Thousands of bin collections missed after coronavirus hits Bexley contractor

By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter

More than 2,500 bin collections were missed across Bexley in a six-week period this year, as the outsourcing giant Serco grappled with coronavirus and a messy, ongoing industrial dispute.

A new report due to be discussed by Bexley councillors reveals the depth of the borough’s waste collection woes so far this year, as Serco – the private company contracted by Bexley council to undertake the service – struggled to empty the bins of thousands of homes across the authority.

In its report, Bexley council states “ongoing poor performance continues to be a concern” with the service.

According to the council, Serco beefed up its workforce with additional resources when wheeled bins were rolled out over the 2019-20 winter.

“However, in the spring, Serco staff went on strike, and immediately afterwards the Covid lockdown meant that large numbers of Serco staff had to self-isolate in late March and early April,” the report says.

While normal services were reinstated in late April and early May, Serco has since “struggled to provide an acceptable level of service, particularly in rectifying service errors”.

The pain continued into August and September with the council identifying two main instances where Serco staff were overwhelmed after calling in sick.

In the first instance, Serco was left “very short” of drivers after six called in unavailable over August 25 and 26 with sicknesses unrelated to Covid.

The second saw a Serco team member test positive for Covid-19 over the August 22 weekend, backing collections up for three weeks after.

It meant five staff in his working “bubble” – including three drivers – were also forced to isolate.

“This occurred at a time of peak holidays and the loss of nine drivers (22 of the front line drivers) at short notice caused severe disruption to the collection services for three weeks with many roads having very delayed collections,” the report said.

Continued complaints earlier this year saw Bexley council undertake a six-week monitoring exercise between June 1 and July 12, showing that 2,673 homes were missed out when it came to having their waste collected – about 0.16 per cent of the total homes in the borough.

Crayford and Sidcup were identified as the hotspots for all missed collections, while Erith suffered most from missed garden waste and residual waste collections.

The critical coverage comes as the council weighs up whether to extend the contract with Serco for a further five years up to 2025.

The report will be discussed in more depth at Bexley’s overview and scrutiny meeting on October 8.


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