Dan Hartland uncovers the innovative waste collection moves being made in a Labour-led authority centred on one of England’s oldest and most beautiful cities.
In the west of Cheshire, they are ringing the changes. In January 2019, Cheshire West and Chester Council resolved to terminate their existing waste collection contract with a leading UK service company, Kier – and go it alone, bringing waste collection in-house once more.
The rationale was simple: the council’s Cabinet decided that the move would enhance the sustainability, stability and quality of the service. Flexibility was also a key consideration: bringing waste management back within the council’s control allowed for smoother and more rapid management of change and innovation, wherever that becomes necessary to enhance the service provided to residents.
The decision-makers believe there is a further benefit to the change, too – and it’s a cultural one. “Considerable work has been undertaken to explore and develop our thinking as to how co-operative principles can meaningfully be applied and embedded within the new organisation,” says Maria Byrne, the Director of Place Operations at Cheshire West and Chester.
In other words, the council has resolved to reshape their waste collection services, both practically and in terms of the values that informs that provision. It’s a big task.
New Values, New Leadership
The new delivery model will take the form of a Local Authority Trading Organisation (LATO), an arms-length trading company which is wholly owned by its council. These are becoming an increasingly popular means through which local authorities of all kinds can deliver services.
Cheshire West Recycling, as the new LATO is known, will begin providing waste collection services to the council from 29 March 2020, for a period of six years and within a financial envelope set by the council itself. The company will carry out 1.4 million collections every month, serving around 160,000 households.
The new service model – and its new values of co-operative principles and environmental sustainability – requires new leadership, too. The council is therefore currently conducting a wide-ranging search for a Managing Director for the new LATO, plus its two hundred and fifty staff, three depots and fleet of vehicles.
This is a transformative role – we are managing a lot of change as we implement the transition to delivery via a community-focused LATO
“This is a transformative role – we are managing a lot of change as we implement the transition to delivery via a community-focused LATO,” explains Maria Byrne. “We need an MD who has a real feel for change – but, at the same time, there will be tight budgets and a commercial focus. Flexibility and resilience will be the watchwords.”
The current interim MD of Cheshire West Recycling, Rob Edmondson, is in place until October. “The challenge is one of running the operation itself but also at the same time launching a brand new business,” he adds. “Experience of achieving both successfully is rare!”
Edmondson goes on: “The MD needs to be both an inspirational leader for change and someone able to deliver operationally. As a sector, waste management involves a range of quite specific financial, regulatory and operational challenges – if a candidate doesn’t have prior knowledge of its particularities, they’d need to understand them very quickly.”
Finding The Right Fit With DMA Recruitment
The key first challenge for the LATO, then, will be to find an individual who can fit all of these broad and unusual criteria. Leadership is key in every context, but where local authorities opt for new models it can be critical.
The council have therefore engaged the Warwickshire-based waste management specialists, DMA Recruitment, to help source the best leadership possible for the LATO. The agency’s Managing Director, Charlie Beaumont, is optimistic: “There are plenty of great candidates out there, and this is such an exciting and unusual opportunity. I’m confident the council will be picking from a fantastic shortlist.”
The sourcing of an expert recruitment agency like DMA demonstrates how seriously local authorities take appointments like this. The new MD will sit on the LATO’s board, but also be expected to engage in widespread engagement with local residents. The Labour-led council is very keen to ensure that the new service is locally-led – achieving a community focus was one of the key reasons for establishing the LATO.
LATOs are so increasingly popular with councils because they enable local authorities to deliver services much closer to residents. Cheshire West Recycling’s new MD will be an ambassador for the organisation and the council alike, nurturing and developing positive and constructive relationships across the community – and achieving better results by doing so.
The Advantages of Change
“We want to achieve carbon neutrality for its own emissions by 2030,” Maria Byrne says by way of an example. “The LATO will be better able than an external partner to align itself with the Council’s wider strategic priorities to help us achieve key goals for our region and indeed country.”
Building this sense of common purpose will be crucial to the success of whoever is appointed as Cheshire West Recycling’s MD. The new opportunities that the LATO will open up for enhancing and improving local service delivery to the benefit of all is central to the council’s vision for the role – and to the logic behind establishing LATOs more generally.
I’d encourage anyone who is intrigued by this challenge to apply – the panel of Council Directors who will select the successful candidate are approaching the process with a very open mind and looking for an individual that inspires them
“This is an unusually exciting role,” concludes Charlie Beaumont, who has seen more than his fair share of vacancies. “I’d encourage anyone who is intrigued by this challenge to apply – the panel of Council Directors who will select the successful candidate are approaching the process with a very open mind and looking for an individual that inspires them.”
Given the innovative path Cheshire West and Chester are taking in their provision of waste collection services, that open mind is hardly surprising. The region – and the MD it eventually chooses – will be one to watch for anyone hoping to see one possible future for local authority waste management in action.