People waiting weeks to get their bins emptied, others deciding to cleaning the streets themselves and some taking multiple trips to the tip to get rid of overflowing waste.
The reality of Trafford’s failing environmental services have left residents across the borough furious.
Meanwhile, a whistle-blower from the company responsible has told the M.E.N. it’s contract is ‘unworkable’ and that staff morale is at rock bottom.
But what is the council doing about the situation and what does the bin contractor, Amey, have to say for itself?
Living with the mess:
Amey has been given until today to improve by Trafford Council, who said, earlier this month, that it’s collection service was failing to the extent it was placing the council in breach of its statutory duties and causing health and safety concerns.
For people across the borough, missed bin collections, repeated complaints about street cleaning, overflowing bins in parks, dog fouling and flytipping have become part of life.
A disabled couple from Stretford told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) they were left with waste piling up outside their home in recent weeks.
Stuart Shiach, 55, who struggles to walk and has signed up to assisted bin collections with Trafford Council, said he and his wife were left struggling by Amey.
Stuart claims his black bin was not emptied for six weeks and was only finally cleared on Saturday January 11.
He said: “I was calling them everyday. We had two weeks worth of ‘we’re looking into it’. I was banging my head against a brick wall and getting nothing out of them.”
Approached by LDRS, Amey apologised for the string of delayed bin collections, thanked Trafford residents for ‘bearing with us’ as ‘crews familiarise themselves’ with new collection rounds, following a timetable change in October 2019′, and said delays were caused as they worked through a backlog of collections that had built up over Christmas.
Another resident, Tym Rustige, made a direct complaint to Amey after one of its bin lorries leaked ‘liquids and crushed glass’ on his property.
He was left furious when Amey claimed they couldn’t find the mess, saying he should ‘re-report it’.
He said: “Is this the service Trafford residents are to expect from One Trafford?”
Plenty of other people have also taken to social media to vent their frustrations at the company.
One Facebook user, Tim, claimed he hadn’t had his bins emptied in four weeks.
He said: “Given that I haven’t had my bins emptied for a month I very much hope that plans to sell off parts of Amey will impact bin collections.
“Taken five bin bags of non-recyclable waste to the tip in the last few weeks.”
Others who have signed up for assisted bin collections claim they’re also being let down by the company.
Facebook user Steve added: “If you have a disability that is seen or unseen you are entitled to have access to assisted lifts. I have been on this scheme for many years and I am constantly on the phone to Trafford because my bins have not been emptied.
“Yesterday they returned to my street, emptied all the bins but mine. So if you live in Trafford and the bins are not emptied but others are on your street, is this not direct discrimination?
“Five weeks green bin not emptied, two weeks on the grey bins, one week on the blue bins.”
One group of residents, known as Love Old Trafford, have even taken to litter picking in local parks and clearing streets themselves.
Many previously protested about Amey and it’s poor services outside Trafford Council’s town hall as long as two years ago; chanting slogans and using the hashtag #OTRevolting on social media.
Worker slams “flawed” systems and makes claims about what’s going on behind the scenes:
A whistle-blower from inside the firm slammed Amey, saying they need to treat their workers better.
In response, Amey told LDRS workers’ welfare was their top priority.
The employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes the council’s super contract with the services giant, which was meant to last 23 years, is ‘unworkable’ because it’s under-funded.
The source told LDRS they didn’t believe the situation of repeated missed bin collections and streams of complaints from residents would get any better; even if the company is stripped of its contract by the council.
They said Amey is ‘throwing money at overtime’ to get through a backlog of work, isn’t risk assessing bin rounds and is not adequately training people up before they’re sent out to do their jobs.
In response to the claims about overtime, Amey said more money was being spent on its services because of ‘timetable adjustments’.
Replying, to the concerns about risk assessments, the firm said the health and safety of its workers was of the highest priority.
The whistleblower also claimed some staff don’t even know where some bins that need collecting are – leading to weeks of uncompleted rounds.
In response, Amey said all staff are properly trained before going out on rounds.
The whistleblower also claims that controversial new bin collection timetables that came in in October 2019 were ‘doomed from the start’ as they were formulated by a computer and workers with experience on the ground weren’t asked for input.
Amey said they gave ‘adequate’ time to staff to give feedback on the new timetables.
The whistleblower said: “It’s not the lads being arsey, just what’s the point. There’s no motivation and no incentive.
“They’re under-staffed and underfunded and filling the gaps in the staff with idiots.”
Amey refuted claims that they are understaffed and said all staff are properly trained.
The whistleblower added: “It’s f***ing ridiculous. It’s not like the lads don’t give a sh*t or don’t have pride in their job – they’re expecting us to do a perfect job, but treat us better and we’ll do a perfect job.”
They said no information is passed on to workers and the system is backlogged and ‘fundamentally flawed.’
Amey admitted that the system became backlogged over the Christmas period, saying it has been working hard to tackle this backlog, and works hard to communicate effectively with staff.
It added that if workers had any concerns that they could raise them internally.
Trafford Council has been threatening to take Amey’s contract in house for months now and is in an ongoing process of reviewing the arrangements.
But the employee accused Trafford Council of dragging its feet on the issue, and believes the authority won’t possibly be able to terminate its contract with Amey, as no other company would be ‘mad enough’ to take it on.
They said: “It’s the workability of the contract, no-one will take that on, it’s unworkable.
“The council won’t bring it in house, they can’t afford it.”
A spokesperson for Amey said it has spent £56,000 this year alone on training its staff, and that it’s in the middle of a recruitment drive to lower its reliance on agency staff.
The spokesperson said Amey was using agency workers and overtime to clear the service’s Christmas backlog and deal with other events like the ‘service reconfiguration’ from October last year within its services.
They added that health and safety was the company’s primary concern, and that the process of rebalancing different collection rounds is ongoing.
What is Trafford Council doing?
Earlier this month, Trafford Council issued an urgent order to Amey, giving them until January 31 to improve its service.
However a full council meeting this week heard residents have not seen any tangible improvements in the service since this deadline was set.
It is unclear what sanctions, if any, the council will impose on the firm if it fails to meet this deadline.
The authority also sent a strongly worded letter to Amey demanding services were improved this month, threatening that they may take services back in house, at least temporarily.
The remarkable letter slammed Amey, labelled its services as ‘failing’ and said the company has not been delivering for residents.
The council is currently reviewing its ‘super contract’ with Amey, which dates back to 2015 and was designed to last 20 years, with the firm delivering bin collections, park cleaning and street cleaning services across the borough.
No decision has been made on the contract’s future yet.
Amey was fined £1 million by Trafford Council for submitting inaccurate accounts back in 2018.
Back in 2015, then Council Leader Sean Anstee and his Tory administration were warned the Amey ‘super-contract’ was headed for trouble.
Back then, Anstee said: “I am confident the right contractor has been chosen to fulfil this brief.
“The contract will be monitored effectively by the council and there are robust measures in place for any breach of contract or less than adequate performance.”
Back then, Labour leader Andrew Western warned: “This (contract) fundamentally undermines the ethos of public service. And 23 years is far too long.”
Meanwhile, the Lizanne Davonport, north west regional Unison organiser, said at the time that the proposal would lead to ‘less democratically-accountable services’, adding: “Private sector delivery of public services does not improve quality and any savings made for the council will be at the expense of staff.
“What we need is better funding of our council services so standards of service and employment can be improved.”
As it turned out, public frustration over the contract, as it quickly ran into problems, was a major factor in the Tories losing control of Trafford after 14 years.
Now, Trafford’s executive member for the environment, Labour councillor Stephen Adshead, has said: The action we have taken against Amey shows we are serious and not prepared to accept a sub-standard service, unlike the Conservatives who were not prepared to action when they were in control, and their record of little or no penalties against Amey is a matter of record.
“It was Labour who fined Amey £1millon for poor service and Labour who launched an investigation into the Amey contract by the Council’s scrutiny committee which revealed a catalogue of failings and missed targets while the Conservatives were in charge.
“We are now in the process of reviewing the 15 year contract that the Conservatives handed to Amey – a contract which gave Amey operational control and also made it a self-monitoring contract.
“As Executive member I have been working on a daily basis with Council officers, residents, and councillors from across different parties to help resolve these issues and I will continue to do so in order to ensure Amey provides the service Trafford residents and businesses deserve.”
What are MPs doing about the situation?
A spokesperson for Sir Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West, said: “Sir Brady is aware of the issues relating to bin collections.
“It falls under the jurisdiction of the Local Authority, however Sir Brady did write to the council to request some explanation and detail over action being taken to resolve the problem.”
According to the MP’s spokesperson, Trafford Council responded to that letter and said: “Changes to the waste service, which were introduced week commencing October 14 have brought a number of challenges, which we did anticipate”.
The response went on to list actions being taken to remedy the problem, concluding: “We are confident these additional checks and resources will help to minimise service disruption.”
But it is understood by LDRS that Sir Graham Brady is still receiving feedback from constituents about missed collections and will be writing to the council again.
What does Amey have to say?
Paul Anderson, account director for Amey, said: “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our employees. We regularly review and mitigate the risks our employees face, and all tasks are fully risk assessed with proper training given.
“Should any employee have concerns they feel unable to raise locally we have a comprehensive whistle-blowing policy in place, including an independently managed hotline that our employees can call 24/7 and anonymously.
“We recognise that the new One Trafford service has so far fallen well below the standards expected of us and we apologise to customers for the frustration and inconvenience this has caused.
“The new collection routes were designed to even out crew workload, following years of housing growth, and we are continuing to adjust them further.
“We continue to work closely with Trafford Council to resolve issues in areas with repeated missed collections, and we expect customers to see a significant improvement in the coming days.”
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