Two years to fix Brighton’s broken bins service, says new boss

From The Argus

Give it six more months and Brighton’s bin collection problem will start clearing up.

Overflowing rubbish bins in Hove.

That is the promise made by new Cityclean chief Rachel Chasseaud to long-suffering residents.

She says the main issues within Cityclean are poorly planned routes, uncompetitive salaries and a breakdown in communications, which has seen staff morale plummet.

High sickness day rates have also played a part in people’s bins not being collected regularly since late last year.

There is a long road ahead and Ms Chasseaud insists it will not be a straightforward task – and it will be about two years until the inadequate £10.3 million service is functioning the way it should be.

Ms Chasseaud’s plan is to restructure the routes for refuse collections so places that are being missed more frequently are targeted, though this is expected to take half a year.

In an interview with The Argus, she said: “It’s amazingly complex as to why there’s been problems. It’s something that’s happened over a period of time, not overnight.In six months people will see a big change.

“The round restructuring will take six months. There are some fantastic people at all levels within Cityclean. They want to be providing a really good service and they do really care that it isn’t working.”

Cityclean has about 90,000 refuse collections, 45,000 recycling rounds and 600 communal bins to clear, in total, per week.

As part of a “modernisation programme”, the service is due to undergo an overhaul, led by Ms Chasseaud, which will see a mapping system put in place to track collections.

This will make it easier to tackle areas where bins are not collected as regularly, Ms Chasseaud said.

Communication with staff has also been a big issue, with many frontline workers feeling their relationship with managers has been non-existent in recent times.

Ms Chasseaud, who started her £80,000-a-year job as assistant director on September 3, has been getting to know staff and rebuilding burnt bridges with them and the GMB union.

She described the service’s relationship with the union, which in August threatened to take strike action, as “complex” but said a good bond between them is crucial.

Ms Chasseaud said: “What I hope I’m already changing is relationships within the service. I’m spending a lot of time talking and listening to staff. That’s something I believe is very important.

“One thing I’ve noticed is staff morale has been very low. I think it’s because communications have broken down. People are feeling stretched. There have been cuts in the service, meaning a reduction in management to have conversations with staff.”

She is also working on improving communications with residents as soon as possible.

Speaking about GMB, she added: “A good relationship with the union is really important. I don’t think it’s the union that’s caused the problems. It’s not all management’s fault either – it’s historic. Sometimes certain actions start happening – strikes are one of them.I haven’t heard the union raise anything that I don’t agree with. The union knows we need to do round restructures too and more around health and safety.”

Another reason given for the poor service has been staff shortages.

A Brighton and Hove City Council report released last week revealed the £20,138 salary for drivers – significantly lower than £25,500 offered in East Sussex – is to be reviewed in a bid to retain workers.

The council is currently looking to recruit two additional drivers and four binmen.

Ms Chasseaud said: “One problem is recruiting drivers. There’s been a real change in the market and there’s a bigger demand and it’s driving up wages. At Gatwick, drivers can make more money. In other local authorities around Brighton and Hove wages are higher than in the city.”

High staff sickness has also been a contributing factor to the bins debacle which has seen some residents wait more than three weeks to have their rubbish collected.

A Freedom of Information request by The Argus revealed a total of 7,228 sick days were taken by Cityclean’s 275 members of staff, which includes office workers and managers as well as binmen, from January 2017 to August this year.

The council said the sickness rate is higher among Cityclean workers, and Ms Chasseaud is aiming to improve some health and safety aspects of the service, such as ensuring workers are wearing sufficient personal protection equipment.

She said the workforce is of a slightly older generation, too, increasing the risk of injuries on the job.

The council report, which is being presented to the environment, transport and sustainability committee today, highlighted staff sickness and stated workers will be offered free health checks.

Ms Chasseaud said: “When you’ve got a large number of people doing manual labour, you always expect some increased sickness. Another factor is staff morale. That has an impact. There’s been a good take-up on the health checks. I’m going to do a lot of work around wellbeing. We expect to see an improvement in sickness levels. There are no major health and safety issues.”

She has confidence in her own ability and has even received the backing of opposition councillors, with Conservative Dawn Barnett believing Ms Chasseaud is the right person for the job.

Her contract lasts a year, but she is hoping to impress and take it on permanently.

Ms Chasseaud said: “I would like to be part of a longer term strategy to really turn things around.”

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