Document reveals bin men knock off 4 hours early as rubbish piles up in Capital

BIN men are finishing their shifts up to four hours early while the Capital's streets pile up with litter, according to a private council document.

Monday, 5th September 2016, 4:56 pm
Updated Monday, 5th September 2016, 5:59 pm
Rubbish has been mounting up on the streets of the Capital. Picture; Ian Georgeson

The briefing note sent to several senior councillors says refuse staff are failing to work to their contracted hours, bringing the council “into disrepute”.

Bin men are rushing to complete their routes in order to get home early – leading to “unsafe working practices” – it states.

The document, which was leaked to the Evening News, says a long-standing working practice known as “task and finish” sees bin men go home after completing their usual route, instead of working until the end of their shift.

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Rubbish on the city streets. Picture; contributed

For the 7.2-hour early and late shifts, this means many finish up to two and a half hours early. But for the 10.5-hour shift, it can mean clocking off up to four hours early.

The news comes as complaints about Edinburgh’s bin service rocketed by a third in a year.

The council’s 24-hour complaints service was inundated with 53,862 complaints about missed or overflowing bin collections between July 2015 and July this year – an average of one every ten minutes right through the day and night. A move to privatise the city’s bins service was abandoned in 2011 in the face of union opposition.

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Rubbish on the city streets. Picture; contributed

A council source said: “There’s firm evidence – unquestionable evidence – that some bin crews are leaving their shift three to four hours early, with the job half done. However, firm action will be getting taken on this.

“We all want to keep the bin service out of private hands, but if the bin crews continue to work like this, then the argument for privatisation will become overwhelming.”

Councillor Steve Cardownie, the city’s deputy Lord Provost, said the issue would be the subject of “in-depth” discussions next week.

Tory councillor Nick Cook said: “The council’s own figures demonstrate that Edinburgh’s missed waste collection complaints have soared by up to 50 per cent in the past year.

“Councillors have previously been given assurances from senior council officers that these workforce issues had been sorted out.

“It is therefore concerning that the council appears to have allowed the practice to remain ongoing, particularly given the continued slide in the quality of service.

“It is clear Edinburgh’s waste collection service is not fit for purpose. In the interest of Edinburgh taxpayers, fundamental reform is needed.”

The internal document says an ongoing “service review” will provide an opportunity to get rid of “task and finish” and reform the service.

It says the practice “is a breach of working hours arrangements and means that staff are not working to their contractual hours”.

It adds: “[Task and finish] brings the council into disrepute at a time when it is seeking to make significant savings and levels of dissatisfaction with the refuse collection service are high.

“It leads to staff using unsafe working practices in order to complete their routes early.

“It leaves us open to challenge from other staff within the organisation.”

“Attempts have been made to end task and finish in the past but these have not been followed through due to a combination of difficult industrial relations and lack of a consistent and focused management approach.”

The paper continues “a number of actions need to be put in place to support the phasing out of task and finish”.

These include introducing computer tablets to bin lorries in order to send data back to the council – including the vehicle’s GPS location – as well as the installation of on-board, 360-degree cameras.

“Driver/crew leader” roles have also been brought in to “increase the level of supervision and accountability for performance of crews whilst out on their routes”.

The document urges an end to the practice of bin men “jumping off” the lorry when they get close to their homes – insisting all staff must start and finish their working day at the depot.

It also recommends pressing “consistent messages” that task and finish cannot continue, with bosses “re-stating a 36-hour working week”.

It adds: “Ending task and finish is [a] further step in modernising and transforming the service.”

A separate document seen by the News, written by a senior council official in charge of waste management, acknowledges the “increased number of public complaints”.

It reveals some bin lorries are so old they can no longer cope with lifting larger communal bins to schedule.

Over the last few weeks, the Evening News has been inundated with complaints from readers regarding the state of bins across the Capital.

Many have raised concerns around health and safety, vermin and the stench caused by overflowing rubbish – as well as the mess itself.

Last month, we published a collection of snaps on our front page highlighting the issue. The damning photos showed litter spilling out of bins from Leith to Morningside.

The rising number of complaints comes at a time when millions of visitors flocked to Edinburgh for the festival season.

Figures show a record-breaking year for ticket sales, with the International Festival selling more than £4 million-worth, and the Fringe issuing 2.5 million.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s environment leader, previously admitted the current level of complaints is “unacceptable”.

She said the council was “well aware how important an issue refuse collection is” and was “committed to delivering an efficient service for the people of Edinburgh”.

A council spokeswoman did not refute the contents of the internal document leaked to the News, adding: “The council has put into place a number of actions to strengthen and improve management and performance of its refuse collection service.”