The contract between Merton Council and Veolia for Waste Collection & Street Cleaning: FACT CHECK

Merton Council signed a contract with Veolia to provide the Borough’s household waste collections, street cleaning and road sweeping, the emptying of public litter bins and the clearing of fly-tipping. It started on 1st April 2017 and lasts for up to 24 years.

Many residents have become concerned about how dirty our streets have become. Litter is everywhere, the public litter bins are often full or overflowing, and regular street cleaning and road sweeping seem to be things of the past. In addition, the current Labour-run Council plan to scrap the weekly bin collection this autumn which will only make matters worse.

If Merton Conservatives win control of the council on 3 May:

  • we will renegotiate the Veolia contract to keep the weekly bin collection
  • we will not force residents to have wheeled bins
  • we will fully enforce the contract to ensure that Veolia deliver the level of service that residents rightly expect or else we will sack them as the terms of the contract allow.

Service levels guaranteed in the contract

Here are the specific levels of service we are meant to be getting and which are guaranteed in the 500-page contract between Merton Council and Veolia:

1. General Service Standard

Merton Council’s current contract with Veolia guarantees ‘a high performing service’, ‘high levels of customer satisfaction’, ‘improved environmental outcomes’, with all street cleaning and bin collections carried out in a ‘proper, skilful and workmanlike manner’. The contract makes it clear that it is totally up to Veolia to make sure they have enough staff, vehicles and equipment to deliver the required level of service for Merton.

2. Bin Collections

The contract guarantees bins are emptied and returned ‘in a manner to cause minimum inconvenience’; ‘any spillages during collection’ have to be cleared up immediately; all missed collections are to be rectified ‘within 24 hours of being reported’. Where this is not being done, the contract allows the Council to call in another contractor and send Veolia the bill.

We do not believe that scrapping the weekly bin collection, or forcing residents to take multiple wheelie bins, as currently proposed by Labour to take effect in Autumn 2018, will result in any of the criteria for bin collections being satisfied. We will enter negotiations with Veolia to cancel the proposals to move to fortnightly bin collections and remove the mandatory requirement for all residents to have wheelie bins.

3. Return of weekly Street Cleaning

Merton Council have paid to guarantee a minimum of ‘grade B street cleanliness’ at all times, as defined in the Defra (Government) Code of Practice. The means that our streets are always to be kept ‘predominantly free of both litter and detritus’ (dust, grit, remnant leaf fall etc): occasional small items of litter might be acceptable for a short period of time before the next street sweep. However, where there is a ‘minor accumulation’ of litter or detritus, or where litter appears to be distributed more widely along a street then we are not getting the contractual level of service we have paid for.

If there is any debate between the contractor and the Council as to whether something constitutes litter or not, then the contract helpfully gives the Council the benefit of the doubt and states that Council officers’ decisions are ‘final’.

The current service is failing. We will use the failure to deliver to the guaranteed standard to enter negotiations to reinstate the weekly street clean. This will result in a win-win for both the contractor and the Council, ensuring that cleaning can be more effectively managed and residents will know when their street is due to be cleaned.

4. Road Sweeping

The contract is clear: Veolia guarantees to carry out proper, regular road sweeping and litter picking across the Borough to make sure all our streets are always litter and detritus-free in line with the Defra standard. If a street falls below this standard, Veolia has an immediate obligation to come back and thoroughly clean the street to the highest possible Defra (‘grade A’) standard within 24 hours; this applies seven days a week including at weekends.

Here’s what ‘grade A & B’ Defra clean street standards are meant to look like:

Defra guidance

Recognise the ‘grade C & D’ litter-strewn streets on the right as typical of Merton?

Whenever litter makes our streets look like either of those ‘grade C or D’ photos above, that is when the Council should be calling Veolia back in immediately to clean the streets to ‘grade A’ standard at no extra cost.

Extract from the contract

This is the deal the residents of Merton are entitled to under the contract, and it is the deal we have all paid for. But it is not the standard that the Council is currently delivering for Merton.

Extract from a contract

5. Emptying litter bins

Many residents are just as concerned about the Borough’s litter bins not being emptied. The contract states ‘no litter bin shall be full or overflowing at any time’ and that ‘litter bins are to be kept clean, never full or overflowing’. If a bin is reported as full, Veolia is obliged to empty it within two hours.

Extract from the contract

Countless bins across the Borough seem to be full or overflowing much of the time. This is making our bins filthy. But the contract says that all our litter bins are meant to be washed with water and cleanser to remove all residues – again, this just doesn’t seem to be happening in so many areas.

A familiar sight of a neglected bin by Wimbledon Park tube

6. Fly-tipping, Graffiti and Christmas Trees

There are also contractual guarantees on three other important items:

  • The contract states that fly-tipping has to be cleared ‘pro-actively’ by the contractor and in any event ‘always within 24 hours of being reported’.
  • Graffiti must always be removed ‘within 48 hours of being reported’ (24 hours where the graffiti is offensive).
  • And Christmas Trees? The contract provides for a two-week window in January for all Christmas trees to be collected from kerbside.

7. The Council’s powers to enforce the contract

The Council has everything it needs in the contract to deliver clean streets for Merton: the current Labour administration needs to read the contract they signed.

On one hand, the Council is meant to be calling Veolia back in to deliver the required level of service wherever street cleanliness falls below the contractual standard. Where that does not work, the contract then empowers the Council with all the legal rights the Council could want to enforce the contract and deliver clean streets for Merton. The contract gives the Council indemnities, rights of ‘set-off’, and even the right to claim the costs of re-tendering to find a replacement contractor.

There is even a formal right of ‘Step-In’: where Veolia is not delivering the contractual service level, the Council can simply step in and pay another contractor to do what Veolia was meant to be doing under the contract, and then deduct the costs from the very significant sums the Council pays Veolia every month.

Extract from the contract

Conclusion

The Labour-run Council does not care about the cleanliness of the streets of Merton or it would have acted. Veolia is very capable of delivering the services in line with the contract: it is a huge corporation with an annual turnover of some 25 billion Euros, with enormous resources at its disposal. The Council must show Veolia it is serious and stop handing over millions of pounds of residents’ money unless the right level of service is delivered.

Merton Council knows that the current contract is not working. Veolia knows that the current contract isn’t working. More importantly than that, however, the residents of Merton know that the contract isn’t working.

It’s time to put things right, it’s time for a change. Vote for Merton Conservatives on 3rd May and we will enforce the contract, save the weekly bin collections and deliver the clean streets that our Borough deserves.