John Enright and Jane Beasley have authored the sixth regional review undertaken by Local Partnerships into delivering efficiencies in waste services. This one looks at the east of England, and this is what they discovered…
There continues to be seismic change in the provision of waste services to the public in England. Budgetary pressures pose an ongoing challenge for authorities and innovative ways to reduce costs whilst maintaining, and even improving services, are having to be found.
Sharing services; formalising partnership arrangements; changing behaviour through capacity of provision for different waste streams; and optimising collection systems are all means to generate efficiencies. Authorities in the east of England have embraced these means to bring about change.
“Delivering Efficiencies in Waste Services in the East of England” is the sixth regional review undertaken by Local Partnerships, and the changes identified in waste services are clear. It is apparent from the examples provided that there are high levels of partnership working and joint arrangements in place across the region, both in two-tier partnerships between waste disposal (WDAs) and waste collection authorities (WCAs), but also in joint service arrangements between WCAs.
Despite the level of innovation being achieved, it is recognised that a worrying factor across local government is an ongoing depletion in capacity, in terms of staff and time; an issue reported by many authorities.
Collection systems are becoming optimised; contracts are being re-tendered and renegotiated; and new forms of service delivery are being adopted, such as the formation of arms-length companies set up by local authorities. Behavioural change is being targeted, with waste containers getting smaller as a means to limit residual capacity (see the Bolton Council case study on page 54 for one such example).
However, unlike our previous review of the North West, there is little evidence to date in the eastern region of an appetite to adjust to three weekly collections.
With the level of budgetary cuts that authorities face, perhaps some of these changes to secure efficiencies come as no surprise. The level of innovation and the savings identified in the report, conservatively estimated at around £22m per annum, are remarkable.
In terms of the local government structure in the east of England, there are currently six unitary authorities, five county councils and 41 district, borough, and city councils. A number of the district, borough and city councils have come together to provide shared services and, as mentioned, a number of partnership arrangements are in place.
As a region, the east of England achieved a recycling rate of 49.2 percent in 2015/16, making it the highest performing in England. However, whilst the percentage of waste to landfill has been reducing significantly over the last few years, at 23.4 percent the region is still ranked third highest. The “kilogram per household” figure has remained fairly constant over the last three years, with only a slight increase, and at 532kg per household the region is ranked third lowest in England.
There are many examples of efficiencies being realised within the review itself, but due to the proliferation of partnership working across the region, it feels fitting to refer specifically to examples of joint working. The Norfolk Waste Partnership (NWP), for example, is a typical two-tier partnership (between the WDA and seven WCAs within Norfolk) that makes recommendations and gives direction, but does not have formal decision-making powers.
What makes this partnership progressive is the recognition that for the partnership to truly optimise the opportunities that can be realised through joint working, a total system approach to waste services across all partner authorities needs to be taken. This has been recognised as an important part of the process to transform waste services in the county.
At the WCA level, one example in the review is the development of shared collection services between Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council. With an aim to generate savings in the region of £700,000 over three years, the authorities have come together to develop a single shared waste service.
The focus of the changes to date have comprised of: relocation to a shared depot for both the policy and operational arm of the service; development of a new management structure; and route harmonisation to ensure better balance and greater efficiency of collection.
Another example of where a partnership can achieve success through economies of scale has been shown by the Hertfordshire Waste Partnership (HWP) and the benefits that have been realised through consortia for processing of recyclable materials. HWP is a large two-tier partnership consisting of Hertfordshire County Council and 10 Hertfordshire district and borough councils.
The joint arrangements in place for the processing of recyclables are considered to have helped extract greater interest in providing services to Hertfordshire authorities in the form of more competitive bids from contractors or purchasers of material.
A sub-group of partner authorities has recently developed a new consortium for full and partial commingled dry recyclables, based on a new financial model. In addition, a different sub-group of the HWP partner authorities has recently come together to deliver the third phase of the HWP’s paper consortium, with a shortened initial contract period to accommodate potential changes as the two partners transition to a new joint waste contract.
These are just three examples; within the review there are many more, and not just in relation to partnership working. The different examples given enable others to benefit from these experiences; particularly when examining their own services to see whether these changes could support their own authority in making savings.
As with the previous reviews, the examples shown by authorities in the east of England have focused not just on one specific area or aspect of waste management, but have explored a range of options to achieve efficiencies. This is clearly reflected in the great diversity of examples featured.
Despite the level of innovation being achieved, it is recognised that a worrying factor across local government is an ongoing depletion in capacity, in terms of staff and time; an issue reported by many authorities. This reflects the current economic climate in which authorities find themselves operating with ever-decreasing budgets and the resultant impact on staffing levels.
We are therefore very grateful to the 28 authorities that made the time to respond to the request for information and data to feed into this review. We further acknowledge a number of authorities that expressed the interest and desire to take part, but did not have the capacity to do so or were restricted by current service changes or contract negotiations. It is worth noting that the changes highlighted in this report reflect not only on the waste expertise of the officers in the region, but also their procurement and negotiating skills.