Camden Council have hired Veolia to do the work of waste disposal and street cleansing for them. Initiatives like this – local authorities hiring private contractors to fulfil statutory obligations – are common. Some have been disasters. Most have been failures. The Camden and Veolia system is workable – but it needs community input to get it working properly.
The system currently employed, which is a result of Veolia’s contract with Camden, does not work as it should. Go out on a walk in Bloomsbury, and you will find fly tips, littered roads, and overflowing bins. Almost every post is stickered in some way, and if it isn’t, then it is damaged by those Veolia employees who have tried to remove the stickers.
The fact that this is true means that Veolia are failing to fulfil the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for Camden, which is essentially the point of the contract.
Camden has a monitoring system of a Borough Monitoring Manager, who oversees the team of SAMOs (Senior Area Monitoring Officers). Each ward has a SAMO, who is the go-to person for cleanliness concerns. They respond to concerns in the office and patrol their area, armed with the Clean Camden app. In this sense, they are somewhat similar to Police Constables – but looking for Veolia-related crimes.
In principle, this system should be effective. The problem is that with budget cuts, there simply aren’t enough SAMOs around enough of the time to properly monitor the streets. This allows Veolia to mess around and cut corners – which they do in earnest.
That is why Camden has given every resident the opportunity to use the SAMO’s own weapon – the Clean Camden app – so that they can become volunteer SAMOs for their own area.
You can find a crash course on becoming a local SAMO here.
The way the monitoring system works, and why it exists, is explained further on this page.
The Cat and Mouse System
Veolia have signed a contract with Camden, and are paid to fulfil its clauses. To really understand the system, it will be useful to first read this analysis.
The essential take away from that analysis though is this:
- Veolia are paid to fulfil the terms of their contract.
- There are certain failures, which if reported and not resolved in certain timescales, will lead to deductions from their payment.
- Veolia, rather than fulfil the contract, simply avoid deductions.
- Thus the contract is not fulfilled, but Veolia are still paid to fulfil the contract.
The problem is that essentially there are no deductions for breaking the clauses of the contract. So Veolia, being a private company, simply break them at will. So long as they respond quickly enough to reports of certain failures, then they will get away with it!
The issues are further compounded by the fact that even when reports are made, Veolia operatives have the habit of marking reports as completed even when they aren’t.
What is Supposed to Happen
The fact that Veolia are contracted to fulfil the EPA 1990 means that Veolia should essentially be monitoring Camden’s streets themselves, recognising when streets are in need of a clean, and then cleaning it up themselves. Thus, Camden should have minimum involvement in the street cleansing operation.
The below graph shows how the level of cleanliness should vary with time related to the government’s grades of cleanliness. Essentially, it is Veolia’s job to stop streets reaching a Grade C (noticeably littered), and when they clean the road, should be restoring it to Grade A (no litter whatsoever).
Where the troughs are is where Veolia recognise the road needs a clean and they send out a sweeper.
A Self-Monitoring Contract
This just doesn’t happen.
The problem is that, although Veolia in theory are paid to fulfil the terms of the contract, there are no consequences for breaking the terms of the contract. There are only consequences if they don’t respond quickly enough to reported breaches.
In the case of the level of cleanliness graph (Grades A, B, C and D) Veolia are contracted to ensure that all roads are kept at Grade B or above. However Veolia only lose money if they allow the road to go below Grade B, and then don’t respond quickly enough to a report of this, to get the road back to Grade A.
What this means is that Veolia can break the terms of the contract – they can allow a road to go to Grade C or even D. When this is discovered, they do not face financial penalties. After a report is made, the clock is set ticking for them to restore the road to an acceptable standard.
So without any monitoring by residents or Camden, the cleanliness graph would look like this:
Indeed, this is often what happens in areas where residents are not proactive and when a SAMO forgets the road for a week or two.
Even when such an appalling transect is discovered, Veolia are still not fined – only given a deadline to clean the road up. Again, this is despite it being a breach of contract.
What this means is that Camden are forced to employ a monitoring team – the SAMOs to do spot checks on roads to try and catch Veolia out. They spend part of their time doing office work, responding to emails and resident concerns and the like, and spend part of their time out in their specified area looking for and reporting breaches.
It is worth stating that if Veolia actually adhered to the terms of their contract which they are paid to do, there wouldn’t even be any point in a SAMO. Thus Camden implicitly admit that the contract is failing – they are forced to employ a team of officers and a manager just to perform checks on Veolia’s performance. Thus the taxpayer pays for Veolia to do the work, and also for an extra team of people to make sure they are doing the work – although Veolia are in theory already paid to do that.
In principle, the fines associated with breaches of contract are meant to pay for at least some part of the monitoring system. Whether this happens or not is another matter.
The Ward of Bloomsbury has its own SAMO, Andrew Malcolm, whilst the Ward of Kings Cross shares a SAMO, Fraser Valdez, with the Ward of Holborn and Covent Garden.
Residents also can help with the monitoring operation by becoming a mini-SAMO for their road or neighbourhood, by using the Clean Camden app.
In theory, this plugs all the gaps. Veolia will be afraid to allow a road to go below standard because a SAMO might find it and report it. A resident might also be an undercover SAMO checking their road out the window every day. It should be, in theory, easier to just keep all the roads clean rather than be forced to respond to reports of breaches every day.
The cleanliness graph would then look as it is below. The troughs, rather than being the points at which Veolia notice a problem, would be when a resident SAMO notices a problem, or a Camden SAMO reports a problem. After a report, Veolia would have to respond quickly and get the road back to Grade A, removing all litter and waste.
The problem again is that this simply doesn’t work.
Veolia know that the SAMOs are simply not capable of finding every breach of contract. The SAMO for Kings Cross and Holborn & Covent Garden has around 30 miles of roads to cover, along with about 12 green spaces. He is not on the streets full time, and of course does not work through the weekend.
So rather than make the effort to keep everything clean just in case a SAMO finds a problem, Veolia allow huge amounts of mess to build up, and only clean up areas once the SAMO finds it and reports it. It is evidently much more profitable to do this.
In other words, areas which the SAMO regularly visits will be upheld at the level set out in the contract, most of the time. But for every road which the SAMO visits, there are five others that he doesn’t visit for a month or so. Those roads will be left to become filthy. After all – if nobody is watching, what’s the point of cleaning it up? Veolia won’t lose anything by that.
It has even been noted that an area will be neglected for days, even after a resident makes reports, yet cleaned up on the morning that the SAMO visits. Veolia really are that petty.
The Clean Camden app allows individuals to become volunteer SAMOs by letting them make official reports. So surely, if everyone just monitored their own patch, the problem would be solved?
Well, yes – except for one thing.
Veolia are well aware of when an official SAMO makes a report, or if it is a newcomer to the scene – each report comes with an email address. A SAMO’s report will most often be properly responded to – because they know the SAMO will follow it up. But if a newcomer makes a report – will the newcomer follow it up? It does happen that Veolia will mark reports as completed, gambling on the assumption that the newcomer either won’t realise, or won’t know how to report their negligence. For this reason, it is absolutely essential to be in contact with your Ward’s official SAMO to report when such a thing happens.
You can contact us to find your local SAMO, or contact Camden’s email directly.