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"Not tellin' - South Hams waste firm explains nothing

Wednesday, June 8th, 2022 9:41pm

By Philip Churm, local democracy reporter

Contractor refuses to answer questions

Bosses of the company employed to collect bins in South Hams have faced angry questions about their failure to provide the service they were contracted to do.   

Waste services in the district were outsourced to FCC Environment in April 2019 but have faced problems ever since, including missed collections and complaints that vehicles were too large for some areas.   

FCC hoped to mirror the service provided by the same company under a contract with West Devon Borough Council for more than 10 years.  But the company have been beset with problems in South Hams such as uncollected rubbish and postponed garden waste collections.  

FCC has apologised, blaming difficulties with recruiting staff but insists it is committed to resolving the problem.

However, South Hams District Council called a special meeting on Wednesday (8 June) and were infuriated when representatives of FCC insisted they couldn’t answer questions while talks between them were underway.  

FCC operations director Steve Longdon and Brian Ashby, FCC’s Environment’s head of municipal collections and Streetscene, explained ongoing negotiations mean they are unable to give details of their operations.  

But Mr Longdon did tell councillors: “We would like to sincerely apologise for the failure to deliver the service you expect and deserve. 

“In particular, we’d like to say sorry for the difficulties experienced with the reintroduction of the garden waste collection service. 

“There are reasons for this, but we want to clarify that when the service was rolled out and reintroduced, we had recruited sufficient staff required under the contract, to deliver the service.

“Since then staff have left the contract but we’ve been unable to replace them.”

He added that absentee rates are currently running at 14 per cent and they are unable to recruit replacement staff. 

Cllr Keith Baldry (Lib Dem, Newton and Yealmpton), who is also the lead member for waste services, is furious. “I cannot describe how angry and frustrated I am with FCC’s continued failure to provide a decent service,” he said. 

Conservative member for Salcombe and Thurlestone Cllr Judy Pearce agreed  but also hit out at some opposition members she accuses of politicising the issue. 

“Our paramount concern has always been – and continues to be – what is in the best interests of our residents,” she said. 

“It’s therefore particularly disappointing that the now leader of the opposition is turning this into a party political issue. 

“And what we really need is that all members should work together to resolve the issue.”

After councillors continued to ask the FCC representatives how they intended to improve the failing service, Mr Longdon repeatedly insisted he was not in a position to give details. 

“We are engaged at the moment – and indeed today – with the senior officers of the council in a resolution.

“Because of the nature of those conversations, I am unable to expand on them at the moment.”

Opposition leader Cllr Julian Brazil (LibDem, Stokenham) said the problem had remained unresolved for two-and-a-half years and blamed both FCC and the council leadership. 

He said: “Members of the public are rightly angry and frustrated out there. 

“They want answers. And what we’ve had here feels a bit like Groundhog Day. 

“We’ve had this meeting before – we’ve asked FCC to turn up. It’s all going to be’ jam tomorrow. Never delivered!’ 

“What we’ve asked the council to do is to show leadership and that’s what they singularly failed to do.”

Cllr Dan Thomas (Lib Dem, Newton and Yealmpton) backed Cllr Brazil and insisted there was no way of ignoring the politics because the decision to hand FCC the waste contract was taken by the Tories. 

“We cannot not talk about politics,” he said.

“If you just draw a line down the middle of this room, it would be true to say that people who were in the last council on that side of the room voted to send the contract out to FCC. People on this side of the room voted not to.”

Despite repeated questioning, Mr Longdon kept repeating the line that they would not be able to answer anything while talks were ongoing with council officers.

Cllr Nicky Hopwood criticised the opposition members who had called the meeting but saved her most scathing attack for Mr Longdon, saying: “To be fair, Mr Longdon, you haven’t answered any questions. 

“You can’t even give your a business mobile out. You have answered no questions today at all. 

“You’ve given us no answers to anything. You’ve said, actually: ‘Can’t discuss it. Can’t tell you an answer. Can’t comment. Don’t want to.’ 

“And we sit here – all of us collectively – as a group of members with absolute frustration and through gritted teeth.

“We are all really trying hard to be polite.”

But Mr Longdon did answer one question by Cllr Pearce in which she asked when he was going to hand in his resignation. 

Mr Longdon replied: “I will not be handing in my resignation, Cllr Pearce.” 

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