Vandalised Telephone Box, Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury

Long Read – Who does Camden Serve?

Three hour on-street meeting with Camden officers and analysis of Veolia contract reveals Camden’s complicity in Veolia’s shortcuts.

As we waited outside Kings Cross Methodist Church for Fraser Valdez from Camden, we anxiously looked up at all the windows before us, wondering if we had been set up. Perhaps they had posted a sniper at one of those windows?

A street cleaner rolled past, looking at us suspiciously. A pigeon landed at our feet. ‘Are you Fraser Valdez?’ we asked. It flew off. 1pm came and went, but nobody arrived.

Then we saw someone rushing down the road in a green Camden polo – ‘Owen Ward?’ he said. The new officer for Kings Cross had made his entrance.

Three hours later we parted on good terms, yet more concerned than ever. What did we find in that time?

The Role of the Monitoring Officer.

After much conversation, we have found that the monitoring system for our streets is stretched so thin as to hardly exist.

Above street level, much of our area is of outstanding beauty.

We initially had much heated conversation on Euston Road with Mr Valdez regarding the state of the streets, although much of that friction resulted from misunderstanding.

You see we had believed that the Monitoring Officers did what was said on the tin – monitor the streets. This would presumably include monitoring street cleaners, monitoring levels of litter, checking levels of litter in the bins, those dockless bikes, and other such things, all with an aim to prevent build up of filth.

However this is not at all true, and unfortunately, the Monitoring Officers have little more power than a resident in uniform.

Their job is to patrol their area, and use the Clean Camden app or otherwise to report fly tips and similar issues as they come across them, to Veolia.

So although they are paid and are educated as to who to contact, they actually have no further powers than you or us.

Mr Valdez does not work every day, and is the only one with all of the two wards of Kings Cross and Holborn and Covent Garden to monitor.

Kings Cross, Holborn and Covent Garden. Mr Valdez is somewhere in here.

The perimeter of the border is over five miles long – and the total area is about 1.8 million square metres, or around 440 acres. Calculations suggest that the total length of streets in this area amounts to at least 30 miles. One person simply cannot monitor this whole area effectively.

And beneath this lies more fundamental problems. After much conversation with Fraser it became clear that he has no control over the performance of Veolia’s employees. He could only respond to issues on a case by case basis, and even then, as we have found, it is debatable whether or not Veolia actually respond to these reports.

To make that clear, the Monitoring Officers are not given any power to supervise even the street cleaners, which raises the question yet again – who is?

And so campaigning for greater powers and smaller areas for our Monitoring Officers will be yet another thing to add to our list.

And with the rest of our meeting, we did what we could.

When the streets are obscured, the true nature of Bloomsbury reveals itself.

Over three hours we toured with Dean and Fraser the ward of Kings Cross pointing out many individual cases that required attention. These included in particular Speedy Place and Argyle Walk, along with Judd Street. After initially defending the stance of the Council, at the end of our tour, they had accepted that things were certainly not as they should be – but as we could see, they only had very limited powers to amend these issues.

Hopefully however, we shall start to see an improvement in the state of the streets in the Kings Cross Ward at least – we are still yet to hear from the Bloomsbury Ward Officer.

The Hillview Estate and Argyle Walk.

We also found that both officers had been somewhat misled on the nature of the Law along with the legal responsibilities of Veolia and Camden. That can only point to a failure in their education by more senior employees.

So to where did that lead us?

The Management.

The next in command is Ian Dudding, the Borough Monitoring Manager.

As we have seen, Mr Dudding has failed to respond to complaints reasonably, and refuses to admit to there being any problem at all within the Council.

He also has said in a similar manner what Fraser said to us – that if we want to report an issue with a street cleaner, then we should simply follow behind and use the Clean Camden App.

Now that is rather curious. One would assume that a senior employee of the Council would have some leverage with Veolia – or at least their street cleaners. But rather than accept our issues and follow them up with Veolia, he actually vigorously defends Veolia.

Are the street cleaners truly more powerful than Ian Dudding?

Don’t mess with us.

Behind all this are the senior Veolia employees who have remained strangely silent.

Why is that? What exactly is the role that Veolia plays in all this? Surely they are technically also, just employees of Camden?

Veolia and Camden – who serves who?

After hearing these concerning issues, we decided to peruse a document sent to us long ago – part of Veolia’s contract with Camden detailing what Veolia is actually paid to do.

We had had this stored for a long while – but did not bother to read it. Why is that? Under the Environmental Protection Act, Camden are the ones responsible for keeping the streets clear of litter – regardless of any subcontractor’s involvement, such as Veolia. So admittedly, we thought it a bit of a red herring.

But what we found was actually quite astonishing.

53.1 requires Veolia to ensure that Camden comply with the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

What that means is that despite all Camden’s excuses of how difficult it is to keep the streets clean – Veolia are actually already fully paid to do the job that Camden claims is impossible!

Veolia are breaking the most central clause in the contract, so why are Camden not pestering Veolia about this? Indeed, why are Camden not up in arms about this?

And yet more Nonsense.

Sec 54 deals with street cleansing, and details how after any street cleaner visits a road, it should be restored to a ‘Grade A Standard’.

What that means is a spotless road. A single fag-end reduces the road to a Grade B. So written into this contract is the requirement that street cleaners work so hard that they don’t even leave a single fag-end behind.

Is that really the case?

Ensure that no bin is ever more than 85% full or overflowing?

Who is policing this contract? There are many more other clauses – perhaps even the majority – that are completely ignored.

One can only wonder why Camden would pay for a service that they don’t get, and seemingly not even know that they are being taken for fools.

But the answer lies in a single sentence.

Veolia are the ones responsible for monitoring their own performance.

In other words, Veolia mark their own homework.

In what sort of a world is that a sensible idea?

We complain to Camden about the state of the streets. Then Camden assure us that there are no problems with the streets. But they are relying on reports given to them by Veolia – the company responsible for problems in the first place.

Post Script: An Analogy.

An analogy highlighting the ridiculousness of this current situation.

Suppose you decide to hire a cleaner to clean your house every day.

You are very house-proud, and so search the world for the best cleaner, and find the perfect one – let’s call her Victoria. ‘You must hoover the carpets until they’re clean, you must dust everywhere where dust builds up, you must clean the windows occasionally, and take the bins out as well. All in all, keep this place as tidy as you possibly can, without going over the top.’

You get a bright idea. Rather than pay Victoria for each individual bit of work that she does, you both write up a contract, both sign it, and agree a fee for the work to be done for the next eight years.

It’s quite an expensive sum to pay in one go – but it’s convenient because you don’t have to pay her after every bit of work done. You can also look at the contract to see whether she’s doing her work as agreed, and if things get nasty, take Victoria to court and get your money back, also with some extra money for the mess she’s caused.

Of course that won’t happen though – Victoria is the best cleaner in the world, after all.

All is well and good. You invite your friend Samuel around to visit, and he remarks upon the house. ‘This is filthy’ he says – ‘there’s bottles of vodka piled up in that corner!’

‘Well perhaps’, you say, ‘but that’s not my problem – tell Victoria.’

Samuel gets a little suspicious at this, and comes round when he knows Victoria will be cleaning. He watches her hoovering the carpet, and notices something odd – the hoover isn’t even plugged in! He takes photos of this. He follows her around the house, and notices that Victoria isn’t actually doing anything – just walking around, and occasionally picking up a bottle and throwing it into the corner. She sits on the sofa and smokes a few fags, dropping them on the ground, and kicking them under the rug. Samuel takes photos of all this.

The next day he shows you the photos – ‘look,’ he says – ‘Victoria isn’t cleaning the house!’ You look at these photos. ‘Sorry Samuel, my eyes won’t open today. Just show Victoria’.

Samuel comes back again a few days later and shows you the photos. ‘Hmm,’ you say. ‘Yes. Well it’s not our job to watch Victoria’s work, it’s hers. Next time, just go around and point out all the things that are being left out. It’s up to Victoria to do the work, not me.’

Meanwhile, rubbish and filth is building up all over your house. Somehow stickers appear on the walls. Then glass gets broken in your windows, and people start breaking in and spray painting the walls. Pigeons manage to get in and start living in the house as well. Prostitution adverts appear all over the place, someone starts roasting nuts in your porch, and people start storing bikes in your house. When you wake up in the morning, there’s a congregation of beggars around your bed asking for change.

Samuel comes round again and points this all out – ‘It’s pretty obvious Victoria isn’t doing her job,’ he says, ‘look at the state of this place! How can you even live here, what the hell happened?’

‘Well,’ you say, ‘this all just proves how difficult it is to keep this place clean, doesn’t it! You can hardly blame her, cleaning this place up now isn’t really reasonable. And if you’ve got a problem, Samuel, just tell Victoria about it, as I’ve said already. I’m starting to doubt that those photos are even of this place – I just had a look round, and it was perfect, actually.’

A dozen pigeons scurry over the floor in a frenzy pecking at the crumbs dropping from your croissant. A dozen more look down from the bare rafters. A bin bag flies in through the open door and explodes against the wall.

‘When was Victoria here last?’

‘I don’t know Samuel, ask Victoria. As I said, it’s up to her to know these things, not me.’

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