Members were provided with an overview of the current service position in Streetcare and how service delivery was proceeding as the Council moved towards the recovery phase from the coronavirus emergency.
Officers presented the Committee with a graph of COVID related absence in the Streetcare service area, contained within Appendix A of the circulated report. It was highlighted that COVID related absences were required to be recorded and collated on a weekly basis, which Officers had been doing since 13 March 2020. The graph illustrated how the COVID absences had varied and in particular, how the rate of absences was progressing towards the end of March before lockdown was then introduced. As evident in the graph, it was stated that the biggest element associated with COVID absences for Streetscare was those shielding which now made up the majority of absences. However, it was noted that the next review for those shielding was due on 16 August 2020, with letters due to be sent out the week before that, which would provide a better understanding of the impact.
Following this, the Committee was presented with the Streetcare service delivery position, contained within Appendix B of the circulated report, which covered the A-Z of services within the Streetcare remit. Officers briefly went through some of the comments on the existing status and updated Members where necessary.
In relation to beach cleansing, it was mentioned that the service was operating as normal, however more resources were being utilised as the service was trying to keep up with the clearing up of waste due to more people were visiting the beach and not disposing of their rubbish.
Members were informed that the recycling centres opened on 26 May 2020 with a booking system introduced in which the public could book a 15 minute time slot to drop off their recycling. It was noted that the system was working very well, and that other Councils across Wales were thinking of keeping their booking systems in place for the future. Officers highlighted that Neath Port Talbot Council could also look into keeping their booking system in place.
The Committee were made aware that the £1million street lighting project was going ahead, in which more LED lighting would be introduced and the high energy consumption lights would be removed. It was mentioned the contract started the week commencing 13 July 2020 and the contractor had started to complete the electrical testing before lights start to be replaced.
It was highlighted that recycling and waste collection was an area that the Streetcare service had prioritised, with staff working very hard over the lockdown period to keep the service going and to deal with the increase of waste and recycling that had been generated.
Stores and purchasing was mentioned to have played an important role in helping with PPE and equipment, not only for the Environment Directorate but also assisting other areas across the Council.
Officers explained that tree maintenance had an additional service pressure to cut back overgrown trees along highways due to additional double decker buses, as a lot of the single decker bus routes had been changed to double. It was noted that a lot of work had to be completed in a short period of time to make those routes safe for the public.
Members were informed that waste enforcement was up and running, but there was a 72 hour delay before opening bags of waste as it now needed to be a much more measured and calculated process due to the virus. It was also mentioned that due to the ban of the public using the Council buildings, PACE interviews had not been carried out, however staff were currently looking into arrangements to utilise the facilities in Neath Civic Centre so that the interviews could be continued.
In relation to land and highway drainage development control, it was stated that Mike Roberts and Dave Griffiths would be reviewing the land drainage enforcement function to identify if it would be better placed, for efficiency, with the highways and drainage section. It was noted that following the review, the necessary procedures would take place for the function to move if required.
The main issue affecting services was noted to be the ‘three in cab’ issue; set out in a report on the precautionary principle, it was moved so that no more than two operatives could be in a cab, with most other Councils in Wales putting the same procedures in place. In terms of waste collection, this meant that the third operative needed to be in another vehicle which was stated to have had a significant impact on resources available for other service areas; however it was noted that the positive factor from this had been the maintenance of the critical waste collection service, throughout the lockdown period. Officers stated that with the easing of lockdown restrictions and more services opening back up, the demands on internal resources were getting higher which meant limited resources for certain service areas such as grass cutting, fly tipping removal and litter picking. In conclusion, Officers stated that they were in communication with the Trade Unions to identify whether three operatives could be put in a cab which would relieve the resources; however, it was stated that ensuring safety of staff was the upmost important factor, therefore risk assessments and mitigation measures would need to be reviewed.
Members asked whether the service had received many complaints regarding herbicide treatment, to which Officers answered that they had not but had a few inquiries earlier on in the season, in relation to the use of pesticides and roadside verges. Following the inquiry regarding roadside verges and how they had been managed, Officers stated that they were in discussion with colleagues in Planning and Biodiversity about expanding the number of verges that were managed by biodiversity. It was added that it had become harder to supervise contractors and provide resources to herbicide treatment due to the virus.
Officers were asked whether operators at recycling centres would be provided with any form of shelter, following observations that there wasn’t currently any shelter for them from the rain and cold weather. It was noted that the contractor was satisfied with the welfare arrangements for staff through the summer, however there was a new contract due to start on 1 October 2020 which included a booth for operatives at the entrance of the centres.
Members showed interest in viewing the data from RDF waste and recycling during the lockdown period. It was mentioned that Members will receive figures in an upcoming quarterly performance report, which will show waste figures and the impact that COVID has had on those figures. Officers stated that from looking back at last years figures (2019/20) compared to the data that they had recently been collating, they were aware that COVID has had an impact on the figures since March 2020. It was added that the Quarterly performance report will provide an overall picture as well as being able to look into each individual impact.
A discussion took place in relation to clothes waste and the benefits of reusing clothes by taking them to shops or using Cash for Clothes instead of recycling. It was mentioned that it was particularly important to spread awareness of the benefit of reusing as there had been an increase in the number of people wanting to get rid of clothes.
Following scrutiny, it was agreed that the report be noted.
The Committee thanked the Streetcare service for all their hard work during the COVID 19 crisis and asked Mike Roberts, Head of Streetcare, to pass the message onto the his teams.