Over the weekend I spent time with a long time friend who now lives in Chesham which I have to say when talking to local people is very similar to Northampton combining areas of affluence with areas of deprivation and all of the people in between.
Which bring me back to the Northampton environment and waste collection contract in Northampton which it seems no-one wants to accept responsibility for, a real pass the parcel issue.
It is unquestionable that it was the Liberal Democrat administration who negotiated the contract before the 2011 election and in the March of 2011 all Councillors were given a full brief on the standards that were to be in the contract, including it has to be said the re-introduction of the fortnightly garden waste collection and the implementation of additional recycling including food.
As the Leader of the Council at the time I recognised how important the success of the implementation of the contract was not only to the people of Northampton but also politically which is why I appointed a Councillor to launch the scheme and with the authority to ensure it was managed and monitored correctly.
Everyone including the public understood that there would need to be a “settling down” period and that there would be what is euphemistically called “teething problems” so it was decided to delay the food recycling service until the new year and give the company four months to sort out the problems, and that meant that penalty clauses wouldn’t be applied during this period.
Of course as history now shows things did not improve and a number of things happened in the new year led by Labour at the Guildhall.
First of all I along with the Leader of the Labour group Cllr Terry Wire (St James) sat on a panel looking at customer services and proposed a recommendation in the final report, supported by other members of the panel that the Enterprise should be subject to a review.
The contact was also subject to a discussion at the Borough Council Audit Committee where it has to be said some of the discussion was to say the least somewhat heated.
Across the town the environmental service and especially grass cutting has become a subject of increased complaints made to Labour and from Monday nights full council meeting debate also Liberal Democrat Councillors, (apparently the Conservative Councillors haven’t received any complaints?)
It was interesting and I have to say from Labour’s point of view highly amusing that following the submission of the Labour motion calling for a full review of the contract, we have it on good and sound authority that the Leader of the Council scurried back to Northampton from the Local Government Association Conference in Birmingham to take control, and as we know announced that they had already decided to carry out a full independent review and have applied £250,000 of penalties against Enterprise, before then going back to Birmingham.
As an aside it doesn’t appear to say much for the Cabinet member responsible for the contract or his assistant cabinet member if the Leader couldn’t trust them to manage the PR/Spin.
On Monday night we did however discover that an independent consultancy firm with experience of “looking at such contracts” has been appointed, (no mention of who was paying for the review or how much), that the £250,000 hasn’t really been applied (Enterprise have a right to challenge before they are paid) and that it is all down to the abnormally wet weather?
The knee jerk PR response of course may well backfire and especially the imposition of the financial penalties when no doubt Enterprise in arguing that they should not be fined/penalised will point to the statement from the Cabinet Member responsible for the contract on 23rd April in response to a question from me ” whether he was happy with the Enterprise contract and with the savings achieved so far that”
“he was happy with the arrangements so far” and alongside that they may point to the Borough Councils Performance Outturn for last year which clearly states, despite targets not being achieved that ‘Overall, cleanliness standards remain good’
If ever there is an example of what happens when you take your eye off the ball, this is it and it has been compounded by trying to recover the situation in reacting to the pressure from Labour instead of being open and honest about the failure to monitor and manage the contract.
Which brings me back to Chesham at the weekend and on the way home travelling through Amersham and St Albans where the grass verges were well cut with no grass cuttings on footpaths or roads, where the roundabouts have been cut and planted with flower beds to standards we only see in Abington Park and Delapre Abbey, a real commitment to making their towns look great.
It is hard to explain not the disappointment, or frustration but sheer anger when confronted with the lack of care in Northampton starting as soon as you leave the M1 at Junction 15 and travelling back to Little Billing.
and the point is,
Don’t Blame the Weather, everywhere in England has had the same weather, Northampton in fact has had less than some places,
The fault may not necessarily lie in the contract itself even though there are areas that do raise concerns but in the failure of the administration and those appointed to implement it to ensure that it is monitor and managed to ensure that the services the people of Northampton are paying for and understandably expect.
It will be interesting to see what the independent review reports back to the Council and how the administration reacts.
Labour in successfully calling for a full review have ensured that in the future the services will be improved and perhaps people who visit Northampton will return home and talk about how well we do.