THE company which delivers waste collection services in Basingstoke has apologised, as it laid out its plans to improve.

Serco was awarded a £44m eight-year joint contract in 2018 with Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and Hart District Council, replacing previous contractor Veolia. The contract is valued at £5.5m a year

It is in charge of waste removal from approximately 122,000 properties and currently has 115 staff employed, including about 40 drivers and 65 loaders, as well as 40 refuse collection vehicles. There are currently 13 vacancies.

Each month, the company delivers close to 766,000 collections across the two areas, with 552,000 scheduled in Basingstoke alone.

In June, just over 13 per cent of collections in Basingstoke were late.

Earlier this month, Cllr Simon Bound, leader of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (BDBC) called for the company to be “completely honest” about their level of service.

He said: “We’re all deeply frustrated. They’ve made us quite a lot of promises when it comes to recovery. Serco is contracted to deliver us, as taxpayers, a level of service which they’re not delivering.”

At a meeting of the BDBC scrutiny committee on Tuesday (July 19), Aaron Straker, contract manager at Serco said: “We appreciate that it's poor, and we are doing everything we can to work on it. We are struggling for the drivers to put those rounds out consistently, unfortunately.

“We need to improve communication with residents about the impact of catch up.”

READ MORE: Bin collections in Basingstoke: Council leader demands Serco to be honest about service

He added that the primary issues are recycling and garden waste collections, with only 23 per cent of scheduled garden collections in Basingstoke occurring on the date they were listed for in June.

He said it becomes a “rolling problem” throughout the week when collections are missed, causing a backlog as teams have to return to different areas.

Serco has also been struggling with a shortage of drivers, supervisor vacancies, and increased tonnages as well as relying on staff from other areas or agencies who do not know the area as well.

Mr Straker added: “And unfortunately, some crews are struggling motivation-wise. There are days that they know are difficult. We are obviously tackling that, but the easiest way for us to do that is to get these rounds out, get drivers on the rounds and make everyone’s lives better by balancing that work.”

SEE ALSO: Basingstoke bin collections 'running behind' due to 'staff shortages'

He said that they intend to increase the number of rounds once driver number issues are resolved. They are currently relying on agency workers, but plan to be “a lot more strict” about attendance, as a lot of resources go on training people who may only work for one or two days, as well on chasing employee absences.

Other steps being taken are advertisements on the trucks, increased hourly rates, referral bonuses, and data collection.

Members raised a number of concerns on behalf of their residents.

Cllr Jacky Tustain (Labour, Popley) thanked Serco for their “very honest” report, adding: “What sort of rewards are you offering your staff, to try and motivate them better? These guys are doing an incredibly important job in our wards and it's important to me that they have that recognition.”

Mr Straker said that training opportunities are offered to “good members of staff” and further employee benefits through a Serco portal to all employees. Employee of the Month and Crew of the Month incentives are also being introduced.

Andrew Shnuriwsky, managing director for citizens services at Serco added that incentives have to be balanced with the “health and safety implications” of encouraging “rushing” rounds.

Cllr Paul Harvey (BDI, Norden) said that “it is not because of the pandemic alone that you have got problems”.

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He continued: “You are doing too much with too little. You are thin on the ground, and have been since you took on the contract. I am not blaming the staff in any way, shape or form, and I feel for them.

“I don’t think it's fit for purpose, and my honest truth would be that I would quite like you to surrender the contract. I feel very strongly that our residents are not getting value for money.”

He cited operational issues that “residents experience day in, day out”, including spilt rubbish, staff losing bins, and assisted scheme customers not having collections completed.

Mr Straker responded: “Firstly, I apologise.”

He added that Serco is doing “a number of things”, including a recruitment of a supervisor to do “crew checks”.

Cllr Laura Edwards (Conservative, Chineham) then asked whether there are any female employees, and whether a recruitment campaign aimed at women could help.

Mr Shnuriwsky described it as “untapped potential”, adding that there is just one female loader on the contract.

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