Croydon’s rubbish performance (pun intended)

By - Thursday 30th July, 2015

Robert Ward wants to see more honesty, more teamwork, and more ideas as the council’s refuse plans get into difficulty

Croydon residents have recently seen a significant deterioration in their routine rubbish collections. The number of missed collections has soared, likely as a consequence of the change over to the new ‘village’ system of waste collection.

Implementing the new system (which we were told in May would deliver a better, faster and more local waste and recycling service through council staff and contractors working as a team) has not gone well. According to the Croydon Advertiser, Councillor Stuart Collins apologised, which is good, but then firmly blamed the incompetence of the contractor, Veolia, which is not so good. That is not how good management works, and it is not how good teams work.

Refuse collection services are contracted out to Veolia but Croydon Council and council staff are responsible for managing the contractor. Change over to a new operating method demands proper implementation: a well thought-out plan, challenged to ensure it is robust, piloted if necessary, with a contingency plan to cover the inevitable hiccups. That’s good management. Without that you are asking for trouble.

If trouble comes, then the team sorts it out. What members don’t do is start blaming each other. That way it takes longer to sort out, you lose trust, and soon you may not have a team any more, so the customer (us) suffers. Close to an election there might be some small excuse, but the next council election is not till 2018.

Graph author’s own.

At the same time as the poor performance on routine collections has come to light, Croydon Council has published its Clean and Green dashboard showing fly-tipping performance for June 2015. This also shows a sorry tale. The number of fly tips reported has hit a new high with the percentage cleared within the target time of forty-eight hours falling below the 80% target for the first time in nine months. My favoured statistic, the number of reported fly tips not collected within forty-eight hours, although somewhat compressed by the scaling, shows the situation even more clearly.

In spite of this deterioration in fly-tip collection, the dashboard actually shows fewer actions in the all-important ‘Focus for future action’ section. Indeed the four actions that are shown are pretty much the same four actions that have appeared every month since last year. The purpose of dashboards is to facilitate effective management. They link performance measurements to actions. It doesn’t work if performance changes but the actions don’t.

One might ask why a change to routine rubbish collections was chosen to happen at the same time as what appears to be the peak time of year for flytipping. Or could it be that the poor performance on routine collections has encouraged fly-tipping? What is the pattern of the fly-tips and how has it changed? Does it mirror the areas where routine collection has been poor? We are entering the summer holiday period – how is that being managed? Resources are scarce, so what is now the priority?

The Clean and Green dashboard is not showing any improvement in performance after a year of the campaign – does something need to change? Should we be focussing more or less on enforcement? Is it time to cut our losses and call the whole campaign off because it’s not working (or its political equivalent – quietly bury it and hope no-one notices)? These are the sorts of questions that need to be asked. As a small example, the ‘Focus for future action’ section of the Clean and Green dashboard should be where we see they are being asked, and answered.

The finger-pointing and the absence of evidence of good management give the impression of a situation in danger of running out of control. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, times are hard. But our councillors stood for office to be in charge. Let’s see effective action, please, and when it comes to finger-pointing, the first place to look is in the mirror.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager, started work on the railway but most of career in oil exploration and production. For the last fifteen years specialised in helping businesses improve their performance. Conservative Party candidate to represent Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • lizsheppardjourno

    Hi Robert – I read this piece with great interest. In my own locality, London Road, (long beset with fly-tipping and littering) I’ve observed precisely this: marked improvement over the last year or so – then worrying deterioration in the last three months. It feels – and looks – as though somebody dropped the ball.

    London Road is undergoing a remarkable transformation: the improvements to its lower section have already given it a very different feel, with wider pavements, freshly painted buildings and much smarter shopfronts. I hope, but don’t know for sure, that the improvement work will be extended further up.

    Of course it’s always a choice to litter, but I’ve never entirely blamed the too-many poor, powerless and often transient residents of the area for their indifference to appearances and when it already looks awful, can understand the feeling that since no-one else cares, why should I? I have also never been given a satisfactory answer to the question: how and where can local shopkeepers dispose of trade waste? But it will be interesting to see what difference environment improvement makes to anti-social behaviour. I hope and believe people will not continue disrespecting their surroundings as they have done.

    • moguloilman

      Thanks Liz. I have seen a similar trend – my son lives near a hot spot in North Croydon.

      The worrying part is that we now have a year’s data and one could argue that it might have been just part of an annual cycle rather than the impact of the money and effort expended.

      Generally I have been supportive of what the Council has been doing but I think something needs to change now or it may all be for naught.

  • Anne Giles

    We don’t appear to have any problems here in Selsdon.