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Ombudsman scolds LG for ‘washing hands’ of waste collection services

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) has today issued a stark warning to councils that too often they are dealing with waste collection complaints in the wrong way.

In a new report ‘Lifting the lid on bin complaints’, the Ombudsman revealed that 81% of its complaint investigations into council waste and recycling services were upheld, a huge rise of 22 percentage points from the year before, when the figure stood at 59%.

The LGO pointed out that a common problem came from many councils outsourcing waste services, meaning there was insufficient council oversight over the private contractors.

Many complaints revolved around councils not taking full ownership for ensuring collections were delivered properly and complaints were handled in a timely way – something that many residents found very frustrating.

Other common issues highlighted in the report include repeated missed collections, poor complaint handling systems and issues with assisted collections for those with disability or mobility problems.

“Councils can contract out their waste services, but they cannot wash their hands of it,” said Michael King, the LGO. “They are responsible and accountable for delivering those services, and for putting things right when they go wrong. Outsourced should not mean out of touch.

“Whether the service is outsourced or not, we shouldn’t be upholding 81% of the complaints we investigate – this is too much, particularly for a service that should be relatively simple to get right.”

King added that many thousands of bins were collected successfully every day in England, but the complaints the LGO investigate tell the story of real public experiences.

“No matter how trivial it may seem to some, people are right to expect councils to take their concerns seriously and act on them,” he warned. “When things go wrong, it’s how councils put them right that really matters. 

“I hope councils take onboard the learning points from our report, particularly by properly overseeing contractors; ensuring peoples’ concerns are listened to, and appreciating that contracting out and charging for services brings with it different expectations from the public.”

Councils hit back at Ombudsman criticism

Cllr Martin Tett, environment spokesman at the LGA, defended councils by saying that the 500 complaints the Ombudsman received was very small compared to the millions of households which had waste collected each week across the country.

“Councils know that having a reliable and efficient waste collection and recycling service is hugely important to residents,” the spokesman commented. “It is actually one of the most popular services councils provide with almost 80% of people happy with the way their bins are collected.”

The LGA spokesman added that after council budgets had been cut by £2.2bn this year, many authorities were forced to look elsewhere to run key services.

“Councils will, of course, examine the findings of this report for lessons to learn, particularly around monitoring outsourced contracts to ensure they continue to provide value for money and the high-quality services our residents expect.”

District councils also stated that the complaints only amounted to 10 complaints a week from a service that covers 468 million collections a year. But Cllr John Fuller, chairman of the District Councils Network, did concede that districts were trying hard to deliver collection services as efficiently as possible.

“District councils take their statutory duty extremely seriously and have played a significant role in protecting the environment and enhancing quality of life for their residents, with recycling rates having increased by almost 57% in the past 10 years,” he said.

“Local councils customise services to local circumstances and are constantly innovating to find new markets for recycled goods, encouraging re-use where possible and minimising residual waste to landfill.

“With their unique local knowledge, district councils are best placed to make decisions about how this key service is delivered, whether that be in house or through a contractor,” Cllr Fuller concluded.

“In the small number of instances where issues do occur, the Ombudsman report can be used to ensure effective collaboration between contractors and authorities going forward.”

Top Image: Kadmy

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