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Agenda item

Ubico Report 2021/22

To consider the Ubico performance report for 2021/22. 


25.1          Attention was drawn to the report of the Waste Contracts Manager, circulated at Pages No. 35-66, which provided the annual update on the Ubico contract for waste and recycling collections, street cleansing and grounds maintenance services during 2021/22.  Members were asked to consider the report.

25.2          The Head of Community Services advised that, at the end of the financial year 2021/22, there was an underspend of £23,573 on the Ubico contract which was really positive.  In terms of delivering frontline services, collection rates had increased slightly with Ubico achieving 99.96% which was above the very tough target of 99.95%.  The grounds maintenance service had seen widespread improvement and all planned winter works had been completed along with the backlog from previous year; this had been achieved mainly through different ways of working introduced by Ubico’s new Grounds Maintenance and Street Cleansing Supervisor.  It was his understanding that the grass cutting season had commenced and was being delivered on a four weekly cycle.  Fly-tipping and dead animal removal times continued to miss the required targets; however, improvements were planned as part of the street cleansing project which aimed to free up capacity within the team by bringing existing workload onto the PSS live system.  With regard to health and safety, there had been a significant reduction in overweight vehicles from 89 to 39; it was illegal for vehicles to be overweight but it did happen when crews were almost at the end of rounds and wanted to finish before tipping.  Looking ahead, there were a number of big projects coming up over the next two years including fleet procurement with the whole vehicle fleet due to be replaced in 2024/25 having last been replaced in 2017; a piece of work was currently underway to establish whether this could be smoothed out to replace vehicles more gradually and avoid significant financial outlay every seven to eight years.  Part of this project would involve looking at new technology and, whilst it was considered that it was not the right time to move to hydrogen or electric vehicles, this was being kept in mind for future.  The Head of Community Services explained that this was a very complex matter, for instance, hydrogen and biofuel seemed to be a good idea but it was important to recognise that this could result in using more global energy due to the amount of energy it took to convert them into useable product.

25.3          A Member felt it was a very positive report but major savings were yet to be seen and he felt it was potentially time to take the next step in terms of achieving the economies of scale which had been promised when Ubico had been established.  He recognised there were difficulties in that other areas ran different types of collections etc. but he felt it was necessary to look at cross-boundary collections in order to become more economical, both in terms of refuse and recycling and grounds maintenance – this may also mean it was possible to have a smaller vehicle fleet.  The Head of Community Services agreed with this point and indicated that it may be possible for some of the smaller vehicles in the forthcoming round of procurement to be electric if the correct infrastructure was in place at the depot.  In terms of grounds maintenance, prior to the pandemic, Officers had worked with partners at Bromford and Bishop’s Cleeve Parish Council to establish who had responsibility for land within Bishop’s Cleeve in an attempt to come up with a more efficient maintenance regime – those meetings had taken place in person but it had proved to be extremely difficult as so many different parties had an interest in the land.  He was not saying it could not be done but it would be a significant piece of work and careful consideration would need to be given as to the level of support required.  With regard to refuse and recycling rounds, cross-boundary working had always been an aspiration in order to achieve economies of scale but it was more complicated than dividing up the rounds and, whilst there was a will as a county to do this big piece of work, it should be borne in mind that the changes DEFRA was proposing to bring in could completely change the current way of working.  In addition, consideration would need to be given to the Garden Town and whether those collections would be the same as technology would have moved on significantly by then.  Notwithstanding this, the Member had raised a fair point and he provided assurance this was something being considered.  The Ubico Director of Operations indicated that cross-boundary working was a high priority but assumed the same bins and sizes etc.  In-cab technology was being introduced for all Ubico partners and that would help significantly with this as rounds would be planned digitally.  The Member understood the responses but indicated this had been an aspiration for several years and he was keen to see it made reality.  He considered the Garden Town to be an aspiration currently and felt that issues such as bin sizes could be sorted out along the way as opposed to being used as a reason for delaying the work.  The Head of Community Services agreed and explained that a piece of work had been carried out with all partners at the end of last year to look at bin sizes and reducing carbon etc.  Whilst it could be done, there would be some difficult choices to make, for example, reducing bin size would mean changing every household bin in order to increase recycling and reduce waste which was a big project that would cost approximately £6.4m for the county.  The Chair suggested that, if there were projects underway with associated project plans, it would be beneficial to take those to the Depot Services Working Group.

25.4          A Member drew attention to Page No. 37, Paragraph 5.1 of the report which stated that a positive trend from 2020/21 had continued into 2021/22 with 745 near misses or safety concerns reported which did not cause an accident but could have and Paragraph 5.2 stated that vehicle accidents had reduced by one from the previous year – whilst any reduction in accidents and near misses was good, she questioned what was being done to reduce these figures further.  In response, the Ubico Head of Operations advised that any safety concerns and potential hazards were fed back to crews and relevant training was provided if necessary.  An example of a safety concern that could lead to an accident would be a heavy garden waste bin at the side of the road – crews were given manual handling training and recognised it was not acceptable practice to put their own health at risk.  In terms of vehicle accidents being reduced by one, this was a standalone figure so, across the year, there had been one less accident than the previous year.  If a driver had an accident they would undergo a driving assessment the following day and, subject to passing, would be monitored going forwards with a further assessment every six months; if the driver had a second accident, the assessment would be required every three months; if they had a third accident they would no longer be employed by Ubico.

25.5          A Member noted that in-cab technology had already been rolled-out to two authorities and he asked when it would be introduced for Tewkesbury Borough.  In response, the Ubico Director of Operations confirmed this was scheduled for 2023/24.  Cotswold District Council had opted to procure the system for themselves; Ubico had procured the system for the rest of the partners with Gloucester City Council going first.  The Member went on to draw attention to Page No. 36, Paragraph 3.2 of the report which referred to an underspend due to procurement of new policies coming in below expectations and he sought clarification as to what those policies were.  The Head of Community Services confirmed this related to insurance policies.  The Member was pleased to see that the 100% target for crew inspections had been achieved and he asked what those involved.  The Ubico Head of Operations advised that the supervisory team went to the location where crews were collecting and carried out checks to ensure they were following the safety register; if they were not, they would be retrained or disciplined, depending on the severity of the situation.   A Member queried whether the re-placement of bins on the pavement was assessed and confirmation was provided that this was part of the crew inspections but it was important to recognise this was just a spot check, it may be that the crew being inspected was replacing bins correctly but one around the corner was not – this was a problem for all partners but it was regularly communicated to crews to put bins back where they had got them from.  The Ubico Director of Operations indicated that this could be monitored by the internal compliance team and he would be happy to look into this further.

25.6          With regard to Page No. 37, Paragraph 46 of the report, a Member noted that targets around fly-tipping and dead animal removals were being missed and she asked if there was a project plan for improvement and when it would be implemented.  The Ubico Head of Operations explained that there had been a big change in the management structure within Ubico.  This had included him moving to his current role which required him to assess each individual service and address the issues within those services; he had started with waste and recycling and moved on to grounds maintenance which was the current project underway.  Fly-tipping and dead animal removal were part of that project but were difficult to tackle as reports were often vague in terms of location, for example, if there was a report of a dead fox on the A38 near Longford, the crew would drive up and down that road and may collect a dead fox but it might not be the one which had been reported.  With in-cab technology, it would be possible to pinpoint the exact location so there should be an improvement in removal times when that was introduced.  In addition, this was a difficult service to recruit for due to the nature of the job so Ubico had been working closely with Tewkesbury Borough Council to promote fly-tipping prosecutions as this improved morale and made the crews feel valued.  A Member queried whether the new technology would use ‘What Three Words’ and was advised this had been used for litter bins but would now move to GPS via satellite.  The Member indicated that he had reported fly-tipping in his Ward in March/April which had still not been collected and the Head of Community Services undertook to discuss this with the Member following the meeting.  He pointed out that, if fly-tipping was on private land, this would be the landowners’ responsibility.  Another Member noted that in-cab technology was not included on the list of Tewkesbury projects outlined at Page No. 58 of the report.  The Ubico Director of Operations explained this was a Ubico-wide project which was why it had not been included but he recognised it was a significant project for Tewkesbury Borough Council and would include it in future.

25.7          A Member drew attention to Appendix 2 to the report in relation to grass cutting which did not have a title and asked who completed the table and whether it was a work programme or just used for complaints.  In response, the Head of Community Services advised that Members had asked for information on grass cutting for several years and the table provided information on grounds maintenance inspections that had been carried out with the standard being aimed for set out at Page No. 63.   The Member asked if it was possible to include this on the Council’s website as it was something which members of the public regularly asked about and the Head of Community Services undertook to speak to IT to establish if there was a user-friendly way of putting this online.  A Member raised concern that the notes within the table seemed to suggest there had been a problem with strimming and she asked if that was due to time or staffing levels.  In response, the Ubico Head of Operations advised that the grounds maintenance team comprised 12 operatives and, unfortunately, it was not easy to replace any absences due to sickness or annual leave with agency staff due to the training and checks required to ensure they were proficient in using tools etc.  This was something Ubico was striving to improve.  A Member noted that Highgrove Park in Churchdown appeared several times within the table and he asked what was being done to ensure issues were dealt with after inspection.  The Head of Community Services clarified that the report related to 2021/22 and there had already been significant improvements in respect of grass cutting since that time so he would be disappointed if the same issues appeared in the next report.

25.8          With regard to Page No. 48 of the report, a Member sought clarification on NI 191 – Residual household waste per head of population.  The Head of Community Services advised that the kilograms of residual household waste per head of population had previously been monitored under NI 191 when the Council had been required to report on national indicators, similarly, NI 192 – the bottom graph on the same page – was the national indicator for household waste reused, recycled and composted.  He accepted that this terminology was out of date and undertook to ensure it was changed going forward.  In terms of the figures themselves, the Member queried whether these were accurate as the percentage reused, recycled and composted seemed to have decreased.  The Ubico Head of Operations clarified these were monthly figures across the year so looked to be accurate and the Head of Community Services advised that there were seasonal variations – very few authorities had achieved the national target with some figures reduced by 30% so Tewkesbury Borough Council’s performance continued to be very good.  The Member asked whether any improvement could be made and the Head of Community Services provided assurance that attempts were always being made to increase recycling and there had been an increase compared to previous years.  A Member raised concern that the figures within the report should be over the course of a year as opposed to monthly and was advised that the quarterly and end of year figures were reported in the performance tracker which gave a better overview.  A Member noted there was no mention as to the success of the small electrical equipment recycling scheme which had been introduced for kerbside collections and the Ubico Head of Operations undertook to provide exact figures but he believed in the region of 25 tonnes had been collected.  He indicated that this would be included in future reports.

25.9          A Member queried whether carbon reduction ambitions would be reflected in fleet procurement and the Head of Community Services confirmed that would be a consideration and all options would be investigated.  A Member felt it was important to consider carbon reduction as a whole – this was something he had raised previously in other forums and he pointed out that it would be necessary to factor in the carbon footprint of new vehicles at purchase and the savings, if any.  The Head of Community Services agreed with this point.  The Ubico Head of Operations advised that he was responsible for overseeing operations at Cheltenham Borough Council where an eco-driving trial was currently being undertaken – during the first five weeks there had been a 3.25 tonne reduction in carbon production by changing driver habits and it was intended to introduce this into the Tewkesbury Borough contract at some point.

25.10        In response to a concern regarding issues with bins which were the Parish Council responsibility, for instance, bins being left open and subsequently getting broken, the Ubico Head of Operations advised there had previously been an issue with a supervisor not passing on reports from crews; that particular supervisor was no longer working for Ubico and improvements were being seen at a Parish level as crews were going back to the same bins the following week and finding that the issues had been resolved.  This was positive as crews felt it was worthwhile making the report.  A Member queried what had been done about bins in inaccessible locations and was advised that Tewkesbury Borough Council had introduced a bin installation policy and a number of bins had now been identified and removed.

25.11        A Member questioned how often the Council reviewed what was being recycled given that new technologies were being introduced.  He recognised that a lot of items indicated that they were recyclable but in practice could not be recycled locally.  The Head of Community Services explained that Officers were in constant communication with the Materials Recovery Facility contractor as there needed to be a market for recycling; this was regularly reviewed and DEFRA was in the middle of a consultation on Extended Producer Responsibility etc.  The Ubico Director of Operations explained that Gloucestershire as a whole was signing up to Waste Wizard which would provide a lot more local information about where to take items which could not be recycled at the kerbside – this was being led by Gloucestershire County Council and that information would be available on the County Council website, and linked to the other district council websites, before the end of the year.  As well as Extended Producer Responsibility, the government would be introducing standardised labelling which would either say recyclable or non-recyclable based on a national system.  A Member indicated that there was a lot of contamination within bins as people did not know where to put certain items, for instance, biodegradable nappies which were actually not biodegradable and ended up at the Energy from Waste plant.  The Head of Community Services advised this was a national problem and it was important to note there was a difference between biodegradable and recyclable – biodegradable materials should be composted at home.  A Member questioned why biodegradable items could not be put into the food waste or garden waste bins and was advised that was because that waste was turned into gas and there was a question mark over whether materials were truly biodegradable as food waste bags remained in compost heaps several years later.

25.12        The Ubico Head of Operations wished to highlight that Tewkesbury was the first contract to achieve 100% fleet compliance which was a significant achievement and meant that Ubico was working to the highest standard in terms of compliance.  The Chair congratulated Ubico on behalf of the Committee and thanked the team for what was, overall, a very positive report.  It was subsequently

RESOLVED           That the Ubico report 2021/22 be NOTED.

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