Why Edinburgh’s bin collections are in chaos - by an insider

A long-serving member of staff has explained the reasons behind Edinburgh's failing bin collection services. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
A long-serving member of staff has explained the reasons behind Edinburgh's failing bin collection services. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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UNREALISTIC workloads, over-hyped technology and use of agency staff are key factors behind the chaos over the Capital’s bin collections, it was claimed today.

The council was flooded with over 8000 complaints over missed collections in the five weeks after the new system started, with councillors reporting entire streets where bins had not been emptied.

A long-serving member of staff told the Evening News the failings behind the problems included:

* A shortage of bin lorries due to breakdowns because they are being used so intensively and the council garage which mends and maintains them is not open at weekends.

* Regular staff who know routes well being replaced with agency staff

* Routes which are too long and cannot be completed in the time set, so crews are routinely working weekends.

* The much-hyped Routesmart technology, which is “not all it’s cracked up to be”.

* Councillors kept in the dark about the real state of affairs.

The staff member said management in the department “tell the politicians what they want to hear” and then just try to make it work.

He said morale among waste crews was “rock bottom”. “Guys are going out knowing they cannot finish the route. It’s raining, it’s windy it’s the start of winter and they know they’ll be out at the weekend trying to finish the job.”

Agency staff were unfamiliar with routes and therefore missed bins, especially assisted collections where disabled people can leave their bins inside their gardens.

And he was scathing about the Routesmart routing software which is meant to help crews keep track of collections.

“Before Routesmart they had a thing called Confirm. It was meant to be all-singing, all dancing, but after two years it was not fit for purpose.

“When they told us about Routesmart and everything it was going to do we said this is what you promised a few years ago with Confirm but that’s now dead in the water. This is going the same way. No-one’s using it because it’s cr*p”.

Mary Alexander, deputy Scottish secretary of the Unite union, which represents the majority of the city’s refuse workers, said: “These are all legitimate issues. We will be looking for more answers to the points we have raised and how the council is going to address them.

“The use of agency staff always figures as an issue, as does the shortage of vehicles - and there are hired vehicles which when they develop faults cannot be repaired in-house so they are off the road.”

Unison’s Tom Howorth said 32 posts - equivalent to ten bin lorry crews - had been cut as part of the reorganisation.

He said: “.We were concerned about the cost of Routesmart and didn’t think it would be the silver bullet that was being promised

“We were very concerned about 11 hour days for staff on their feet and the toll that will take over the long term.

“This is a labour intensive service. Nobody running a service such as this can expect to cut 32 posts and have a better service.

“Waste and street cleansing have been reliant for months on costly agency staff to fill the gaps who lack the experience and knowledge of permanent staff.”

Environment convener Lesley Macinnes said it was important to recognise the bin collections changes were “ultimately for the good of the city”.

She said: “We do, of course, acknowledge there have been teething issues as new rotas and route alterations bed in, and yes, sometimes lorries can break down, impacting the service. But we have been doing all we can to manage issues as quickly as possible.”

The council claimed bin lorries were now used for fewer hours per day because they no longer did double shifts and could be mended on Mondays because there were no kerbside collections that day.

A spokeswoman said the changes meant everyone was working new routes, not just agency staff, and insisted the council was “not aware” that routes were too long.

And she insisted there were no plans to stop using Routesmart.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com