RESIDENTS LOSE PATIENCE WITH HART’S FAILING BIN SERVICE
Back in March 2020 Hart District Council announced that, with people at home in lockdown, they would be suspending their green garden waste bin service. With more people than ever taking refuge in their gardens this didn’t seem the wisest of decisions but the worst bit? …the green bin fiasco continues to this day.
You may feel that in the height of the pandemic Hart had limited options, so let’s fast forward to May of the same year, when local recycling centres and councils started opening up once more. It wouldn’t be unfair to assume that the service, (which Hart charge residents quite highly for and is not provided free like some other areas), would also resume…yes? Nope. No such luck. So with waste piles growing and residents demanding answers from Hart District Council, the situation proved both unworkable and unhygienic on many levels. The response that was given left many lost for words as Councillor James Radley from Community Campaign Hart (CCH), who made no apology over the situation, commented:
“There has been a lot of angst over this in social media. If not having your green waste collected is such a big problem for you that it is actually one of the things bothering you right now then you are really lucky.”
Cllr James Radley – Community Campaign Hart
It wasn’t until the end of July 2020 that new subscribers were welcomed back to the service and despite the missing collections and inconvenience to residents, no refunds were offered, with residents having to make do with an extension to the service later in the year.
All of which brings us to 2021 and here we are over a year later, still battling to receive a service that is paid for out of our own pockets – directly to Hart District Council. A service, that despite all its failings has increased in price yet again, now costing over £80 for the year, plus the bin itself which is another £35 (based on a 240l bin).
Being left with little choice, people tended to pay up and put up with the poor service until yet again, HDC announced more missed collections…still with no refunds offered. In fact this time, they didn’t even guarantee an extension to the service, simply stating they would “consider” it, until the intervention of Conservative Cllr Steve Forster appeared to bring about a change of heart. So let’s take a look at the debacle of the last couple of months:
Below: A recent timeline of failures…
23rd July: HDC announce that due to staff having to self-isolate, the service would be cancelled yet again. While they hoped to be back within a fortnight, they made no guarantee of this and merely said they would “consider” extending the paid service to make up for missed collections. Cllr Steve Forster challenged this statement and eventually an extension to the service was granted.
27th July: After the government relaxed the rules on self isolation, exempting refuse workers from having to stop work to stay at home, Hart made another announcement. This time they stated that many Serco staff still needed to self isolate and so the service was still suspended.
2nd August: This time it was announced that the garden waste service would resume in Hart today as the “situation is now easing” but that any backlogs of waste would not be collected.
4th August: Instead of a fully working waste service, HDC announced that this time there were “vehicle failures”, leading to missed collections.
12th August: This brings up us to date as today Hart announce yet more failures to the service. The reason this time? Staff shortages due to self isolation (again) and also a lack of drivers. To make it worse, this time the suspension of the service is for a MINIMUM of three weeks (from 16th August), leaving more overflowing bins and increasing anger amongst those who have paid for a service that doesn’t seem fit for purpose.
HDC have stated that they will not give refunds for the failed collections but that they will extend garden waste subscriptions, little compensation while your bins are left full and rotting over the summer months. Don’t worry though, when you’re out and about in your woolly hat and snow boots, the green bin service will be there (maybe), when you really don’t need it, although of course your bins may have either exploded by then or be frozen shut. You couldn’t make it up.
But is this, as Hart District Council claim, a problem that is being faced by all councils? Hart does seem to be first on the list for cancelled services while others seem to find a way of managing. And what about Serco, the providers of the waste contract for our area? Councillor Alan Oliver of Community Campaign Hart (CCH) helped negotiate the contract with Serco on behalf of Hart District Council back in 2018 but as usual there is nothing coming from his direction except a deafening silence. Nothing new there then.
Below: Cllr Alan Oliver (left) from CCH after negotiating the deal with Serco.
The Serco waste contract is shared with Basingstoke and Deane Council but when Hart suffered previous cancellations of waste services, Basingstoke appear to have put the needs of their residents first, providing collections as normal. So as Hart are left with no collections yet again, how are our partner council coping? Let’s take a look…
Below: Basingstoke & Deane Council – 11th August 2021
Yes, Basingstoke are continuing to offer their residents the service the pay for and somehow seem to be struggling through the “national issue” that has floored HDC once again. There are only so many times people are going to accept this without question and tempers are certainly getting frayed over the failures of Hart and the fact that we seem to end up playing second fiddle to everyone else.
TIME FOR SERCO TO GO?
So what about Serco itself? In October 2018, Serco took over the £44 million contract and it’s fair to say that the service has been a disaster from the start. Not just my words, take them from any number of councillors or residents all over the country who have simply had enough with the service which is simply not doing the job it’s paid to do.
In 2019, Basingstoke and Deane admitted that “things have gone wrong” with the waste service as calls to hold an independent review of the contract were made. Residents spoke of their misery with the waste service with one local resident stating “I have never had such dreadful service as we have at the moment. The bins are overflowing, we have rat infestation… this is the topic everyone in Basingstoke is talking about”. Basingstoke Cllr Paul Harvey stated “The issue comes back to Serco and the quality of the contract and whether it’s fit for purpose”, he added “Our residents are angry and frustrated and, in some cases, despairing… There isn’t a part of the service that hasn’t had problems because Serco simply, in my view at this moment in time, are not fit for purpose.”
In May 2020 a letter was sent to a local newspaper with Basingstoke residents complaining of unemptied bins due to the staff simply refusing to pick them up, recycling bins not being emptied because of one misplaced glass bottle and a general failure of service. This, the article states, led to residents burning their waste in their gardens during the early hours of the morning as they were left with limited options.
In other areas of the country Serco refuse workers have decided to go on strike, despite their well documented performance failures, leaving areas overflowing with waste, while rat infestations are becoming a common sight. There are also reports that the waste management company will be contacting all councils that they are contracted to, to ask for more money. With such a poor track record, are Hart going to allow this fiasco to continue?
There is an overwhelming sense of déjà vu today as it appears we have gone full circle, back to the beginning of lockdown, with all new subscriptions to the service being put on hold as HDC appears to finally realise that they cannot provide the service people are paying for. For many people it will be the last straw…but as for refunds, it’s a firm “NO” from Hart, who seem to be one of the very few councils that actually find the performance of Serco in any way acceptable. So if you want to try and cancel your subscription until the green waste service provides regular collections again (if it ever does), then forget it, as you won’t be able to sign up again anytime soon. If you are an existing subscriber though, Hart are more than happy to keep taking your money by allowing you to renew your subscription online, although what you’re actually paying for remains somewhat unclear at this point.
Just when do we say enough is enough?
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