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SOMERSET: Recycle More staff morale

SOMERSET: Recycle More staff morale

CREDIT: Somerset Waste Partnership.

Somerset waste collectors are suffering from low morale – because the amount of waste they collect each week has increased by 20 per cent.

The Somerset Waste Partnership (SWP) is preparing for the next phase of the roll-out of Recycle More, under which more items are recycled at the kerbside and refuse collections move from fortnightly to once every three weeks.

The roll-out began in the Mendip area in June 2020 during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, with the former Taunton Deane area due to begin receiving the service in early-November.

But the SWP has revealed that the programme has caused problems with “staff exhaustion and morale” due to the volume of waste being collected.

SWP managing director Mickey Green gave an update on the scheme when the Somerset Waste Board met in Taunton on Friday morning (September 24).

Mr Green said issues with morale were exacerbating existing problems surrounding the national HGV driver shortage – with Somerset being hit especially badly.

He said in his written report: “In Somerset, Suez [the SWP’s contractor] is short by around 25 drivers out of around 180 required.

“While driver shortages have been a long-term issue with an ageing workforce profile, this was exacerbated by the pandemic (which caused delays to driver training and testing) and Brexit (the loss of some EU drivers).

“In Somerset, high employment and the presence of many logistics and distribution companies make it hard to recruit drivers and loaders – and agency staff are sometimes not available either.

“The easing of lockdown quickly exposed the worsened position, with alternative opportunities opening up with for drivers and other would-be crews, and the supply of agency staff being unreliable.

“We have issued with staff exhaustion and morale. Collection loads are 20 per cent heavier (with more people being at home through the pandemic), long periods of long hours, the use of temporary depots and transfer stations, and extra travel time.

“Sickness and annual leave higher than expected, with occasional spikes.”

The SWP said the pandemic and the resulting rise in home working had led to an “Amazon avalanche” of additional packaging, as well as more items from people clearing out their homes, gardens, sheds and garages.

Colin Mercer, the SWP’s contract manager, said there were “weekly performance incentives” for all staff to boost morale, and the recently-introduced driver retention bonus “appears to be having a good impact”.

Mr Green elaborated: “Our Taunton depot now has enough drivers, loaders and supervisory staff to stabilise service, and the prognosis is good, but there remains a major risk due to covid and the labour market impacts.

“Morale and exhaustion remain a risk requiring ongoing review and mitigation. Improved staffing levels should mitigate this, and both we and Suez will continue with meetings of a workforce cell to address these issues.”

The SWP will be holding a number of roadshows to inform residents of the former Taunton Deane area about the new service which will be rolled out to them in early-November.

Staff will be appearing in the following locations on the following dates to provide help and support:

  • Saturday, September 24: Wellington Street Fair, Wellington town centre
  • Saturday, October 2, 10am-1pm: The Square, Wiveliscombe town centre
  • Friday, October 8, 11am-2pm: Priorswood Community Centre, Priorswood Place, Taunton
  • Thursday, October 14, 9am-2pm: Fore Street, Taunton (outside Accessorize)

The only area of the former district which will not receive the Recycle More service in November will be around 100 homes in Athelney and Burrowbridge.

Since these settlements are served by the SWP’s Bridgwater depot (rather than its Taunton one), these two villages will receive the service in early-2022 along with all residents of Sedgemoor and the former West Somerset area.

Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter


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