Tonight was the third meeting in the last two months where Ealing Council has discussed April's non collection of household waste.
The discussion started at about 8.30pm and I spoke up about the reasons why my party, the Liberal Democrats, got the item added to the agenda:
1. There are many questions that still need to be answered
2. Enterprise, the contractor, have been present but not been able to say anything publicly. It is crucial that we hear what they have to say on this issue.
3. And probably the most important we need changes in processes so that the same fiasco cannot occur again
I likened this to the IT disaster a few years ago when the Conservative Party were in power in Ealing. The problems occurred because they failed to invest in the Council's IT. That cost the Council £1.1 million pounds of extra spending!
I presented the scrutiny panel with three suggested recommendations. The aim was to prevent a future problem with any new contract to collect waste. When I presented the recommendations it was commented that the proposals were "forward looking". The three recommendations that I presented were agreed by all three political parties were:
1. To ensure that key messages are collated more quickly so that the most important messages can be disseminated more effectively to residents and councillors
2. To increase the communication with residents’ associations and other similar community bodies so that they can be informed of information that will help residents have more information when difficult situations arise.
3. That the relevant officers and portfolio holder publish in advance of the start dates of new and large contracts (like the Enterprise waste collection contact):
- Details of any changes from the previous contact
- Modelling conducted by contractors and the Council to show that these changes in contractual operations are not likely to cause problems
- Details of fall-back plans to cover eventualities when a contract commitment is not completed
In fact when I spoke towards the end of the meeting it was clear that even the Conservative Councillors on the committee did not seem to think the Conservative councillor who raised his issues was worth supporting. When it came to voting, the scrutiny panel agreed to my three proposals. The Conservative who raised his issues, shrunk and disappeared quickly when his viewpoints were not accepted.
Opposition is not about slagging off the administration, even if they are doing a bad job. It is the role of opposition to come up with alternative plans as the Liberal Democrats did today.
The meeting today uncovered a new set of facts and views especially those from the contractor Enterprise. It was a Liberal Democrat idea to ensure that they were not only present but could speak and be asked questions. The result of them being present and taking part in the discussion meant that we learned more about the issue and heard from all sides.
Some of things we learned were:
- The contractor knew about 7 to 10 days before the start of the contact (April 1st) that things were not going well. Their green status had gone to something like an amber status as problems occurred behind the scenes.
- Ealing Council officers did not scrutinise the feasibility of the new (larger) collection rounds that the contractor's vehicles would be working to. This caused problems and so I think Ealing Council should have taken a more proactive approach.
- When the staff from the old contractor were 'converted' to being staff for the new contractor they did this over a 2 week period. They admitted tonight that they should have done this over four weeks to allow for any slippage. I quite agree. I do not think that is rocket science.
- The new vehicles they are expecting should be all in place by the end of July. We wait and see (hope!)
- In some of my closing remarks I thanked the contractors, despite them messing up so badly, as their presence allowed us to gain some new insights.
Overall we heard a lot more of the background as to why the fiasco occurred. But at least Ealing Council is now looking to learn from the situation and move forwards with proposals to avoid the same thing happening again.