‘Not saying so – South Hams waste management company doesn’t explain anything

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The contractor refuses to answer questions

Bosses of the company employed to collect rubbish at South Hams have faced angry questions over their failure to deliver the service for which they were hired.

The district’s waste management services were contracted out to FCC Environment in April 2019, but have experienced issues since, including missed collections and complaints that vehicles were too large for certain areas.

FCC hoped to replicate the service provided by the same company under contract with West Devon Borough Council for over 10 years. But the business has faced problems in South Hams, such as uncollected waste and delayed garden waste collections.

FCC has apologized, blaming staffing difficulties, but insists it is committed to fixing the problem.

However, South Hams District Council called a special meeting for Wednesday June 8 and were furious when FCC representatives insisted they could not answer questions while talks between them were ongoing. .

FCC chief operating officer Steve Longdon and Brian Ashby, FCC’s municipal collections and streetscene manager for the environment, explained that ongoing negotiations mean they are unable to give details of their operations.

But Mr Longdon told advisers: ‘We sincerely apologize for the failure to provide the service you expect and deserve.

“In particular, we would like to say sorry for the difficulties encountered with the reintroduction of the garden waste collection service.

“There are reasons for this, but we would like to clarify that when the service was rolled out and reintroduced, we had recruited enough staff required by the contract to provide the service.

“The staff have since left the contract but we have not been able to replace them.”

He added that absenteeism rates are currently at 14% and they are unable to recruit replacement staff.

Cllr Keith Baldry (Lib Dem, Newton and Yealmpton), who is also the senior member of Waste Management Services, is furious. “I can’t describe how angry and frustrated I am with FCC’s continued failure to provide decent service,” he said.

Conservative MP for Salcombe and Thurlestone Cllr Judy Pearce agreed, but also hit out at some opposition members she accuses of politicizing the issue.

“Our primary concern has always been – and continues to be – what is in the best interests of our residents,” she said.

“It is therefore particularly disappointing that the current Leader of the Opposition is making this a party political issue.

“And what we really need is for all the members to work together to solve the problem.”

After advisers kept asking FCC officials how they intended to improve the failing service, Mr. Longdon repeatedly insisted he was unable to elaborate.

“We are currently – and even today – engaged with senior council officials in a resolution.

“Due to the nature of these conversations, I am unable to expand on them at this time.”

Opposition Leader Cllr Julian Brazil (LibDem, Stokenham) said the issue had gone unresolved for two and a half years and blamed both the FCC and the board’s leadership.

He said: “Members of the public are rightly angry and frustrated out there.

“They want answers. And what we got here is a bit like Groundhog Day.

“We already had this meeting – we asked FCC to introduce themselves. It’s going to be jam tomorrow. Never delivered!’

“What we’ve asked the board to do is show some leadership and that’s what it has singularly failed to do.”

Cllr Dan Thomas (Lib Dem, Newton and Yealmpton) backed Cllr Brazil and insisted there was no way to ignore politics because the decision to give FCC the waste management contract has was taken by the Conservatives.

“We can’t not talk about politics,” he said.

“If you just draw a line down the middle of this room, it would be true to say that the people who were on the last board on that side of the room voted to send the contract to FCC. People on this side of the room voted against it.

Despite repeated questioning, Mr Longdon kept saying they would not be able to answer anything while talks were ongoing with council officers.

Cllr Nicky Hopwood slammed opposition members who called the meeting but reserved his most scathing attack on Mr Longdon, saying: ‘To be fair, Mr Longdon, you haven’t answered any questions.

“You can’t even give your company a cell phone. You haven’t answered any questions today.

“You haven’t given us any answers to anything. You said, in effect, ‘I can’t discuss it. I can’t give you an answer. I cannot comment. I do not want.

“And we sit here – all of us collectively – as a group of members with absolute frustration and gritted teeth.

“We’re all really trying to be polite.”

But Mr Longdon answered a question from Cllr Pearce in which she asked when he was going to hand in his resignation.

Mr Longdon replied: ‘I will not be tendering my resignation, Cllr Pearce.’

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