Update from Cllr Chris Watts, Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport
Put out on Facebook on 15th August, along with BBC Interview on 22nd August
In the spirit of the new administration being open and transparent, I am happy to continue to report. warts and all. These are challenging times and residents need to know.
The waste and recycling service has three challenges.
With year-on-year cuts to the service there are simply not enough employees, especially drivers, to cover when there is pressure due to seasonal holidays and sickness. In the last six weeks we have offered positions to three new drivers. Two have started and one has pulled out. Currently there is a policy to backfill with drivers from other parts of the council but this also causes issues.
2. Unserviceable vehicles
For such hardware there will always be an end-of-life metric that is based on, increased meantime between failure, parts availability, obsoletions and financial viability based on increased downtime and increased maintenance cost. Becoming economically unviable will always come to pass whatever the maintenance regime and in the case of the current fleet, this point passed some time ago and the tipping point has been reached this year. As stated, the new fleet will be available in the autumn, and I have requested that we try to commission some of newer vehicles earlier to ease the pressure. The Waterside mechanics have done a fantastic job keeping vehicles on the road, even salvaging obsolete parts from unserviceable vehicles. Under these circumstances this should be recognised.
3. Budget constraints / crisis
We have inherited a council that is on the brink of municipal bankruptcy (section 114), (like many Councils at present) with a £400,000,000 debt that cost £7,000,000 to service. The annual budget revenue the council has is approx. £163,000,000. In our first meeting with senior officers as an administration, we were informed that this year £15,000,000 of saving / cuts are required with a further projected £25,000,000 savings / cuts. We were also informed that children’s services had a projected overspend of £7,000,000. Budget pressures are also exacerbated by continued high interest rates affecting all costs.
(Reasonably, residents have asked why the service is reducing across the board when Council Tax has risen, and the tax base has increased. The answer is that the borough has three income streams through Council Tax, Business Rates and Central Government settlement CGS. Since 2012 the Government austerity policy has reduced the CGS from £45,000,000 to approx. £4,000,000 and this has precipitated a year-on-year budgetary deficit that has required cuts when the borough is increasing in size coupled with recent high inflation.)
Where do we go next?
Currently waste is not sent to landfill but to an incinerator. The incineration plant produces electricity. (we know incineration is not ideal) By moving to food waste collection in the autumn it is estimated that 8000 tons will be removed from incineration and sent to an anaerobic digester near Warmister. It cost the council £133 per ton for incineration but the council will be paid £12 per ton for food waste, therefore generating approx. £1,150,000 if the estimate is correct. With all things equal this should ensure additional budget for manpower and paying the loan for the new vehicles.
We will also be implementing the hybrid driver/loader position to give greater flexibility to be pro-active, not re-active.
Risks: overestimate on food waste tonnage and general SBC budgetary crisis.
2 Unserviceable vehicles
The new fleet will be under warranty with spares available therefore breakdowns will decrease, running cost and cost of ownership will be cheaper, freeing out budget to add to manpower and paying the loan.
Risks: quality of build / support / training in regard to new vehicles.
3 Budget constraints / crisis
We will have a better idea of the effect of the budgetary crisis in September. At present we are looking to a change of Government that will reform the CGS.
When the new vehicles roll out in the autumn, there will be addition resources organised into a flexible workforce using more reliable and cheaper to run vehicles with contingency for breakdown. Whilst risks listed above remain, the risk model should decrease significantly.
Risks: Initial teething problems with new routes and vehicles
Any more questions please feel free to get in touch. Cwatts2@swindon.gov.uk
Councillor, Old Town Ward
Cabinet Member for The Environment and Transport