Derbyshire Dales Tories vote to use Govt Covid cash to bail out Serco
By Peter Dobbs & David Hughes
After over two hours of question, comments and debate Derbyshire Dales District Councillors voted in favour of the motion "That Council agree to offer a financial contribution of up to 50% for the increase in hourly rates of pay for (Serco) HGV drivers, until 31 March 2022".
It was a very close vote, requiring the casting vote of the Chair, Conservative Cllr Sue Bull (Ashbourne North), to be carried. This was unexpected since she had voted against the motion previously.
Lib Dem Cllrs argued and voted against the financial contribution, changes to the collection routine and the proposed removal of financial penalties for breaching key performance indicators at officers' discretion, arguing that the issues were for Serco to resolve within its current contractual terms. Lib Dem Cllrs voted for an additional vehicle to collect green waste since this paid-for service has been remarkably successful.
Debate would have perhaps lasted longer if Cllr Jason Atkin (Conservative) of Darley Dale had not intervened to cut short debate with just 3 speakers left. The voting on this closure motion probably took longer than the contributions from these speakers might have been!
Not for the first time in recent months Conservatives appear to have been unresponsive to the opinions of their electorate. Despite 50 pages of representations sent to the DDDC meeting as questions and comments (see here) and some strong arguments put forward by opposition Cllrs at the meeting, almost all of the Tory Cllrs at the meeting voted to provide Serco with the extra cash.
They propose to use the residue of a 'Covid reserve' to fund this bail out - ie the money left from the approximately £940k that central Govt provided to help Councils with cash flow when their income was reduced due to Covid. This reserve currently stands at over £600k.
The problem has arisen because Serco failed to foresee that 6 of their HGV drivers would leave their jobs, having presumably received better offers. Nationally there is a shortage of qualified HGV drivers but the shortfall for Serco is well above the national average.
Quite why Serco had allowed their service to deteriorate to the extent it has in some areas of the Dales was not made clear in the answers given by two Serco bosses present at the meeting.
No satisfactory response was provided to the key question asked by Lib Dem Cllr Paul Cruise; "Why should residents see a reduction in the service provided by Serco under their contract due to a short term profitability issue?"
If more cash is the answer why hadn't Serco tried that already using its own money? It is worth remembering that Serco has made significant profits overall during the Covid pandemic, especially with its Test and Trace contracts.
Several Cllrs called for an investigation into how the failure by Serco to deliver on the contract they had signed was allowed to develop into such a problem for some residents.
However with their usual block voting and apparent lack of enthusiasm for debate, the Tories pushed through the motion and for the moment waste service arrangements are as follows:
Garden Waste; Suspended for 4 weeks from 2nd August (two collections will not occur)
Food waste: No separate collection, put in the grey/black bin; black bags - put out caddy with food waste in a plastic bag within it
Recycling; Blue bin only (recycling that is not in the bin will not be collected - except for 'missed material'), usual rota
Non recyclable; Grey/Black bin / black bag: usual rota.
And for this reduced service, we will now be paying even more to Serco!
Update; Please note that if you have had your last collection missed, 'catch up' rounds are operating. Leave bins / bags out from 7am. It is also advised that you leave your bin / bag out by 7am on the morning of your normal collection since there may be variation in timing during this period.