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Agenda item

Ubico Report 2020/21

To consider the 2020/21 outturn performance update on the services provided by Ubico. 

Minutes:

24.1          The report of the Head of Community Services, circulated at Pages No. 37-64, set out the 2020/21 outturn performance update on the services provided by Ubico.  Members were asked to consider the report.

24.2          The Head of Community Services drew attention to Page No. 39, Paragraph 3.0 of the report, which gave financial performance information and Members were advised there was an underspend of £160,455 at the end of the year.  The savings could be attributed to a number of factors: the cost of diesel had reduced; an underspend on the tyre budget – which had been set at a high level for the Tewkesbury Borough contract due to being sorely hit by tyre costs in 2019; and an underspend on vehicle repairs, although that was an area of risk as vehicles became older as maintenance costs would increase.  In terms of frontline services performance, set out at Pages No. 39-40, Paragraph 4.0 of the report, Members were informed that the overall bin collection rate for the year was 99.93% which was very positive and there was improved performance in terms of repeat missed bin collection and repeat missed assisted collections.  Health and safety information was detailed at Page No. 41, Paragraph 5.0 of the report, and it was noted there had been a positive trend in terms of increased reports of near misses; there had been a huge rise during the first six months of the year due to more cars being parked in roads as a result of increased home working during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The number of overweight vehicles remained high and had increased compared to previous years so that was an area of concern which needed to be addressed.  The Head of Community Services advised that he had reviewed the number of formal complaints for 2020/21 as 26 complaints with regard to the waste and street cleansing service, as set out at Paragraph 4.6 of the report, seemed quite low.  He confirmed that the figures provided in the report related to quarter four and he undertook to update Members on the correct figures for the year following the meeting.  The Ubico Director of Operations indicated that the contract had performed well in 2020/21 despite it being a very difficult year and the partnership between Ubico and the Council had paid dividends through those tough months.  He would be happy to answer any questions Members may have about the information provided.

24.3           A Member questioned why the report did not include information in respect of grounds maintenance and street cleansing as those services were also provided by Ubico and had Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which were monitored by the authority.  The Ubico Director of Operations indicated that the report always followed the same format and it was shared with the Head of Community Services and his team; however, if Members wanted additional information to be included then he would ensure that was provided going forward.

24.4          A Member raised concern with regard to the overweight vehicles and he questioned how that was intended to be addressed.  The Ubico Director of Operations explained this was a knock on effect from increased tonnage which was monitored on the rounds.  The way it currently worked was that crews knew how many streets they could collect from before they needed to tip; however, when tonnage increased the number of streets reduced.  Although there was an overweight procedure in place, a meeting had taken place that week regarding the introduction of a formal policy – it had not been a major concern in the past but it was now felt this was necessary given the number of overweight vehicles.  In response to a query, the Ubico Director of Operations advised that not all vehicles currently had weighing scales; not all vehicles tipped, some had stillages which were taken out.  He confirmed that weight information would be available when in-cab technology was introduced – overweight vehicles was a really serious issue for Ubico and he provided assurance that it was being addressed.  The Ubico Head of Operations advised that the vehicles tended to be overweight by around 30/40 kilograms rather than half a tonne or more so it was not a huge amount.  Sometimes crews had to make a decision as to whether they finished a round to ensure it was complete rather than stopping to go back to the tip. 

24.5           Another Member congratulated Ubico on the work carried out during the pandemic and indicated he was aware of a lot of positive feedback in respect of bin collections.  Notwithstanding this, he had a real concern regarding the overweight vehicles as what may have been a fairly predictable weight per street was likely to have increased with people working from home meaning there would be major changes in terms of the number of streets that could be collected from before reaching capacity and he asked what was being done to ensure that crews complied.  The Ubico Director of Operations stressed that Ubico had been working in partnership with the Head of Community Services and his team throughout the pandemic; they tended to be in contact two or three times per day.  The issue of overweight vehicles had only recently been highlighted and was now starting to reduce; nevertheless, in-cab technology was essential as the calculations on the number of streets that could be collected from prior to tipping were based on estimates currently.  If crews did collect from more streets than they should be, for instance if they were nearing the end of a round, they would be instructed and re-trained; the next stage would be a disciplinary and he confirmed both actions had certainly been taken.  In response to a query regarding the timescales for the in-cab technology, the Head of Community Services advised that it was a big project for Ubico across all partners.  Tewkesbury Borough Council had allocated money for the project in the 2021/22 budget and the procurement process had been completed.  Cotswold District Council had gone through the process last year so the intention had been to utilise that work; however, that was not technically possible so it was a case of Ubico having to start again from scratch with each of the other partners.  As such, he was sceptical the project would be achieved within the current financial year and the allocated funding would be carried over into 2022/23 with completion during that year.  The Member expressed concern that 18 months of breaking the rules was simply too long and the Ubico Head of Operations acknowledged that and provided assurance that Ubico did not want that to continue so they were re-training the crews and removing streets from rounds where necessary in order to address the issue.  He explained that it had been difficult to recruit and retain drivers over the last 12 months – that was a key factor as a regular driver had an understanding of the rounds and knew when to tip.  Over the last two to three months there had been more stability in terms of drivers and more settled rounds so vehicles were comfortably underweight when tipping.  A Member questioned which of the crew was disciplined for an overweight vehicle and was advised that the driver was ultimately responsible for the load; however, if they were new agency drivers that was taken into consideration as the crew were the full-time members of staff.  The Ubico Director of Operations explained that they issued a route risk assessment for every route which set out where to tip and gave any specific instructions, for example, if there was a school on the route, the driver would be directed not to drive down that road at certain times etc.  The Chair could not understand why the vehicles did not have weighloaders and expressed concern regarding the efficiency of the rounds.  The Ubico Director of Operations agreed and recognised that Ubico and its partners were very behind the times in terms of in-cab technology.  This had just been installed in the Cotswold District Council waste fleet and it was hoped that all other partners would soon be at that stage.

24.6          A Member noted from the report that fly-tipping requests and dead animal removal requests were both below target and he asked whether that was related to COVID-19 as the timings did not seem to suggest that was the case.  The Head of Community Services explained that the amount of fly-tipping had increased significantly so it was not surprising Ubico had been unable to keep up.  The Ubico Director of Operations indicated that he was not able to provide an answer but was happy to look into it following the meeting.  The Member went on to draw attention to Page No. 63 of the report which set out the Tewkesbury projects and, with regard to the implementation of a sweeper schedule, he noted there was ground work to be done by a sweeper specialist so he asked how the sweeping was being done at the moment and what in-house expertise were lacking.  In response, the Ubico Director of Operations advised there had been a delay on the sweeper which was still awaited; that was due to COVID-19 as it had not been possible to obtain the chips which were needed for the electronics in new vehicles.  Tewkesbury Borough Council would be getting a different sized sweeper and it was intended to use the one that had been delivered to Cotswold District Council in the interest of efficiency; the downside of that was the increased tonnage which resulted in a disappointing cost increase.  Instead of having an expert trained for every contract, it was intended to carry out in-house training so that resource could effectively be borrowed for the day to carry out training on new vehicles. The Member asked for clarification as to what a sweeper schedule actually was and was informed that it was a lot like the mowing schedule whereby a schedule was drawn up for a week, or a number of weeks, based on distance and tonnage that could be achieved, and the same schedule was followed every week or month.  The Head of Community Services advised that they were in the process of identifying priority areas, for instance, places with high footfall, such as Tewkesbury High Street, which generated more litter and would therefore be swept more frequently; however, it was difficult to plan until the new sweeper arrived.  He pointed out that the current schedule was more efficient than it had been three years ago when the rounds were planned alphabetically.  The new sweeper would be to replace one of two sweepers Tewkesbury Borough Council had currently.

24.7          A Member drew attention to Page No. 39, Paragraph 3.1 of the report, which stated there had been a contract saving of £160,455 for the year and he asked what would happen to that money.  In response the Head of Finance and Asset Management advised that it went into the overall surplus and the reserves had been decided to meet various needs – he would pick this up in more detail at Agenda Item 10 – Financial Outturn Report 2020/21.  Another Member noted there had been a significant saving on diesel costs but that would not be the case going forward and the Ubico Head of Operations confirmed that the cost had been 0.98p per litre on the forecourt during 2020/21 but that had now increased to £1.32 per litre; although Ubico was able to get this cheaper, it would still be a marked increase from the previous year.  A Member indicated that the company he worked for used food waste to generate fuel for lorries which cost 18p per litre and he questioned whether Ubico had considered doing the same.  The Head of Community Services advised that more consideration had been given to hydrogen or electric; however, he did not think the technology was quite there yet for such large trucks and the current fleet would need retrofitting.

24.8          A Member drew attention to Page No. 40, Paragraph 4.5 of the report, and questioned what improvements had been made in terms of grounds maintenance.  The Ubico Head of Operations advised that the previous year had been one of the wettest for decades; that combined with the changes to the team working on the Tewkesbury Borough contract meant it had been difficult to familiarise themselves with the situation so improvement was needed.  Whilst not all measures had been put in place as yet, some changes had been made including a dedicated resource for the cemeteries.  He stressed it was a new team and they were still learning – a lot of experience had been lost when the previous supervisor had retired from his role after 28 years and the Operations Manager had been away on maternity leave and had subsequently returned to another role in the company.  A Member noted that Page No. 41, Paragraph 7.1 of the report, which related to projects, stated “Implement and review changes to grounds maintenance – in progress” and “Implement changes to street services – ready to be rolled out, we are awaiting confirmation” and he questioned what changes were being made as no detail was included.  The Ubico Director of Operations indicated that he did not have that information to hand and he undertook to provide this following the meeting.  The Member drew attention to the last bullet point which was around exploring potential for greater service integration with Tewkesbury to deliver operational efficiencies and improvements to collection rounds, trade waste and streets and grounds services and he asked for more clarity on this.  In response, the Head of Community Services advised there would be efficiencies in terms of how rounds were structured as a result of the trade waste project which was underway, and a piece of work was being carried out on a countywide basis to see what could be done with other partners.  He indicated that he would be happy to provide an overview of the projects which were underway at some point in future.

24.9           A Member understood that bulky waste was no longer dealt with by Ubico and he questioned what was being done with the savings.  The Head of Community Services explained that was a project being overseen by the Transform Working Group and an update would be provided to the next meeting of that Group.  Discussions were taking place with Ubico as to what capacity was available and that needed to be worked through in more detail.  He indicated that consideration was being given as to how the vehicles could be used more effectively e.g. for fly-tipping and that information would all be put forward to the Transform Working Group.  The Member referred to the table at Page No. 40, Paragraph 4.6 of the report, which the Head of Community had indicated contained the wrong information for 2020/21 in terms of waste and street cleansing service formal complaints.  He raised concern that the explanation provided was not correct as the information did not tally at all with that set out at Page No. 56 and he questioned whether the report was checked.  In response, the Head of Community Services confirmed this was an anomaly and he explained that the Council received formal complaints which Ubico may never see – the report covered those complaints the Council had dealt with directly whereas the figure provided by Ubico were the complaints which had gone to Ubico for resolution.

24.10         With regard to bin requests, set out at Page No. 49 of the report, a Member asked for clarification as to the expected and actual number of days between a request being made and the bin being delivered.  He noted that the number of refuse bins requested was 1,255 compared to 975 for recycling despite there being a charge for refuse bins and not recycling and he questioned why these figures were so different given that new houses would receive one of each.  The Head of Community Services explained that not all requests were for new houses, some were for replacements where bins had broken etc. so the numbers would always be different.  Since Ubico had stopped collecting bulky waste, there had been an improvement in delivery times but he did not have the detailed information.  The Ubico Head of Operations believed it was 21 days but he would need to check that.  He clarified that the drivers were now going out five days per week rather than 2.5 days per week.  Assurance was provided that properties were not left without bins as bags were provided in the interim.  A Member noted there was significant residential development within the borough and he questioned whether there was a corresponding increase in bin collections, for instance, was there a certain number of houses which triggered a new collection round or vehicle.  The Head of Community Services advised that whilst there was no figure as such, housing numbers were monitored – a new food waste vehicle had recently been purchased as there was no capacity within the current rounds to serve all properties within the borough.  In response to a query regarding fleet renewal, the Head of Community Services advised that the fleet was currently four years old so would be due for replacement in three years’ time; however, it would make more sense to profile the replacement over the contract period, rather than replacing them all in one go, so that was being considered.  It was noted that certain vehicles had already been replaced, such as the sweeper.

24.11         A Member asked for an update on the current situation with regard to the shortage of drivers.  The Ubico Director of Operations explained that, in terms of COVID-19, a lot of people had been required to self-isolate as a result of test and trace but that situation had improved over the last couple of weeks.  In terms of the national driver shortage, Ubico was promoting from within by offering training to loaders who wanted to drive.  There was discussion about a driver supplement across all contracts to make the jobs more attractive; whilst Ubico did not offer as much in terms of hourly rate as other companies, there was a reluctance to increase this but, by offering a supplement, it may help to entice the current drivers to stay at Ubico.  An emphasis was placed on promoting other positive aspects of the job such as work-life balance – eight drivers had recently gone to work for another company which operated on the basis of 12 hour shifts and half of those drivers had come back to Ubico because they preferred the work-life balance.  There was also more security because the nature of the business made it somewhat recession-proof.  In addition, it was intended to arrange an open day at the Swindon Road depot on a Saturday morning to give people an opportunity to see the range of work which Ubico carried out as that was hoped to attract a broader spectrum of people.  Adverts had been placed for part-time drivers earlier that week as it may be possible for drivers to share rounds; for instance, the Ubico Director of Operations explained that his neighbour was a retired lorry driver who was looking to get back into work for two or three days per week.  The Ubico Head of Operations stressed that, although Ubico was slightly behind the local market rate, it did not want to throw money away and still have vacancies given the current climate.  The Head of Community Services advised that the national driver shortage posed a real risk - a local authority in the Midlands used a national contractor which had not been able to deliver its waste service so the authority had suspended its recycling service meaning all waste went to the incinerator.  The Ubico Head of Operations also pointed out that Bristol City Council had suspended all garden waste collections for 10 weeks so it was certainly a major risk across the country.  A Member welcomed the measures Ubico was putting in place to try to overcome the issues with the national driver shortage, particularly in terms of bringing in retired drivers, and he questioned whether consideration had been given to extended hours contacts for existing drivers.  The Ubico Director of Operations advised that some were already working longer hours and that meant overtime costs increased.  Local agencies were struggling to get drivers and the quality of agency drivers was often very poor so Ubico was looking at all other options.  A Member drew attention to Page No. 61 of the report and asked what the average number of sick days had been for the year – it was shown in months but there was no overall average.  The Ubico Director of Operations undertook to find out and advise Members following the meeting.

24.12        The Chair thanked the Ubico representatives for their report and it was

RESOLVED          1.That the Ubico outturn performance update on the services provided by Ubico be NOTED.

2. That future reports should include performance information on grounds maintenance, street cleansing and any other service provided by Ubico.

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