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.
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.
We will push for change in the approach to monitoring Veolia.
There are two things which we will push for.
- A closer monitoring of Veolia’s individual operatives.
- 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.