UBICO annual report
Objective: To consider the annual report, where Ubico are performing well, what risks are they facing and how they are mitigating them
Presentation from Karen Watson (Environmental Partnerships Manager), Cllr. Iain Dobie (Cabinet Member Waste, Recycling and Street Services)
Marvin Langston, Ubico Head of Operations, delivered a presentation recapping Ubico’s progress over the last year. The key challenges faced had been the effects of self-isolation rules on day-to-day operational planning and a national shortage of drivers. Despite these issues, they had continued to operate as normal, avoiding any drop in kerbside or grounds maintenance and ensuring that CBC met all its waste and recycling statutory obligations.
In order to combat the driver shortage, they had worked to upskill existing staff, such as through the HGV fast-track, which ensured CBC had a high number of internally trained drivers. He credited the supervisory team at the Swindon Road depot in particular for this. They had also reconsidered Ubico’s structure to build resilience, tweaking their apprenticeship routes to upskill staff. Retiring staff provided guidance and training to those who would take over their job afterwards, alongside getting formal qualifications.
He acknowledged that the number of missed bins had spiked at the start of the year, largely due to staffing issues caused by self-isolation, and new crews not knowing rounds. This trend had now dropped due to their constant focus. Food waste was the most difficult area, seeing a high turnover of staff. He highlighted that out of 6.7 million kerbside collections, 5,333 had been missed in total – a success rate of 99.92, well above their target of 99%. They would continue to monitor this, with in-cab technology expected to improve the figure further.
The presentation further covered bin requests, yearly tonnages, household waste, garden waste subscriptions, grounds maintenance and overweight tickets. He was pleased with the work CBC was doing to increase recycling rates, with more containers leading directly to better figures. Annual tonnages had plateaued, but soft plastics collection was coming in which would boost this. Residents were clearly keen to recycle garden waste, while landscaping requests were on the increase. He noted that overweight tickets were a serious issue where they did occur, and were followed up with education for drivers as well as the threat of disciplinary action. Safety issues, such as the ‘lasagne effect’ where broken glass was covered by paper or other harmless materials, were closely monitored. Any employee could submit safety concerns which the management team investigated, using CCTV where necessary.
One Member thanked the officers for their presentation and Ubico staff for doing unpleasant and vital work. They were pleased with the presentation but noted that recycling rates had plateaued since March 2021, and asked what the strategy was to get this back up to 60% again. Karen Watson, Environmental Partnerships Manager, clarified that CBC was responsible for strategy and policy while Ubico was the service provider. The recycling rate had plateaued nationwide since last year, and they were involved in various projects including a bin audit and broadening public engagement and education in order to boost it. It was tough to increase engagement when their budget was limited, so they trying to automate processes as much as possible. She stressed that recycling was central to their agenda, with Keep Britain Tidy being a recent example of this.
One Member noted that they had previously raised concerns about workers collecting bins on both sides of the road due to health and safety risks, and was pleased that this had been reduced. They noted that some residents now had three separate days for garden waste, general waste and recycling collection, which could pose difficulties for older residents who were not computer literate or could not access the internet. Was there some kind of central phone number they could call to find out the schedule? The Environmental Partnerships Manager responded that they understood that not all residents had internet access, so they did not rely solely on social media to update people, and instead worked with parish councils to get the key information out. The Member noted some areas of the town were unparished and as such might not have access to that either. Another Member asked about potentially simplifying recycling rotas, warning that complicated scheduled dissuaded recycling. The Environmental Partnerships Manager responded they were doing what they could to make it clear for residents. She would love to have all bins collected on the same day, but that would require significant extra resource.
One Member asked how missing collections were reported. The Environmental Partnerships Manager responded that collections were in something of a transition phase as they implemented new technology as part of their modernisation and green strategies. Crews operated at different times throughout the day, which Ubico tried to balance so the service was as resilient as possible and could respond to emergencies like vehicle breakdowns. They were trying to minimise changes to the schedule, and only eight roads currently had bins collected on three different days. They were building calendars to make it as clear as possible for residents, and had previously intended to post a calendar to every household explaining the timetable but had to shelve this due to budget constraints. Many authorities changed their collection days week-on-week, but Ubico tried to keep it the same day wherever possible.
One Member asked how they could strengthen the link between capability and behaviour. The Ubico Head of Operations responded that education was key, as it only took one resident putting the wrong thing in their bin to contaminate a whole truck of recycling. Extra resource was always appreciated to help build capacity. The Environmental Partnerships Manager added that waste reduction was another key point, particularly in terms of reducing the amount of residual waste in the first place. Smaller bins helped to encourage this, and they were looking at how varying standards across the county made a difference.
One Member noted that the report did not look at Ubico’s financial position or a broader overview of its contribution to the council’s climate change goals. It took into account service integration with Tewkesbury, but not the other partner councils – would they lose crews to the other authorities? Was there a Ubico for each district or one centralised body? The Environmental Partnerships Manager clarified that Ubico’s business plan, with a focus on those points, had gone before Cabinet recently and was publicly available. The Tewkesbury-centric aspects were due to Cheltenham sharing a depot with them, so they had the closest relationship. Her job as client officer for CBC was to ensure a focus on Cheltenham wherever possible. Rob Heath, Ubico Director of Operations, added that they were seeking to drive efficiencies through in-cab technology and various small projects. The vehicles were owned by CBC, while Ubico advised on availability and capacity.
The Cabinet Member Waste, Recycling and Street Services added that he had established a good working relationship with the relevant GCC strategic lead in order to ensure that when it came to long-term plans, there was proper coordination with the county council. All the partner councils met both at senior officer and Cabinet Member level to ensure a coordinated approach, though not necessarily at the same pace. They generally had the freedom to do things their own way, and could always put Cheltenham first.
The Executive Director of Place and Communities added that they wanted to reach a point where a missed collection reported by a resident could be captured and logged immediately, with the process to fix it beginning automatically. Collaboration was a key part of this, and he was pleased that partner authorities all used the same digital platform. Full co-ordination was a long-term process. There were various benefits from a Cheltenham perspective to this approach, including making better use of vehicles (i.e. fuel, wear and tear), greater efficiency for customers and value for money for the council.
The Chair was pleased with the wide-ranging discussion and officers’ focus on environmental concerns. He had a ward-based query regarding the verge cutting in Prestbury, noting that strimmers often left untidy results, while mobile speed cameras had been known to fail to pick up speeding vehicles due to overly tall grass. The Environmental Partnerships Manager agreed about the strimming issue, but noted that they could only use weed spray once a year before needing to wait for sufficient dieback. The desire to keep grass short also needed to be balanced against the need to preserve biodiversity.
The Chair thanked officers and the Cabinet Member for their time.