Saturday, 15 September 2018

Politicising the Environment - A step too far in Barmet

Why save £900,000 a year when you could save £300,000. Ah well that's the politics of Barnet.
On Thursday night Barnet agreed to 'suspend' food waste collections for an indefinite period while they look at how they can meet the 2020 recycling targets. Of course this was just a wheeze so that they can say they haven't scrapped the food waste collection service, but it fools no one.

I have blogged about this back in June and last week when I submitted questions to the committee.  In the supporting papers they said that stopping the food waste collection would save £543,448. This was then revised down in the summary because I have consistently challenged the assumptions they used in calculating the cost of disposing via anaerobic digestion versus incineration. So they are now saying it will save £300,000 a year. Quite a lot, but I looked at the costs and found that £130,000 is spent on collecting food waste from properties with restricted access. If they have to make a saving then focus on the exceptional costs rather than removing the service from everyone. I also had discussions with the anaerobic digestion company. Together we identified a further £68,000 of costs that could be stripped out almost immediately. So that brings the cost down from £300,000 a year to £102,000. If Barnet could boost food recycling rates there would be a very real chance of the service breaking even. I put forward all these arguments but a political decision has been made and logic and common sense is ignored.

Cllr Zinkn got quite angry with me at one stage and suggested that I hadn't read the papers when I suggested their supporting evidence for the environmental benefits of incinerating food waste was poor. One of the reports was a metadata study or one that collates the evidence from a number of  research studies. To me, saying I don't read the papers is the worse insult of all because the one thing I always do is read the evidence. In my questions I had drawn attention to the fact that, yes, it was a metadata study but it was carried out in 2004 and published in 2005. As a result all of the evidence would have come from studies carried out before 2005 and possibly some from the last millennium. As I pointed out in one of my questions, in 2005 the anaerobic digestion industry in the UK was almost entire dominated by digestion of sewage sludge. There were just 2 digesters operating that were for non sewage sludge. In 2018 there are 449 non sewage sludge Anaerobic Digesters in the UK and 106 commercial/ municipal ADs. It is a completely different industry today with technology that has moved on dramatically since 2005. Sewage sludge also has very different properties to household food waste.


It is a bit like using a metadata study on the smartphone industry in 2005, before the iphone was invented, on which to base decisions on smartphone usage in 2018. (The Motorola Razr V3 was apparently the bee's knees in 2005).

There are a number of studies which show the environmental benefit of  AD and it is generally recognised as being preferential to incineration. I have set out just one below but it is also important to understand that DEFRA (page 10) also  ranks AD above composting and incineration.


 The senior officer also made some statements about the gate fees (the costs charged for waste disposal) and the sustainability of the anaerobic digestion charges. I had checked with WRAP  who carry out an annual gate fee survey and they seem to bear no similarity to the figures quoted by the officer. I spoke with the AD operator who said they make their money from electricity generation. Wholesale electricity prices are rising and with the uncertain future of the nuclear power industry and the growth in demand for electric cars, the future for wholesale electricity prices looks positive form their perspective. It is also important to bear in mind that the digestate (residue left over at the end of the digestion process) is nutrient rich and is a very attractive alternative to artificial fertilisers typically produced using fossil fuels. All this digestate is sold on long term contracts to farmers.

To cap everything Barnet have refused to participate in a review fully funded by the GLA to look at ways that Barnet could retain this service. It suggests to me, and I suspect many others, that Barnet do not want to expose their figures to scrutiny because it will become apparent that they are not robust.

Barnet have also conflated the withdrawal of the food waste collection with the reorganisation of the refuse collection rounds. Based on the methodology for making the savings, which is to remove the dedicated food waste collector on each vehicle, the food waste decision would make no difference at this time. Cllr Dean Cohen said that the waste collection routes weren't just inefficient because of the move from one depot in Mill Hill to two depots one on Harrow and one at Oakleigh Road but that the routes had been inefficient for years. My question would be if that is true why on earth hasn't this inefficiency been addressed sooner. I am not an expert so I also sought out advice from an expert who understand the rounds in detail and who concurred that the waste round reorganisation could go ahead irrespective of the food waste collection decision.

And then we come to my final point which is why the council ignored a potential £900,000 saving which could be delivered by moving to fortnightly waste collections. 76% of councils in England who have responsibility for waste collection have moved to fortnightly general waste collections. This helps to encourage higher levels of recycling especially when tied in with weekly food and recycling collections and cuts costs. Environmentally and financially it makes most sense. I asked Barnet why they had rejected this option and their response was "The retention of a weekly residual waste collection service was a Conservative manifesto pledge as voted on by the residents of Barnet".  So residents voted  not to save £900,000 even though we are facing a massive financial crisis where Barnet has to make £67 million of cuts in the next three years and this year alone the forecast is for a £9.5 million overspend.

When decisions like this are made it makes me despair of where Barnet is going.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Scrapping Food Waste Collections in Barnet - a Bad Decision

On Thursday Barnet are proposing to scrap separate food waste collections.  You can read the details here. Barnet claim it will save up to £300,000 a year although some of the assumptions look tenuous at best. They also admit that they could save £900,000 by keeping separate food waste collections and moving to fortnightly general waste collections, something that 76% of other English Local Authorities have introduced. Barnet's reason for ignoring this larger saving is as follows:

"During the recent local elections, however, the Barnet Conservative manifesto included a commitment that weekly refuse collections will be maintained, and that the proposed Alternate Weekly Collection (AWC) referred to in the November 2017 Environment Committee Business Planning report will not be introduced. Based on the results of the election, this commitment appears to have support from local residents."

I think that is a pretty desperate assumption but this is Barnet.

Barnet are also claiming that the reorganisation of waste collection rounds has been held up by the decision on food waste collection and they are asking the Mayor of London to pay £265,000 in compensation. My argument is that the reorganisation of the waste collection round should have happened a year ago when Barnet moved out of  Mill Hill Depot and split the service between Oakleigh Road and Harrow. Ceasing food waste collection would have meant removing one member of staff from each recycling lorry crew, not changing the route.

This seems like an entirely retrograde step; it's not environmentally friendly and it risks costing us a fortune if the law changes in the future making separate food waste collection a requirement (which seems very likely).

I have submitted a number of questions set out below. I will look forward to seeing what answers I receive.

Agenda Item 7

  • If Barnet stops separate food waste collections now, what would be the cost of reinstating this service if, at a later date, legislative change requires separate food waste collections?
  • If Barnet mix food waste with general waste how easy would it be to introduce fortnightly general waste collections in the future if financial pressures required this?
  • Please can you clarify whether the Mayor of London has confirmed that he will not take legal actions against Barnet if food waste collections cease?
  • As part of the risk assessment on this decision have you calculated the potential legal cost of any challenge by the Mayor if you do stop food waste collections and if so how much have you estimated this might cost?
  • In Mr Hooton’s letter of 3 September to the Deputy Mayor, he stated that the knock on effects of the decision on food waste collections had prevented the implementation of the new rounds. What evidence is there to support that statement and the demand for compensation given that the biggest driver of round rationalisation was the move from one depot to two, not the cessation of food waste collections?
  • The report makes it clear that £900,000 a year could be saved by retaining weekly food waste collections and moving to fortnightly general waste collections. There is also widespread and consistent  evidence that this can be an effective way of boosting recycling rates. Given that 248 out of 326 local authorities (76%) across England with responsibility for waste collections run fortnightly general rubbish rounds for some or all households, what makes Barnet different from the majority of other local councils?
  • Can you confirm that the gate fees for food waste sent to anaerobic digestion are £58 per tonne cheaper than sending food waste for incineration and that the reduced gate fee accrued this year will be credited to Barnet in next year’s NLWA levy?
  • At Appendix K the cost savings are stated for the full year 2018-19 at £543,448 yet at Appendix D it states that the savings could be £296,848. Given that the figure  in Appendix K appears to take no account of the reduced gate fees for food waste sent to anaerobic digestion it gives an entirely false impression of the potential savings. Can you clarify the basis for this figure and why it differs from the figure provided to me on 22 August?
  • £130,000 of the alleged £296,848 savings relates to the withdrawal of food waste collections on “Restrict Access Rounds”. Can you clarify where those rounds serve, why the food waste collection savings would be so high and whether consideration was given to only ceasing food collection on those rounds rather than the borough wide service?
  • Did Barnet’s legal team review the letter Mr Hooton sent to the Deputy Mayor and did they review the basis of the £265,000 compensation demand made by Mr Hooton?
  • Can you clarify where anaerobic digestions sits in the DEFRA Waste Hierarchy  compared to incineration of food waste and whether that changes if the digestate meets the AD Quality Protocol?
  • What steps have been taken to identify if the current AD operator meets the AD Quality Protocol and if not, how easy it would be to achieve.
  • One of the academic studies cited in the report at Appendix Lii was carried out in 2005. In 2005 there were only 2 Anaerobic Digesters operating in the UK outside the water industry (i.e non sewage sludge). In 2018 there are 449 non sewage sludge Anaerobic Digesters in the UK and 106 commercial/ municipal ADs . Given that the industry has changed dramatically since this study was written does it give an accurate representation of the facts? 
  • The academic study at Appendix Li is based on one study in Italy. The study appears to have assumed that AD is followed by composting of the digestate which appears to be a different model compared to the UK AD industry. It also appears to ignore the value of the digestate as a direct replacement for artificial fertiliser. As such are you sure that this study is a suitable example on which to base a decision in the UK?
  • Have the Council taken legal advice as to the likelihood that a revised EU directive on waste (and specifically a revised Article 22 requiring separate food waste collection) might become a condition of a negotiated free trade agreement with the EU?
  • The National Infrastructure Commission has recommended that government should establish separate food waste collection for households and businesses (to enable production of biogas) by 2025. How would Barnet respond to such a requirement?
  • Have Capita been involved in any of the discussions regarding the cessation of food waste collections and will any decision taken create a gainshare liability?

 Agenda Item 8
  • In 2013 Barnet spent a total of £11 million introducing the blue and brown bins, a new fleet of refuse vehicles, advertising and education programme. Before the introduction of this service recycling rates were 33%. If you cease the food waste collections the recycling rate will be 33.6%. What specific initiatives will you implement as a result of ceasing food waste collection that will help Barnet get anywhere close to the target of 50%?
  • Since the new recycling service was introduced in 2013 how much has been spent on encouraging Barnet residents to recycle in the form of: advertising; promotions; leaflets; recycling ambassadors; activities in schools; talks to clubs and voluntary organisations; organised trips to the recycling centre and anaerobic digester etc.?
  • The Action Plan identified at Appendix A seems to lack any tangible activities initiated by Barnet to encourage householders to recycle more. Why has so little emphasis been placed on such an important target group?

 Agenda Item 10
  • Have Capita been involved in any of the discussions regarding the reprocurement of the advertising contract and will any decision taken create a gainshare liability?

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

July Supplier Payments - Interim & Agency Costs Still Rising

Barnet's latest supplier payments have been published with a total of £58.28 million spent last month. There were very modest payments for Capita (£620k) and Re (£382k) as no quarterly contract payments were made. What is of real concern is the continuing cost of agency and interim staff. Payments to Comensura were £1.5 million in July but I have also seen their payments for August which were published yesterday. All the indications are that the total bill for the year is likely to hit £19m, a million more than last year. Barnet have a massive financial black hole and interim and agency staff costs are just one area that have to be reduced significantly if they are to meet the cost saving targets. If this is an indicator of the ability (or inability) to deliver the other cost cutting measures, I suspect that the financial crisis may hit sooner than we think.

Usual month charts and updates below.



Monday, 13 August 2018

Barnet Senior Salaries July 2018 - Who's Missing

Each month Barnet publish the salaries of senior staff. I screen the list down to those earning more than an MP (£77,379) as that provides a (crude) benchmark as to responsibility of the role.
In July Barnet staff received a 2% pay rise and the list of salaries is below. However what it doesn't identify are the consultants who are working as interim staff paid handsome day rates. How many there are we are not told. What it does do is make you realise that some of these staff are paid hugely compared to the private sector and one questions whether they are actually worth all this money?


Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Guest Post - Something is Brewing at Larches Community in Edgware



Larches Community are offering 12 people the opportunity to take part in Brazen Brewery!  A new beer brewing course from September 2018


London, 1st August 2018: Edgware based charity, Larches Community is launching Brazen Brewery! a craft beer brewing course for people with learning disabilities and autism. We are offering 12 people the opportunity to take part in the first course and gain valuable life skills - increased confidence, improved self-esteem, cooperation, initiative, memory retention, giving and receiving instruction, decision making, working as part of a team, having fun and learning how to make some wonderful craft beer!

“We are thrilled to offer three 12 week brewing courses in our first year, teaching people elements of the brewing process.  In years two and three we plan to offer our qualified brewers employment, working in our social enterprise brewery, based in our new building and selling craft beer within our local community.  At the heart of everything we do is Valuing People for Who They Are”
Linda Edwards MBE – CEO, Larches Community.

If you would like more information about Brazen Brewery! please call Charlie O’Sullivan on 020 8905 6333, email: charlie.brewery@larchestrust.org.uk or visit www.larchescommunity.org.uk


KEY INFORMATION

Larches Community is a registered charity established in 1995 by a group of families to create opportunities for young people and adults with learning disabilities and/or autism and Asperger's syndrome.

Larches Community was created out of a deep concern for who would provide a supportive family home with a creative and stimulating life for our children beyond our lifetime. People with a learning disability represent a section of the community that enjoy few privileges, who experience social discrimination and are generally undervalued and underestimated by society. Most are socially excluded, with few opportunities to develop their individuality or to develop and contribute their skills to the community.

We offer a Learning for Life programme where learners gain independent living skills - cooking, budgeting, drama, musical theatre, craft and laughter club which help to develop the individual to tap into their undiscovered potential and soar to new heights.  

In our 23rd year, the Board has set the most ambitious and challenging strategic goals in our history. We have been granted planning permission by Barnet Council to build a three-story building with a basement on our current site. This development has afforded Larches Community the opportunity to review our offer to people with learning disabilities and autism, refocus our work and transform our services to encourage people with learning disabilities and autism to be the Best They Can Be!

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Supplier Payments for June - Agency Costs Still Look High

The supplier payments for June have just been published. This month the big winners are Capita  who billed £10.7 million on the CSG and Re contracts. Comensura billed £1.45 million and looks like we will hit £19 million over the full financial year.

For some reason NSL who administer parking and litter enforcement billed £1.77 million in June which seems excessively high.

PA Consulting also billed another £134,917 this month, on top of the £685,804 they bill last month. One of the invoices this month was for "Supp People Recharge". I wonder what this is for but  as it was billed to adults and communities I wonder if has anything to do with the failed implementation by Capita of the Mosaic case management system that we heard about earlier this month. I shall be asking a few follow up questions I think.

I also wonder what we paid OCS Group £110,161 in June, bringing the first three months billings to £278,541 given that we already have a cleaning contractor, Churchill Contract Services.

The payments to John Graham is for the construction of the two new leisure centres and the Conway Aecom is for highways work.


The latest payments to Capita on the CSG and Re contracts bring the running total to £350.8 million. I still cannot see where the mystical savings are being generated. 


As for the Comensura contract, the current forecast for this financial year is £19.1 million, some £1.2 million higher than last year, at a time when there are supposed to be cuts to interim and agency costs so as to avoid another massive financial overspend.  We were due to have an update of the council's financial performance on 18 September (which was too late in my opinion)  but that meeting has now been postponed another three weeks till 9 October. My very real fear is that by the time we reach October everyone will be throwing their hands up in horror at the overspend but by then it will be too late to do anything about it.

As always I will continue to keep a close eye on Barnet's spending.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

A look back in time and a tribute to Barnet Bugle

Tonight Barnet are going to be making decisions on which services will be brought back in house and which will be retained by Capita. Casting my mind back to 5 years ago when decisions were being made on the Re Contract I remembered some of those meetings. Luckily for us the late, and very sadly missed, Dan Hope videoed most of the meetings. As the Barnet Bugle, he has provided us with an archive of evidence from those meetings which you can view here. Whilst Dan and I had very different political outlooks we shared one vital, common interest which was about openness and transparency in Barnet. Thanks to Dan we have a record of so many meetings. I thought I would dig out one clip when the Council was discussing the award of the Re contract and ask Richard Cornelius to consider whether ignoring the views of residents was such a good idea and to suggest that this time maybe he should listen a but harder.

One other thing to note was that 5 years ago we were given 5 minutes to speak. Thanks to austerity, democracy has also had to suffer cuts so we now only get 3 minutes. I will make sure my 3 minutes tonight count.