Croydon latest borough to reject private waste contractors over quality and cost issues

Waste Collection. Pic: Zibik

Croydon has become the latest London borough to end its waste collection contract with a private provider after concerns about quality and cost and is expected to bring the service back in-house.

The number of in-house waste collection arrangements has doubled over the past 10 years in London, data shows. Almost half of London boroughs have now insourced their waste collection and street cleaning services, over concerns about quality and cost of external contractors’ performances. 

Last month, Croydon, Merton, Sutton and Kingston, who are all members of the South London Waste Partnership, separately decided not to renew their waste collection contracts with Veolia. They are currently consulting residents on the future of their waste management and considering bringing their services in-house.

Waste collection service providers, data visualisation. Map: Livia Giannotti
Waste collection service providers, data visualisation. Map: Livia Giannotti

John Haynes, communications advisor for the SLWP, told Eastlondonlines that the contracts will not be renewed because of the increased costs proposed by Veolia. Residents also voiced concerns over decreased quality in their services. The boroughs are now considering other options, “including in-house arrangements”. He said: “You can outsource the delivery of a service, but not the responsibility”.

In the past 10 years, seven Labour-led councils decided to bring their waste collection and street cleaning services in-house. 

All of them told ELL that the choice to bring cleaning services to the public sector was made for more flexibility, cheaper costs and better performances.

In 2019, when Redbridge council broke “free” from their old contract and brought the service in-house, council leader Jas Athwal said: “We’ve cut out the middleman, saving taxpayer money while improving the service for local people & conditions for staff.”

“Bringing our waste management back into public sector control will hugely improve our service while guaranteeing better working conditions and pay for our staff and reducing costs for the taxpayer.”

Hackney Councillor Rebecca Rennison, whose council brought waste contracts in-house in 2013, said: “Residents want to see their Council services run by local, committed public servants that understand their community and can respond quickly in a crisis – not unaccountable private companies.”

Insourcing arrangements have been the Labour-led councils’ priority over the last 10 years. In 2019, Labour MP Andrew Gwyne presented a report to make insourcing “the new normal” and to ensure council services are operated in the “interests of the public”, he said. Boroughs, such as Islington, also adopted an “in-house by default” policy to have direct control and management over council services and guarantee “quality and value”.

ELL found that not only councils, but also residents of boroughs with in-house waste arrangements, are generally more satisfied with services than residents in areas where external contractors operate.

In Ealing, where the Council took over waste management in 2020, a report showed that “complaints about waste collections have dropped dramatically” by more than 50 per cent for waste collection, and 21 per cent for street cleaning services.

A Lewisham Council spokesperson told ELL: “We are very proud to have an in-house waste collection service in Lewisham which delivers excellent value for money to the Council and a fantastic service to our residents”. Harry Rodgers, a 27-year-old Lewisham resident said: "I find Lewisham offers pretty good waste collection. It's really convenient being able to just leave the bins outside, and the fact they offer free bin bags for recycling and for general waste makes me feel some value for money from paying my council tax. I also like that they are collected daily, and it's rare [to see] bags on the street.”

Veolia did not respond to requests for comment.

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