detailed report to CDB (Corporate Directors Board) & EMB briefings. Meeting minutes show that the report was discussed at length yet the final report to the EMB which was used to make the decision to move to alternate weekly collections was only 3 pages long and was lacking in detail at this point Councillor Brian Ward and others called the decision in, (a small point that Councillor Ward forgot until Pits n Pots reminded him in November).

The council requested WRAP report was never presented to the EMB so it was impossible for the EMB to to make a sound rational decision based on fact.

The report highlights that the 84,000 Blue Bins were purchased in two batches in September & November 2008, before the decision to move to alternate weekly collections was made. The report states that the identity of the officers who placed the orders is known and that the investigation has failed to find any evidence of member involvement in the purchase.

‘Misunderstandings’ between officers meant that it was never clear in subsequent reports as to how the costs of the blue bins would be accounted for.

All the officers involved in drawing up the 2007 Waste Management Strategy and proposals for enhanced recycling have now left the city council so any of the recommendations for disciplinary action can not be fulfilled.

We will report on the outcome of the Audit Committee meeting later, but based on what we have seen in the report so far, it appears that under the previous administration the council was run by the interim council leader, directors & officers with no accountability and little or no member input.

Of course recommendations have been made in the report to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Image Used under License

Blue Bins For The Enhanced Recycling Scheme Purchase Or Lease That is The Question

After doing some further investigation in to the Enhanced Recycling trial we have turned up yet another anomaly with the blue bins that leads us to believe the Elected Members were not furnished with the full facts when scrutinising the results of the Enhanced Recycling trial.

The EMB appear to have nodded the Enhanced Recycling Scheme through at the meeting 3 December 2008 only to have it called in by the Improving Communities Overview & Scrutiny committee on 24 December.

The O&S Committee approved the recycling trail with the following recommendations

  1. that following the train and before consideration of the rolling out of the enhanced recycling scheme, a detailed and evidence based evaluation of the trail be submitted to a future meeting of the committee
  2. that all members are kept informed of the relevant progress, reports and meetings are given formal opportunity to participate and give feedback

On 21 May 2009 the O&S Committee sat and heard the the detailed evidence based evaluation of the trial (all 6 pages of it) from Interim Assistant Chief Executive Mike Maunder and other officers.

that he had concerns with regard to the Executive Summary of the report and questioned whether the recyclable value was being maximised and why we needed to wait until the end of the year in order to ascertain the financial aspects of the scheme as he felt that an independent assessment should be carried out immediately. He felt that the decision to go down this route had been decided before the trial was even undertaken and that, even though there was no going back from this position, he was still not convinced that it was the most appropriate way to deal with the issue. He felt that a number of issues had not been given due consideration such as the cost of kerbside versus co-mingled collection and that no detailed analysis of cost had been undertaken. He asked what independent assessment of the current system had taken place and asked whether it was proposed to have one in the future.

Indicated that details of the savings etc. had been set out in the report which had been considered as part of the call-in. He indicated that it had been understood at the start of the trial that there would be a large take up but what was uncertain was the subsequent level of “tail off” that would occur. At the end of the year it would be possible to give members a better feel for that in terms of the trial areas. In addition, the other uncertainty was regarding the value of recyclables, which had therefore not been incorporated into the budget arrangements.
In response to a previous question about the costs associated with the provision of bins etc., he indicated that this had been part of a leasing arrangement and that it had been clear that as part of this agreement that, if we did not make this provision we would not have been in a position to proceed with enhanced recycling this year. If the trial had not been successful, we would have been able to recover the money for the bins because of the current national demand for them.

Which appears to indicate that he was telling the O&S Committee that the blue bins were leased rather than purchased which is in direct opposition to what Jane Forshaw said in her interview with Pits n Pots and which has been confirmed by the council, that the bins were indeed purchased.

So the question is, were to O&S committee able to make a qualified decision on the Enhanced Recycling trial without being aware of the full facts?

The O&S Committee members at the meeting were:

  • David Conway – Chair
  • Randolph Conteh – Vice Chair
  • Michael Barnes
  • Michael Coleman
  • Rita Dale
  • John Daniels
  • John Davis
  • David Sutton

The WRAP report commissioned in 2007 which was as far as we can tell ignored and not put before the EMB at the time was also mentioned in the meeting by one of the officers present.

In terms of the independent report, the national organisation WRAP had carried out a review.

Image used under license

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Enhanced Recycling – UPDATED

AUDIO INTERVIEW WITH KEY COUNCIL OFFICER NOW ONLINE!

Following on from the investigation by George Harvey in to the true costs of the Enhanced Recycling scheme operated by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Pits n Pots sent a copy of the article to the city council asking for a response, the following statement was sent

We are very proud of the achievements we have made in increasing recycling rates in the city. In fact our recycling rates have doubled in the past four years and the feedback we get from members of the public is that the system is easy to use and that they feel more compelled to recycle as a result. The new recycling system has allowed us to reach the 40% recycling targets set down by the government in 2007. In choosing which system to adopt, we had to balance the ease of use for the residents, the level of recycling we would achieve and the cost which would best support both. Materials recycled in Stoke go to plants all over the country and the resultant products are used all over the world, and around 99% of what goes into the recycling bins is reused in some way.

Given the nature of the allegations raised in the investigation we did not feel that a suitable response had been made and have asked the following questions:

It does not however, answer ANY of the issues raised in the article. I would therefore request an urgent response to the specific questions below:

  1. Given the Council appointed WRAP to advise on measures to increase recycling in the City to achieve recycling targets laid down in legislation why was this report not made available to the portfolio holder and subsequent cabinet member and the the elected members of the council?
  2. Why were the ‘blue’ bins ordered before the trial? Why did they not go through the normal tendering process? Why did officers insist that blue bins were needed when the WRAP report indicated that they were no additional requirement for wheelie bins? Why did an officer of the council order these bins at a cost of £1.6million without the approval of the council executive i.e the EMB at the time?
  3. Why was the contractor responsible for the existing recycling scheme told that he contract will terminate in April 2009, before the trials?
  4. It appears that a particular Council Officer decided unilaterally to terminate the kerbside recycling contract BEFORE the enhanced recycling trial, orders bins for the whole City BEFORE the trial, buries the WRAP report which is never seen by Cllrs and WRAP are not allowed to present it to them. The WRAP conclusions are then later doctored by the same officer and the City as a result has spent £1.6 million it didn’t need to spend on wheelie bins it didn’t need and issued a 10 year contract to Vital Earth in Ashbourne when a firm based in Stoke was capable of providing this service. Will the CEO and the Council Leader hold an internal investigation into the conduct of this officer and a strategic review of the processes adopted in this matter and investigate whether there is a case of misconduct?
  5. Will the council now accept, that based on the evidence now before them, that they misled the public about there being £1million of savings? Will there be any action taken in relation to the fact that not only were there not savings of £1million but there were £3,498,170 of costs NOT budgeted for?

We would like to formally request an audio interview with the CEO John van de Laarschot and Council Leader Mohammed Pervez in the absence of suitable written responses to the above questions.

We also request a response from the EMB member with responsibility Cllr Joy Garner and the Cabinet Member with responsibility Cllr John Daniels [who we know had concerns in relation to this matter].

We noticed that Jane Forshaw, Head of Environmental Services was seen being interviewed on the One Show on BBC1 last night explaining how good the Stoke-on-Trent Enhanced Recycling Scheme was.

UPDATE: 23:32 Earlier this evening we interviewed Jane Forshaw the lead officer of the department concerned. Please listen to the Audio Below.

If you have any further queries/questions or concerns please contact the site. We have been promised that any supplementary questions will receive a response.

Enhanced Recycling – What Cost To The City?

When it was introduced, the enhanced recycling scheme was sold to residents on the basis that it would save the City £1million per year as well as achieving an enhanced rate of recycling that would enable the council to meet its recycling targets.

Throughout the supposed trial many of us raised objections and asked serious questions about the claims being made by Officers.

As I saw it, the issues at the time were, whether the particular methods of recycling being proposed by the Council provided the best mix of cost, efficiency and, importantly, security. The latter was important as we had just experienced a collapse in global markets for recycled materials and only those of the highest quality were being sold, the rest remained unsold in depots across the country.

The Councils proposals were a retrograde step in this regard and the claimed saving of £1million did not stack up as it had so many glaring omissions, not least ignoring the costs of disposal of the recycled materials.

It has taken some months but now a number of FOIs have begun to reveal the truth which is both frightening and also sickening that the Council can be so bad and cost its citizens so much.

Enhanced Recycling Scheme – Costs not budgeted for

  • Blue Wheelie bins. (It was originally planned for these to be leased) ““ £1,600,000
  • Termination cost for current kerbside contract – £50,000
  • Redevelopment of Burslem MRF – £263,170
  • Increased business rates for Burslem MRF (previously paid by the contractor) – unknown
  • Changes to Fowlchurch depot ““ interim arrangements – £20,000
  • Increased cost of disposal of green and food waste

Under the old scheme:

  • Green Waste Tonnes ““ 7,500 tonnes x £26.00 = £195,000

Under the enhanced scheme:

  • Green & Food Waste Tonnes ““ 16,000 tonnes x £65 = £1,040,000
  • Additional cost – £845,000
  • Increased costs of disposal of green waste from Household Waste sites – unknown
  • Increased costs of park and highways green waste disposal – unknown (The real reason why grass cuttings were left on the verge)
  • Change in costs of disposal of dry recyclables (paper, plastic etc.) – unknown
  • Loss of revenue from Newcastle BC @ £7.00/tonne – unknown (Newcastle used the Burslem MRF until they were kicked out)
  • Cost of diversion of waste from Waste to Energy plant – £645,000
  • Costs of TUPE staff from Abitibi to Council ““ unknown
  • Additional staff brought in to manage scheme;
    2 assistant recycling officers plus 1 coordinator – £75,000

Total Costs not budgeted for – £3,498,170

The purchase of the blue wheelie bins cost the City £1.6million but was not necessary and indeed the Government body appointed by the Council to advise on the scheme, WRAP, advised the Council to go down a different route that did not require purchase of wheelie bins. WRAP advised the use of multi compartment vehicles to allow kerbside sorting of dry recyclables, together with separate collections for food waste and garden waste.

The details are as follows;

  1. The Council appointed WRAP to advise on measures to increase recycling in the City to achieve recycling targets laid down in legislation
  2. WRAP produced a report based on improving the established kerbside sorting scheme and introducing collection of food waste. WRAP concluded that an improvement to this scheme including a weekly collection of food waste (separate from garden waste) would be the best scheme and would only entail the purchase of kitchen caddies (@£2ish each) for the food waste. In their report WRAP never advised the Council to purchase new wheelie bins as none were needed for their preferred method of collection. WRAP are also critical of the scope of the report as they were not asked to include disposal costs. WRAP decided to do so anyway.
  3. The WRAP report was buried, Cllrs were not advised of its existence and no Cllrs saw it until recently. WRAP offered to present to cabinet but this offer was ignored by officers.
  4. A certain officer later produced a report which doctored the WRAP conclusions and claimed WRAP recommended comingled collection (it did not) and that this would require purchase of new wheelie bins (@ £17ish each). Total cost of the bins was £1.6million.
  5. The Council did not go to tender for the bins.
  6. The Council did not get written quotes or written assurances of time for delivery from suppliers.
  7. The same officer stated that only one supplier could supply bins within the timeframe, Craemer. No written evidence exists of any enquiries to Craemer or indeed to any other supplier.
  8. The same officer ordered the bins without authorisation from a Cllr or from the EMB. Note: the order was placed in Oct & Nov 2008, before the recycling trial. It appears the officer had decided strategy himself without reference to any others.
  9. The contractor responsible for the existing recycling scheme is told that he contract will termiate in April 2009, before the trials.
  10. To facilitate the change to co-mingled collection and to bring this service in-house, changes were required to the Federation Road MRF which cost in the order of £ 263,170. See this FOI Request

The knock on effect of this was that the disposal options for the food waste (now to be collected with garden waste) meant that only In Vessel Composting (IVC) was considered a suitable option, Due to the presence of food waste open windrow composting could not be used and AD was dismissed out of hand as too expensive. Note; Newcastle which previously had the same system as Stoke and shared facilities with Stoke followed WRAPs recommendations and now sends food waste to Gnosall to an anaerobic digestion plant (@£35/tonne – note the price), garden waste still goes to Simpro @ £26/tonne.

The next steps in the story are;

  1. A tender was issued for IVC in the City.
  2. Vital Earth from Ashbourne complained angrily and verbally about the limitation on having a site within the City and claimed it prevented them from tendering. It did not they just had to acquire a suitable site as any other competitor would have to.
  3. This same officer then stated that there was no suitable site within the city, this despite having received a proposal from Biffa for exactly this at their Newstead site a year previously and despite the City Planner being in talks with other companies about AD/IVC at a particular site in the City. Following this an independent report on availability of suitable sites in Stoke was done which identified over 20 suitable sites.
  4. The tender is pulled by this same officer and re-issued allowing companies to bid whose sites are not within the City. Biffa (Newstead site) refuse to tender in the second round “it’s a done deal” was their view. In the second tender, Vital Earth put in a tender and guess what, they win. Price is £65/tonne to start with. Compare to Newcastle’s costs?

So, to sum up, it appears that a particular Council Officer decided unilaterally to terminate the kerbside recycling contract BEFORE the enhanced recycling trial, orders bins for the whole City BEFORE the trial, buries the WRAP report which is never seen by Cllrs and WRAP are not allowed to present it to them. The WRAP conclusions are then later doctored by the same officer and the City as a result has spent £1.6 million it didn’t need to spend on wheelie bins it didn’t need and issued a 10 year contract to Vital Earth in Ashbourne when a firm based in Stoke was capable of providing this service.

There are many more aspects to this story which relate to the best methods of collection/recycling, joined up working etc., but the few details above are enough to illustrate the lack of strategic thinking and lack of any kind of effective management in this section of the Council.

What do our Councillors make of this? Any of them care to comment?

Links to other relevant FOIs are below