Agenda item


Beth Boughton (Managing Director – Ubico), Karen Watson (Client Officer – CBC) and Councillor Dobie (Cabinet Member Waste & Recycling & Street Services)


Objective:Consider the Ubico annual performance report, as well as understanding the main risks and opportunities and consider how Gloucester City have been integrated (this is also an opportunity to meet the new MD, Beth Boughton)


The Chairman welcomed Beth Boughton (MD – Ubico), Rob Heath (Operations Director – Ubico), Karen Watson (Client Officer – CBC) and Councillor Dobie (Cabinet Member Waste & Recycling & Street Services).  He thanked them for the report that had been circulated with the agenda and reminded members that this was an opportunity to review performance, understand any risks or opportunities currently facing Ubico, as well as consider how Gloucester City Council would be integrated.


Rob talked through some key performance data as shown in the Executive Summary of their performance report and along with Karen Watson, Client Officer, gave the following responses to member questions:


·         Last year the council decided to make every effort to reduce the amount of glyphosate it used and members had supported this move for environmental reasons.  As a result of covid and the vast reduction in footfall, paired with weather conditions, there had been more germination of seeds than would have usually been seen, which had resulted in prolific weed growth.  The council avoided the use of glyphosates and instead undertook manual weed control with a weed ripper and a hired small pavement sweeper that came complete with a weed ripper arm.  Members were assured that with the help the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, and input from many other authorities, all of whom were dealing with the same issues, all manner of alternatives had been explored, however, due to the scale of the task at hand, the plan for addressing weeds now included one glyphosate spray. This started in June, a month later than planned due to covid and would take 4-6 weeks to complete, with the weeds then being removed manually.  Weed spraying was cheap but not good for the environment and manual weed removal was great for the environment but not cheap and therefore it was hoped that through a combination of as minimal as possible glyphosate usage and manual weed pulling, the 50% reduction that had been committed to, would be met this year.  Ubico staff were to be commended for their hard work and the innovative ways in which they were approaching this job and people were urged to bear with them as they worked their way across the town, tackling the worst hit areas first.  Members were advised that a further update would be circulated this week and next, and would include a map which outlined where spraying had taken place.  It wasn’t possible to give any firm dates for completion of this work, but members were invited to identify any areas that perhaps had not been spotted.


·         Ubico had a robust process in place for dealing with overweight vehicles, monitoring and identifying where and when a vehicle should tip a street or two earlier on a particular route in order to avoid further instances and another process for crews that failed to act on this instruction.  It was noted that with fortnightly collections, it would take the crew two weeks to get back to a particular street and members were assured that overweight vehicles did not invalidate the insurance; there was a tolerance of between 3% and 5% to allow for a certain scenarios including wet cardboard which weighed more, though it was also noted that Ubico worked to a zero tolerance. 


·         All domestic residual waste from the green wheelie bins went via a bulking station to Javelin Park, nothing at all went to landfill. 


·         Ubico had recently undertaken an audit of all communal waste, but policies were set by CBC rather than Ubico and the Client Officer, along with the Cabinet Member Waste & Recycling & Street Services and the Chief Executive, had met with CBH to talk about the issue of communal waste Cllr Dobie and Gareth Edmundson met with CBH recently to talk about communal waste and would be arranging a date for a walk around of St Pauls; looking particularly at 48 St Georges Street where this was a particular issue.  Members’ may have seen that Ubico were using pink stickers in an effort to reduce waste and guidance had been given to landlords, though this was now some years old and needed to be updated, but any solution would require buy-in from the community and  member input into this would be very welcome. 


·         Every route had a risk assessment and part of this assessment was whether the particular road was suitable for loading from both sides, which some were and if members provided the details to Ubico, they could check and verify whether this was indeed the case for that particular road.


·         The ‘reported safety concerns’ figures within the report, is near misses.  Ubico had recently opened their own in-house training centre, and the training team worked closely with the health & safety team, so that they could respond quickly to emerging safety concerns and deliver appropriate training.  Although the number of safety concerns were rising, this was driving down accidents, as it was highlighting issues that staff were coming up against and enabling Ubico to resolve them.   


Beth went on to confirm that Gloucester City Council were set to join Ubico as a shareholder imminently, with the process well underway and that Ubico would then start delivering services very similar to what it does for Cheltenham from April 2022.  She confirmed that there was a separate project team to deliver that mobilisation, which would continue beyond the April date to ensure a smooth integration and that core services to other partners were not impacted.  She felt that the addition of Gloucester unlocked the whole of Gloucestershire, which opened up the possibility of synergies and efficiencies within the county, as well as cross-boundary working and shared services. 


In terms of risks, Beth flagged diesel prices.  When the budget for this year was set, prices were quite depressed, though an assumption was made that they would increase and indeed they were now increasing and there was a risk that prices may exceed the assumptions made within the budget; so this was something they were monitoring closely.  An emerging risk, as of last week, was numbers being told to self-isolate or look after children who were having to.  Whilst these numbers were nothing like the level of absence seen at the start of the pandemic, it was something that Ubico were keeping an eye on, though reported lockdown changes from July could resolve this issue.  Another risk was the flu, with forecasts that the flu could be more impactful this year, and mitigate this risk and protect staff welfare, Ubico would be offering flu jabs to all staff were exploring how to offer this to the most remote of workers so that they too can easily access it.   


People would be aware, given the press coverage, that there was a shortage of HGV drivers and that this was not unique to Ubico, but rather a national problem; with a shortage of around 70,000 drivers.  It was suggested that the situation had been further impacted as a result of covid, with a backlog of 30,000 drivers waiting to be tested and compounded by the fact that following brexit, a large number of HGV drivers had returned to their home countries.  Rob explained that whilst this was a national issue, Ubico were starting to suffer slightly and were looking at ways of mitigating the risk.  They had previously put people through an apprenticeship to get their HGV license, however they were no longer doing this as it changed, but were offering to train existing staff, loaders for example, to get them their LGV and move them to driving positions.  They were also, along with the Client Officer, looking at pay for drivers, to see how they could be more competitive.  There were some private companies currently advertising a better package, though he stressed that there were a range of other benefits to working for Ubico and that half of those that left, subsequently returned. 


A number of members commended Ubcio for the quality of their report and the quality of service they delivered and for their all their efforts throughout the pandemic. 


No decision was required, but the committee looked forward to the 2022 performance report. 

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