Recycling Communication Most Hit By Council Budget Cuts

A report published today (24 February) that looks at the impact of austerity on local authority waste collection and cleansing services has found that engagement with residents over participation in recycling and re-use initiatives is one of the services most hit by austerity measures.

The report, “Waste on the frontline – challenges and innovations”, published by CIWM and Ricardo-AEA, looks at a range of innovative approaches that are being taken by councils across the UK and Ireland to deliver efficiency improvements and savings.

Based on an online survey, the report captures feedback from 226 local authority officers responsible for waste, recycling and street cleansing at 183 authorities, as well as 105 organisations working with authorities to deliver these services.

Overall, 69% of respondents reported budget cuts related to austerity measures and 28% cuts due to changing council priorities, with a further 16% facing a budget freeze.

The survey found that the most common strategic initiatives to reduce costs have been partnership working, automation of both customer contact and back office systems, and renegotiation of collection and treatment contracts.

Lee Marshall, LARAC – “Having to cut back on communications chips away at local authorities’ ability to engage with residents and create a better understanding about the growing cost of waste”

Operational measures, meanwhile, include rationalising collection rounds and optimising routes, charging for bulky waste collections, and extending vehicle and equipment life.

Among the local authorities who provide HWRCs, efforts to reduce costs have focused around reduced opening hours, and 63% of respondents are also implementing or planning to implement re-use initiatives to increase waste diversion and generate income. Many are also looking at new ways of controlling trade waste at the sites.

“The precise figures may vary across the UK and Ireland, but most local authorities share a common goal these days – delivering efficiency savings and making the most of tight budgets,” says CIWM’s chief executive Steve Lee.

“Most local government services have already been feeling the squeeze and, as the third largest area of budget spend, waste has not been exempt. Nor can it be in the future.

“What we see here is some real innovation and willingness to explore the potential cost and performance benefits that can be achieved through smarter systems, joint working, and economies of scale. This report puts forward a valuable portfolio of ideas and measures for any council looking to make efficiency savings and will hopefully encourage the sharing of learning and best practice.”

Ricardo-AEA director, Adam Read, said: “Numerous examples of the resilience and commitment of officers have come to the fore, with many taking on multiple roles to keep services on track. Evidence of the strain is starting to show, however, and with further cuts on the way, we need to be proactive in disseminating the findings of this research so that lessons can be learnt and further impacts minimised over the next 5 years.

“To help with this, we have also created an ‘Opportunities Checklist’ that provides examples of measures and associated cost savings to assist local authorities and their partners in the decision-making process.”

Engaging With Residents

Good communication, which is essential to support public engagement and participation in recycling and re-use initiatives, as well as to explain service changes, is one of the service elements most hit by the cuts.

Lee Marshall of LARAC (Local Authority Recycling Advisory Group), said: “Having to cut back on communications chips away at local authorities’ ability to engage with residents and create a better understanding about the growing cost of waste. With evidence suggesting that the volume of household waste is on the rise again, and mounting pressure on recycling rates, it is more important than ever that these messages are heard.”

Steve Lee, CIWM – “This report puts forward a valuable portfolio of ideas and measures for any council looking to make efficiency savings and will hopefully encourage the sharing of learning and best practice”

In addition, the report captures the hidden impact of austerity on council staff and departments. This was highly evident in the survey responses, with 66% reporting some form of departmental restructuring, 68% saying vacant posts are not being filled, and 61% being subject to a pay freeze.

In reality, these measures have multiple impacts: reduced staff morale, which was indicated by nearly two thirds of respondents, increased workloads and skills shortages as people leave and are not replaced, and less access to professional development opportunities such as training, membership of relevant bodies, and external learning opportunities.

“This is worrying for the longer term outlook,” says Steve Lee. “Given that the majority of those surveyed believe that they will face further budget cuts for 3-5 more years, the resilience and expertise of those who will have to manage these services in the future and deliver even greater efficiencies, becomes a critical success factor.”

“We think most authorities will need to introduce initiatives like those in this report and that even smarter ways of working – in service delivery, partnerships and communications – will be needed. The challenges are here to stay and the innovation has to be maintained.”

Free Webinar

Join this complimentary Ricardo-AEA webinar, in partnership with CIWM and LARAC, and learn:

  • what key lessons can be taken from this austerity study
  • how specific initiatives were successful in certain locations and for specific services
  • what the likely effects will be of further cuts on services in the future
  • how innovation can play a key role in delivering significant cost, time and resource efficiencies
  • how procurement strategies can be leveraged to deliver additional service improvements within tight budgetary constraints.

Webinar: Waste on the Frontline – Challenges and Innovations
Date and time: 14.00 – 15.00 GMT on Thursday 26 February 2015

Sarahjane Widdowson – Business Area Manager, Waste Operations, Ricardo-AEA
Lee Marshall, Chief Executive Officer, Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC)
Adam Read – Practice Director, Resource Efficiency & Waste Management, Ricardo-AEA

Who should attend?
Local authorities, waste management companies, and reprocessors. Plus those working in partnership with local authorities to deliver front line waste management, recycling, re-use and recovery services, including charities.

To attend CLICK HERE

For the full report CLICK HERE

For survey responses CLICK HERE


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