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Canterbury Environment Company to replace Serco as firm emptying Kent district's bins

Householders angry at missed bin collections will soon be able to call back refuse trucks to collect their rubbish via new technology.

The “quick and simple” method is among the changes set to come into force across Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable in January 2021 when the city council takes control of emptying bins.

Missed collections will soon be easier to report
Missed collections will soon be easier to report

Serco, which has been operating in the district for 30 years, is to be ditched and replaced by the newly-formed Canterbury Environment Company - a firm specifically created by the council to effectively bring waste services in-house.

The move, which will see the vast majority of Serco’s workforce transferred over, is hoped to improve much-criticised bin collection rates.

David Ford, director of commissioned services at the council, said: “There’s been performance issues with Serco over the years, I’m not going to deny that.

“There have been pockets of problems but there’s been good sides to it as well. Everyone expects their bin to be collected on the right day, and if it isn’t, they’re right to moan.

“So we’re confident we can improve the service for everyone by getting more control.

Canterbury Environment Company will likely take on the Serco fleet of bin lorries
Canterbury Environment Company will likely take on the Serco fleet of bin lorries

“At the moment if someone’s bin is missed, the helpdesk may get a call and then we’re chasing Serco to get onto it. It can take hours.

“But with the new technology - likely an app - we’ll be able to get that information straight away as people can report a missed collection immediately.

“It’ll be much more streamlined and simpler for missed bins to be collected. We’ll be able to track the lorries and issues can be sorted.

“We can’t expect to wave a magic wand and everything will be amazing. It will take a bit of time but we can get the changes in place and build and improve over the following weeks and months.”

Since the council made its intentions to cut ties with Serco clear, the waste contractor has upped its game, with missed recycling rates more than halving between March 2018 and 2019.

Serco will be ditched in 2021
Serco will be ditched in 2021

But previous woeful performances in 2017 seemingly spelled the end for Serco.

Mr Ford says pay will remain the same for employees and the top jobs at Canterbury Environment Company will soon be advertised.

The new firm, which will be classed as a Local Authority Trading Company (LATco), will take over the reins on Monday, January 25.

It is expected to use the existing Serco fleet and the same base in Wincheap, behind Morrisons.

“We don’t want a gas-guzzling fleet of trucks and we’ve got climate emergency targets to meet,” Mr Ford said.

Canterbury City Council's David Ford, director of commissioned services
Canterbury City Council's David Ford, director of commissioned services

“So, in line with that, we’ll be looking to get environmentally-friendly vehicles and will be transitioning to carbon-neutral.

“It won’t be straight away on day one but we’re certainly looking to get modern vehicles. Ideally we’ll be using the current Serco fleet at the start but we’re still in negotiations over that.”

The cash-strapped authority’s costs for the changeover are yet to be finalised, but the original figure for setting up the LATco was earmarked as £400,000.

Currently, Serco is financially penalised for missing contractual targets - yet Mr Ford says such action will not be taken against the Canterbury Environment Company.

“As it will be a trading company set up by us, it would be a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul, so there won’t be financial penalties,” he said. “So we’ll be coming up with different ways of incentivising performance.

The council hopes to improve bin collection rates
The council hopes to improve bin collection rates

“There’s a huge amount of work going into it all and we’re working with Serco to get a smooth transition.

“We’ll be working on building relationships with the current crews as that’s very important.

“This all has nothing to do with cost - it’s about improving the service for every resident.

“In the first weeks, residents won’t notice much difference as it will be the same lorries and same workers but it will all become much more streamlined.”

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