Experiments and an FOI request reveal Veolia are falsely marking requests for work as complete Borough-wide, avoiding deductions from their payment schedule while ensuring litter builds up. But Camden aren’t interested in fully investigating the situation.
After our initial experiment in Clean Camden usage in the area of Bloomsbury, it has become clear that reports are falsely being marked as completed on a large scale.
Reports, once made, are marked as ‘open’ and then eventually ‘closed’. Once they are closed, they can be marked as ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete’. We had found that many reports being closed and marked as complete were actually incomplete.
If Veolia fail to respond to a report in time, they must close a report as incomplete. By doing so, a deduction is automatically made from their payment. Closing a report as complete, even if it isn’t actually complete, will avoid deductions.
A preliminary investigation by Veolia suggested no wrongdoing.
One of the conclusions was that many of the litter reports were ‘unjustified’ in the sense of not requiring any action. Veolia are only required to respond to reports of litter if the road falls below a Grade B standard as defined by the Environmental Protection Act. However as the contract states that Veolia should ensure that roads are always kept at Grade B or above, they should in principle still respond to reports of a road at Grade B if it is judged that it is soon to fall below the required standard.
Some reports of the described type were being closed with no action, but still marked as complete.
Veolia had earlier suggested that the app itself, following updates, was erroneously pushing out reports as closed and complete when no action had been taken.
Camden Council had also suggested that the app lacks some functionality so that when reports are closed as ‘incomplete’ by Veolia, service users find that the reports are closed as ‘complete’, leading to misunderstanding.
However in Veolia’s preliminary investigation it was stated that reports were indeed being closed as ‘incomplete’ but that we were perhaps mistakenly believing that the reports being closed as ‘incomplete’ were in fact completed.
After a review, it was found that indeed a minority of reports had been closed as ‘incomplete’, proving that the earlier claim of the missing functionality was false.
The majority of reports had still been marked as closed and complete, including dozens which were not actioned.
We supplied evidence of many reports which had been closed as completed but which had not been actioned. We also added further reports on Clean Camden but found that they were immediately closed as completed. We highlighted these incidents to the SAMO on a tour of the area.
We strongly suspected that closing reports as completed without action would cause Veolia to dodge deductions from their payment, thereby both defrauding the local taxpayer and decreasing their quality of life. These suspicions were further confirmed when it was found that reports of around thirty fly-posting incidents were closed as completed only hours before the deadline for action, all within minutes of each other.
Furthermore, it was found that after these reports were closed as completed, Veolia did not action the reports retrospectively. Thus it was not just the case that Veolia exceeded their deadline, but the reports were not actioned at all.
This phenomenon was analysed and predicted in our analysis of the payments and performance schedule, which assessed how the profit incentive is used ineffectually to cause Veolia to meet deadlines and complete work.
Meanwhile we made a Freedom of Information request to the London Borough of Camden to discover how much had been deducted from Veolia’s payments through Clean Camden reports.
The response strongly suggested that beginning in August 2018, Veolia have been defrauding the taxpayer by falsely marking reports as completed.
There are many reasons why the response suggests this.
There is no reason why reports and deductions would change by an order of magnitude over the course of a single month, unless Veolia had increased their resources throughout the whole of Camden during that time, and kept the resources at that level since. No such change has been reported. Furthermore, Camden have been advertising the use of the application, leading to a hypothetically consistent quota of new users which would cause random fluctuations of Clean Camden reports throughout Camden’s geographical area. Even with a new and increased level of resource throughout Camden as a whole, it would not be possible to accurately predict these fluctuations, inevitably leading to some missed reports.
The most convincing reason supporting the hypothesis of widespread fraudulent practice however is the huge discrepancy between the number of defaults and the raw number of reports made. ITV had recently reported on the worst affected boroughs in the country for fly tipping, and Camden had come out at second, with a total number of 25,765 reports over the course of a year, giving an indication that the usual number of fly tip reports in a month is around 2147.
During the month of September 2019, Veolia reported that all of the roughly 2000 reports throughout Camden were actioned within a week.
Where does the Evidence Point?
There are now two forms of evidence pointing towards the same hypothesis, that of dishonest practice.
There is firstly the ‘common knowledge’ that Clean Camden reports are frequently closed as completed when they have not been actioned. Individuals that have trialled the use of Clean Camden have frequently reported this, and then we tested and proved this in our trials in Bloomsbury. This is a type of evidence termed ‘microevidence’.
There is secondly the evidence contained in the FOI response which points to a practice of fraudulent reporting throughout the whole of Camden. This is a type of evidence termed ‘macroevidence’.
Now that microevidence and macroevidence point towards the same hypothesis, it is hard to disprove the hypothesis without convincing evidence to the contrary.
There has been no convincing evidence supplied by Camden or Veolia to support the contrary hypothesis, that the practice is honest.
When initially tasked to respond, responses were first to the effect that there had been a software error causing reports to be falsely closed as completed. We tested this evidence, and after unusual correlations emerged in our sample of 250 reports, the likelihood of a software error being the root cause is thin.
Veolia then abandoned this hypothesis and stated that reports were actually being honestly closed as incomplete but that residents were falsely believing that reports had been marked as completed. When we checked this claim, we found this also to be false in the large majority of our sample reports.
If this had been the case throughout all of Camden, then many more reports would have been marked as defaulted in the Freedom of Information response.
No further evidence has been supplied to support the hypothesis that there is no wrongdoing, and no counter-evidence has been supplied to contradict our evidence and hypothesis. Senior Veolia employees have not responded to our requests for comment.
What will Happen Now?
A formal complaint has been lodged with the Environment Services at Camden which is being discussed and investigated at a senior level. The Environment Services are pushing for changes to the Clean Camden app to eliminate the possibility of ‘false reporting’ or a ‘lack of functionality’. This would see an explanatory note attached to any reports closed as incomplete and perhaps further changes to make it easier to hold Veolia to account during instances of false reporting.
Veolia have also been tasked to investigate our claims fully and we will await the outcome of those investigations.
We have made further Freedom of Information requests to gather further evidence for our claims of wrongdoing.
The Camden New Journal has taken an interest in the controversy and have been doing their own investigations, asking us for evidence of our claims which we have supplied, and contacting Camden and Veolia for a response.
Once the investigation is complete we will write a letter to the Cabinet to highlight these issues and depending on the outcome of the investigation, request a Public Inquiry into these issues, which have cost the taxpayer tens or hundreds of thousands, and also contributed to the public perception of Camden as a dirty place to live and work, and also the public perception of Camden Council as incompetent and wasteful with taxpayers’ money.
Our first and foremost aim is to bring our streets to a level of cleanliness seen in many other European cities, and which both the area and the people whom live within it deserve. This is what has motivated us to research common claims of wrongdoing, in an effort to stamp out malpractice which contributes to the dirtiness of our streets. The principal reason for our investigation into Clean Camden is that when honestly used, it can become a perfect tool for keeping our streets clean.
Our core belief is that no more money or investment is required to keep our streets clean. We all see first hand the inadequacies of Veolia’s work – corruption of Clean Camden reports, missed collections, un-emptied bins, and dossing street cleaners. The taxpayer already pays for a first class cleansing service, but as shown in the most recent investigation, this money disappears into Veolia’s accounts and yet the streets are not kept clean. It is easy enough to brush aside these issues as ‘inevitable’ but simply put, they are not. What we are dealing with is a corruption of public money, and the public, Camden, and Veolia, need to stare this issue in the face and find a way to resolve it.