APSE’s latest State of the Market Survey says local authorities are expecting further decreases in their budgets in the next five years, meaning new approaches to street cleaning services will be required, as Wayne Priestley, APSE’s principal advisor for environmental services, explains
Budget reductions are still, perhaps, having the biggest external impact on the delivery of street cleansing services. Local authorities face challenges to deliver their services and street cleansing is struggling against other vital frontline services, especially social care.
In fact, 97.4 percent of those who responded to the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) State of the Market survey for street cleansing expected a decrease in their budget over the next five years – almost half of these expect that this decrease to be over 15%. The survey also highlighted some interesting practices and trends in street cleansing services in local authorities across the UK, and the most important of these are detailed below.
To combat these budget cuts, almost 50 percent of local authorities have introduced income generation schemes within their street cleansing services, including offering weed spraying, gully emptying contracts, mechanical sweeping of places like cemeteries, parks and industrial estates for public/private clients, clean-up charges after events, housing garden care, fencing and clean-ups. Some authorities have developed Business Improvement District (BID) agreements and individual contracts with large supermarkets and industrial estates to generate extra income that can then feed into other areas of their service.
Street cleansing services are also having to reduce staffing numbers; almost 30 percent are using some combination of voluntary redundancies and recruitment freezes to achieve these reductions, though it is welcome that very few expect to have to make staff compulsory redundant. Further, when asked how volunteers are involved in the service, the majority of respondents said this was through clean ups and community litter picks, community payback schemes and Friends of Groups, reflecting the need for core staff in day to day service delivery.
Service integration is also an area where costs are being reduced, achieved through reductions in management and administration costs. 73.2 percent indicated that they are part of an integrated street scene service, and the most common service areas integrated with street cleansing seem to be grounds maintenance and/or waste services. From the respondent councils over 80 percent of street cleansing services are still managed in-house, and few expect this to change in the near future. Importantly, this suggests that many in local government believe outsourcing is not the panacea for reducing service costs, preferring instead to adopt an approach to income generation and municipal entrepreneurialism.
Standards Will Remain
Regarding the quality standards in street cleanliness, few expect to see major reductions in standards, although many will be reducing the frequencies of cleaning in those areas where footfall is low, for example rural roads.
Despite funding cuts, 72.5 percent of respondents are planning education campaigns in the next two years. The main campaigns planned are litter campaigns (92.9 percent), dog fouling campaigns (67.9 percent), and educational awareness in schools (57.1 percent). Other campaigns target smoking and chewing gum-related litter.
Interestingly, 62.5 percent of respondents expected an increase in enforcement/notices issued in the next 2-3 years. These approaches aim to manage and reduce demand by bringing about behavioural change in areas such as littering, fly-tipping and dog-fouling.
Although local authorities are managing to maintain street cleansing services with minimal disruption, the overall trend in reducing street cleansing frequencies is of concern in the absence of other methods to ensure that quality of service does not diminish. This is corroborated by APSE performance networks trends, which show that whilst budgets and services have been cut the public are now beginning to notice a deterioration in the cleanliness quality of the public realm. Although the findings of the survey suggest that local councils have so far managed to maintain service quality, it would appear we are now at a tipping point where reductions in budgets and resources dictate that previous levels of street cleansing quality can no longer be maintained.
It is also apparent that the use of volunteers is growing in importance, however it has to be realised that these resources are often only available for localised projects and will not be enough to be a credible alternative to front-line local authority staff. Almost 40 percent of respondents expect to see reduced cleanliness standards as a result of ongoing budget cuts and it will therefore be critical that service resources are targeted more effectively in those areas where cleansing demands are highest.
Route optimisation and service re-design are now being used across most services to try to dilute the impact of shrinking resources, but ultimately, residents may have to accept that the need to keep streets clean is as much their responsibility as the local authorities, and a change in public behaviour may be the only solution to ensuring the quality of our local environments is maintained. This is an area that APSE developed in recent research “Park Life: Street Life: Managing demand in the public realm” which can be downloaded free of charge.