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Green Bins: Under Way

Green Bins: Under WayThis is an interim update about the implementation of the Fylde Green Waste scheme.

It is now a voluntary opt-in service offered by Fylde Council because it ceased being a public service scheme funded by taxation from everyone.

It is now up and (sort of) running, and we're starting to get reports from readers about how it's working. We've set out some experiences below.

Also, and as we indicated at the end of  'Green Bins the Finale?' we are seeking to have Fylde's decision not to publish income and expenditure on the green waste service changed, because we think everyone should be able to see what's happening to their money.

The first stage in that quest for accounting transparency is also noted later in the article, and we hope to bring readers the response from Fylde's External Auditors if we get anything significant to report.

The background to, and story so far of, the introduction of this Green Waste scheme is set out in the following articles:

SYNOPSIS

We begin with a brief look at the New Subscription Scheme Starting Up, then a look at How it's Going,  and some of the Trials and Tribulations of the startup process. Finally, we look more broadly at the Bigger Picture involved in this new way to deliver waste collection

 HAS IT STARTED?

The easy answer is yes, well, sort of.

Those wanting to sign up were supposed to sign up before 12 May 2017 if they wanted to subscribe to the scheme and have their green bin collected without any break in service.

That's because it was estimated to take 3 weeks from registering to having the green bin emptied, and the first round of collections under the new scheme was going to begin on 1 June.

Anyone who didn't sign up before 12 May was likely to miss one collection depending on when they signed up and when the bin was due to be collected.

 HOW'S IT GOING?

From what we can tell, the answer so far is a bit mixed.

The first news we had from our readers was in mid May - when someone on the inside told us that about 10,000 households had actually signed up.

The total number of green bin households in Fylde that could have signed up to the service was 33,883, so just before the 'closing date' to sign up, the takeup was about 29.5%

This first year at Fylde is only a part-year and it has a pro-rata reduced subscription charge of 25.

But if Fylde had been charging the full year subscription of 30, that takeup of the service would have brought in an income of 295,000 against a stated cost which was in the region of 564,000 for the former 33,883 'green bin properties'.

But what that data doesn't tell is how many signups had more than one green bin.

In Wyre - where the scheme has been running for a year longer - they found that multi-bin properties increased the number of green bins being emptied (and subscribed for - because you pay for each bin collected from your property) by 10% and Fylde's officers have said they think we will be similar to Wyre in this respect.

Fylde has not released any costs yet, so we're having to estimate, but using Wyre's experience, we think Fylde's income at the start of the scheme was probably 10% higher - at around 324,500 against costs of around 564,000 for 33,883 properties.

By Mid June 2017 (a fortnight into the actual scheme), the signups had increased to 'Just short of 13,000'.

That changes the takeup figure to around 38%, and with a 10% uplift for multi-bin properties, it becomes 14,300 bins at a full year cost of 30 which would generate around 429,000 income to Fylde.

So after two weeks of operation, the income already appears to be only 135,000 short of a full year break-even point.

That suggests it's going quite well.

Whilst we're on the topic of payments, we were very displeased and saddened to learn from this week's 'LSA Express' that apparently, Fylde are telling people "....all subscriptions must be paid for by credit or debit card' when signing up."

This was a criticism made strongly by Cllr Elaine Silverwood at Fylde's Budget Council on 1 March where, supported by Cllr Linda Nulty, she spoke to say she thought that because there were no concessions being offered, and there had been no assessment of the impact of payment (which she understood was to be only by direct debit) it was the wrong approach.

She said it seemed more like the behaviour of a hard-nosed company who didn't care about its customers because it held a monopoly, rather than a public service organisation.

We'll pick this point up again a little later.

 TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

We heard that the stickers authorising the bin to be emptied were being sent out by post (rather than have the bin-men deliver them), but because of the numbers involved, printing and sending them out had had to be done in two batches.

By mid June, some had arrived and been sent out, and subscribers were able to apply them to their green bin.

But the second batch was still due, so not everyone who subscribed had been given a sticker, and it was not possible for the collectors to easily identify which properties had subscribed and which had not.

The 'In Cab data' did have this information, but we imagine it was not operationally feasible for this to be communicated from the cab to the collectors - who always (commendably) rush to get the job done.

We heard Fylde hoped to get the second batch of authorisation stickers to the green bin subscribers out before 26 June.

This hiccup with the stickers is probably the cause of the emails from our readers who told us that in their street, both bins with stickers and bins without stickers were being emptied when the collectors came round.

Understandably, those who had paid a subscription to have their green bin emptied were a bit miffed at seeing those who had not paid still getting their bins emptied!

It didn't improve matters when those that *had* subscribed got a letter with their sticker to say if they didn't put the sticker on the bin, it would not be emptied - and all the bins - stickered or not - were emptied at the same time.

But as we understand it, that problem should sort itself out for everyone around the end of this month.

And when it does, we would expect to see a sharp up-tick in the number of people subscribing to the service.

When the green bins are no longer emptied, but left full on the road outside, Fylde's phones are going to get hot.

In contrast to those who may become angry when their bin is declined because they have not subscribed, we received a serious but most amusing copy of a letter from a reader who was dissatisfied with the Green Bin arrangements, and who had written to their Fylde councillor after having subscribed to the scheme and received a 'welcome' letter from FBC.

We've reproduced it here so our other readers can share the smile we had, although we've edited it slightly to remove personal data from it.


"From time to time, I have mild differences of emphasis with 'counterbalance', about Fylde Borough Council and the way it does things.

In short, 'counterbalance', occasionally attributes bad motives to the worst excesses of the Council (the Conservative Leadership in particular) whilst I think they simply exhibit gross incompetence.

In other words, I think, they don't know what they're doing.

Today, I have had a letter headed "green recycling bin". It is unsigned but attributable to the 'Waste Prevention Team'.

It tells me that my green bin has been collected for the last time and that, in future, I have to make my own arrangement for green waste recycling. However, in the event that I have subscribed, I am to conclude that the letter is sent in error and to ignore it.

I have interrogated my children, my neighbours and others more remote, in case this is an elaborate hoax.

I have also copied this note to 'counterbalance', who have a nice sense of humour, in case they are behind it.

But if it is not a hoax, what is going on?

How many letters of this sort have been dispatched and at what cost?

Does Fylde Borough Council get anything right?

'Waste Prevention Team' - it must be a hoax."


As we said, it gave us a smile.

But apart from a few folk not feeling very gruntled with the teething troubles, the scheme does seem to have got under way.

 WHAT ABOUT THE BIGGER PICTURE?

This issue of payment and administrative arrangements is proving more troublesome - especially for older folk, as is what seems to be the insistence of FBC that everyone must now pay by credit or debit card.

It seems this is because officers are saying that in the first year, the deadline to set up the direct debit payment was 12 May 2017, but after that date subscriptions must be made using a debit/credit card. However a direct debit can be established during the renewal process in 2018.

This is all part of a bigger drive to turn Fylde into a 'Digital Council' (which we expect to report more about shortly) and it's not going down well with the particular (older) demographic that Fylde enjoys.

We heard that after many complaints about not having the competence to register online and use direct debits or credit/debit cards, Fylde's officers were eventually obliged to appear at Kirkham for a day to field questions and provide help and support about signing up for local people.

We understand the staff were so oversubscribed on the day that they had to put on another two sessions on other days.

We think this insistence on digital payment and signing up is awful.

We haven't yet tracked it down, but we're pretty sure we have a recording of a committee meeting that discussed the options for payment and where it was said (by, we think, a senior officer) that all forms of payment would be accepted. - But to be fair, that has never been the case in the written reports provided to Committees as far as we can remember.

Either way, if this is a service offered by the Council, we'd be amazed if they were able to refuse to accept  coin of the Queen's realm in payment of monies due to a public body, and we'd be interested to know the legal position on that matter if any of our legally inclined readers care to comment to us.

But that also leads on to a bigger picture, because we're confused about exactly what sort of service this is.

Like the 'Arms Length Management Organisation' (ALMO) that managed the Grenfell Tower which has just had a disastrous and sickening loss of life, there are now 'hybrid' organisations that are not clearly one thing or t'other.

To date, there has been no debate and no vote to structure this Green Waste service as anything other than a Council service. So as far as we can tell it has not been devolved into a QUANGO or ALMO or any of the other similar part-privatised operations one meets from time to time these days.

An ALMO is typically a 'not-for-profit' company that provides services that  are (usually) no longer provided directly by a local authority.

In our experience ALMO's tend to be adopted either as a prelude to full privatisation of what most people know (and still regard as) as public services; or they set out to dilute democratic control of their activities and to obscure their proceedings and accountability from what was democratically required public scrutiny.

They are a sort of three-quarter-way house to being a private business.

But we're unclear exactly where the Green Waste service now sits, and we wonder if there has been (or is being) a quiet annexation of this service into something within Fylde whose operation is akin to (and may well be) an ALMO or similar.

We know for example that Fylde operates a series of quasi-commercial grounds maintenance contracts, both within Fylde and in other towns and places well outside the Fylde boundary. The management and operation of this external contracting service is never reported to Committees even though, as we understand it, the staff involved are Fylde employees. Nor are its operational accounts monitored by members as far as we can tell.

Likewise, a MOT testing facility exists 'within' Fylde. We seem to recall it was originally set up to be able to reduce the cost of having tests done commercially, but it has now expanded into the private sector and undertakes MOT testing on a paid-for private basis in competition with local businesses, but we have never seen a report on the operation of this expanded service placed before elected members in Committee. It is as though the officers are taking all the decisions themselves and there is little or no democratic control of what they do.

Our confusion with the status of the Green Waste Service is not helped by its official website - which has a completely different look and feel to the Borough Council's website - and it has no links at all to other Council services. It also has an unusual web address of http://greenwaste.fylde.gov.uk

This logically separates it from the FBC website even though it is a sub-part of the main .gov.uk website, and the green waste website is headed "Fylde Council Green Waste Service"

We're not clear for example whether this website is funded as part of the taxes we pay, or whether it too is funded from the subscriptions for the green waste services.

We've addressed this issue of the status of the service (and a number of other issues about its accounting) to the Council's external auditors and asked them for some information and clarification.

They provided a prompt reply to say they would consider what we had said and see if it was within their remit to answer what we were asking.

Readers can follow this link to download a copy of the letter we sent to Fylde's External Auditors, (in which we should say we have made edits to remove personal data), and a copy of our earlier letter to FBC that is referred to in the letter to Fylde's External Auditors

So, for the time being that's about the size of things, but we will be back on this topic again when there's more to report.

Dated:  23 Jun 2017

 

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