What a Mess

Despite progress, it is clear there is something very wrong with the management of Veolia.

Litter has been building up in the Judd Street area over the past couple of weeks.

Despite maintaining a respectable level of cleanliness for some time, it appears that Veolia have decided to save on costs by simply rescinding cleaning operatives in the area.

It is quite clear that some back roads have not seen a proper sweep for some weeks.

Since the two recent storms, litter has been spread throughout the area after bin-bags were blown into the road and destroyed by cars. Veolia simply haven’t cleaned it up.

The area is now in a fairly uniform state of mess.

What is particularly disappointing about this is that some of the worst affected roads are ones which were flagged to us and Camden many months ago as being left out from cleaning schedules due to an error. This was flagged up to us by a Veolia operative. It is clear that since that time these problems simply haven’t been fixed.

Judd Street between Leigh Street and Tavistock Place. Veolia reported this stretch as not being on anyone’s schedule.

It’s a symptom of a wider problem with dysfunctional management within Veolia and a laissez-faire approach to monitoring Veolia’s operatives.

What has Caused This?

In 2017 Camden and Veolia signed a new contract which allowed for a more ‘flexible’ approach to street cleansing.

What this means is that Veolia no longer have to clean a road as part of a schedule but clean it on an ad-hoc basis. Previously Veolia only cleaned roads as part of a schedule and did not respond to ‘reports’ as they do now. This is why Clean Camden was only introduced in 2017.

Whilst the old approach appears more sensible, it also had its drawbacks. We have been told that when a road was trashed with litter, unless Camden reported the problem within half an hour of the scheduled sweep Veolia would claim it had ‘dropped below grade since being swept’. These days a sweeper can be ordered to clean up a road at any time.

In reality most roads still have a cleansing schedule, but this is not seen by the public or even by Camden’s officers. These schedules are broken up into lists of roads given to sweepers. However not only are some roads left out entirely from these sweeper schedules, individual sweepers sometimes don’t bother to sweep all roads on their lists, and nobody monitors whether or not this is done.

This reached a point where in the summer of 2019 a sweeper took a holiday and Camden failed to realise a whole area of Bloomsbury had been without a sweeper for some weeks.

Veolia do release schedules of road sweeps upon request, but these schedules are often complete nonsense.

Camden’s approach is that their officers monitor the ‘performance of the contract’ but not how the contract specification is delivered – that’s up to Veolia. Camden therefore do not take an interest in monitoring individual sweepers or checking sweeping schedules. This approach creates a ‘wall of unaccountability’ which allows individual operatives to get away with not performing properly.

Simply put, Camden only identify the results of poor performance but don’t try to address the cause of poor performance. The overarching philosophy is that if you identify the results enough, then Veolia will sort out the cause.

However it is clear this simply doesn’t work.

It also means that there is nobody to actually check whether every road is getting swept. This is why despite Veolia operatives flagging the problem it appears that nothing has been done to resolve it.

Gordon Square – when was this last swept?

What Now?

We will push for change in the approach to monitoring Veolia.

There are two things which we will push for.

  1. A closer monitoring of Veolia’s individual operatives.
  2. A proper inspection of cleansing schedules, and how they are being implemented.

We will no doubt have to debate whether officers can do this considering they are meant to monitor performance of the contract but not how the contract is delivered, but we will try to impress the importance of a ‘common sense’ approach to resolving this problem. There is no use in us playing a game of cat-and-mouse reporting individual streets as below standard when the very reason a street is below standard is because some individual has neglected to sweep it. It is better to try and resolve the root cause of the problem rather than run about identifying the results of the problem, which at any rate are quite clear to everyone.

It is also clear that the view of the general public is that there is a serious problem with the performance of Veolia’s operatives.

Is this Mess ever Going to End?

Probably not. Although we have made progress, unless new operatives or management are brought in we will probably every so often see these periods of unacceptable standards. This is because Veolia’s approach is often to allow areas to become littered and then clean them up, rather than to keep them clean. It is apparently cheaper to do this.

It is quite clear from our experience that there is a real problem with Veolia’s operatives and management. Time and again we see simple problems go on for weeks or months while Veolia try to dodge responsibility and put off doing anything. It appears that Camden are largely powerless to stop this.

It is also clear that problems with Veolia’s performance are widespread throughout the Borough, with a quick search of ‘Veolia’ in the Camden New Journal bringing up 90 results. None appear to be positive.

One of the problems is that since 2017, Veolia have been paid less to deliver the same standards as expected before 2017. This appears to have caused Veolia to look to cut corners wherever possible to save on costs. It appears that the stipulations on performance in Veolia’s contract are only treated as a formality. This is backed up by the evidence we uncovered which showed Veolia had not ever met all their performance targets in a single assessment.

However we have made considerable progress in building a relationship with Camden’s side of the operation and as a result of this we should see more bins in the area and we are currently working on new signs to educate residents about proper disposal of waste.

It is clear that the real problem lies somewhere within Veolia’s side of the bargain.

5 thoughts on “What a Mess

  1. HI Owen,

    You are right. Veolia seems to have given up completely. Judd St very dirty at 7 am this morning, the verge in front of Bramber Green littered as it always is. Sadly, it’s no better elsewhere in the borough.

    I have given up on Veolia and I am cleaning Tonbridge St in front of QAM myself, picking up 10 – 20 pieces of litter every morning. This way I can pretend to myself that I live in a civilised borough. As distressing as Veolia is, it is also distressing that 10 – 20 people a day throw their litter in Tonbridge St. I suspect the school pupils are no better, which doesn’t bode well for future generations.

    Anyway, keep up the fight. It is much appreciated.

    Michael (105)



  2. I have pointed out before, that the actual cost of street cleaning that people want is way above the Veolia contract.
    Here in Holborn Station area a team of people could spend all day clearing up the rubbish and the masses of cardboard. dumped by businesses.


    1. Yes, underfunding is a part of the problem. However speaking from experience of shadowing Camden’s employees every week, the principal problem that I see is Veolia employees simply dossing around and refusing to do work. There is a work ethic within Veolia of ‘do as little as possible, make as many excuses as possible’. More funding probably wouldn’t change that.


  3. As someone who has lived in Bloomsbury for 69 years and seen varied levels of quality in street cleaning I would remind people if they remember as far back as I do of the awful levels cleaning before Veolia. Also as an ex employee of them I know most of the staff are hard working yes there are problems but the one nobody seems to know about is the poor relationship between Camden & Veolia I worked with them for 11 years and it always felt like them and us certainly not working in partnership.We would report thing to our line managers that would have to be sorted out by Camden a lot of the time nothing would get done or it would take forever.As for the lack Enforcement Dept enough said. So to just blame Veolia isn’t fair to me its more a 50/ 50 split


    1. Hi Roger,

      What you say is very interesting about Veolia and Camden not working in partnership. Obviously I have only seen the Camden side of things. Camden seem to employ a philosophy of ‘we pay them to do this so let them get on with it’.

      I am thinking of interviewing people on the Veolia side of things. If you would like to write something please do get in touch.



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