The challenge of bringing street cleaning, refuse and recycling back in-house

By Kevin O'Leary | 14 September 2020

The outbreak of the worldwide pandemic COVID-19 rocked lives, caused chaos and uncertainty and left the economy shaken. Launching a new business was a brave decision, some may say mad, but Greener Ealing Ltd (GEL) rose to the challenge and launched its new set-up, taking over the street cleaning, refuse and recycling contract in the west London borough of Ealing.

The service, which went live on 5 July, has been brought back under control of Ealing LBC, following the end of its contract with its previous provider. This followed a decision that was approved by the council’s cabinet, which agreed to the founding of a local authority company (LAC) to deliver environmental services across the borough.

There has been a long history of private sector involvement in the service and Ealing LBC saw the need for greater control and influence. By operating through the LAC, it has more flexibility to respond to resident concerns and deliver the council’s ambition to become the number one borough for recycling in London. As a result, staff are now earning fair pay with the London Living Wage at a minimum and we are putting in place apprenticeships for young people.

The set up and launch of GEL was by no means an easy feat and COVID-19 certainly created several challenges that we could not have anticipated. But with a new strong management team in place and robust leadership I believe we have exceeded expectations.

This has been a huge scale task which has involved an £11m investment, TUPE transfer of 330 staff, the purchase of 125 vehicles, new IT systems, support contracts – and then dealing with the effect on the business from COVID-19.

The delivery of vehicles was just one hurdle that we had to overcome, many were being delivered from overseas and as a result of the crisis vehicles were stuck on production lines in Germany for some time. Our project manager, John Arnold, did a sterling job, supported by the rest of the team, in securing the short-term hire of other vehicles. It is with thanks to neighbouring boroughs Harrow and Hounslow allowing us space to park some vehicles in their depots that we managed to transition the vehicles and still ensure a smooth running of the service from Day One. It’s been two months since the service was rolled out and our delivery of the new fleet is now nearly complete. They are now being branded with our new company logo and graphics.

The pandemic also brought challenges in terms of staff and ways of working. Front line staff have continued to work throughout, and they have done a remarkable job keeping the borough clean and green and providing a good service to residents.

It has meant some extra safety training and sourcing of PPE and sharing information was quite an arduous task. We had planned one or two group meetings to meet colleagues face to face and explain the TUPE transfer, but due to social distancing rules this turned into 10 meetings run repeatedly throughout an entire Saturday. Negotiating contracts was yet another task we had been planned to carry out in person, which moved to online because office staff at the time were working remotely.

The GMB was involved throughout and have been very supportive in the transition. Staff newsletters and team meetings, many of which have taken place over Microsoft Teams for people home working, have also been effective methods in our communications.

We are very much in favour of face to face communications wherever possible and I have enjoyed getting out to meet many staff members already. The feedback I have had is that this is really welcomed. We are currently carrying out a staff survey for more feedback. I was really impressed with the rollout of Day One. The cooperation and support we have had from all our staff and Ealing LBC has put us in a strong position for a growing business and a bright future.

Kevin O’Leary is managing director, Greener Ealing.

Notes:

Gary Alderson, Director of Environment, was appointed as the Council Shareholder representative for GEL.

Mike Boult, (an independent non-Council employee) is one of three non-executive directors of GEL. Alison Reynolds (Director of Customer Services) and Kieran Read (Director of Strategy & Engagement) were appointed as council-nominated Non-Executive Directors of GEL.

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Waste Waste management Recycling Coronavirus
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