Hastings street cleaning could be brought in-house by council

Bin bags next to a bin in Hastings
Bin bags next to a bin in Hastings

Hastings’ street cleaning service could be brought in-house by the council in a move its leaders believe will lead to major improvements.

At a full council meeting later this month,  Hastings Borough Council is to consider setting up a new in-house service to tackle fly-tipping and collect bulky waste, when its current contract with Kier comes to an end in June next year.

According to the council, the proposed service would aim for more responsive street cleaning with problem areas and overflowing bins cleared up more quickly.

The proposals were put forward at a meeting of the council’s Labour-controlled cabinet on Monday (July 2), where councillors expressed dissatisfaction with how the service is currently run.

Colin Fitzgerald, the council’s portfolio holder for environment and equalities, said: “I think it is well-established now that we have been unhappy with the level of performance, particularly around street cleansing, under our current contract arrangements.

“I don’t think we are alone in that as it is also being reflected by the residents of our town. In terms of customer satisfaction, Hastings is registering below 60 per cent around things like street cleanliness.

“I’d argue that this [proposal] is possibly, alongside the White Rock area, our single-most important regeneration project. I firmly believe this contract is so important, that we should be linking it to the regeneration of our town.”

During the meeting, Conservative councillors raised concerns about how the council would ensure the proposal was of good quality and good value.

Andy Patmore, Conservative councillor for Maze Hill, said: “Obviously we can agree with an enormous amount.  Looking at our seafront on busy days throughout the summer, we are all quite appalled by the state of the beachfront.

“Street cleansing is one of the biggest things that people see on a daily basis, whether it be fly-tipping or just general untidiness, it is the one thing that we see every day of our lives.

“We’ve indicated in the past that we would be quite supportive of [bringing the service in-house]. The only questions we would like to ask around this which seems to be slightly missing is what are the performance aspects of this.

“Are we going to get a better service? What is the guarantee? With external contracts you get the performance guarantees and if they don’t perform you can have some kind of penalty.”

Cllr Patmore proposed setting up a permanent council committee to monitor performance of the service if approved, while Conservative leader Rob Lee asked about the possibility of charging penalty fees across departments if performance does not reach an agreed level.

Council leader Peter Chowney said the proposals included performance indicators in its specification but disagreed with the idea of penalty charging fees across departments.

Cllr Chowney said: “I would suggest that doesn’t make a great deal of sense. As it is all the council anyway it would be a bit of a false exercise.

“I think you’ve really got to do it more through good management of the contract. Of course you have always got the threat that if it doesn’t work in-house then you can outsource it potentially.

“But, because of the level of control we would have over it, I hope and anticipate it wouldn’t get to that stage.”

Public and press were excluded from the final part of the discussions due to commercial sensitivities in the full report.

During the confidential part of the meeting, Labour cabinet members agreed to recommend the plans to full council. Conservative councillors Rob Lee and Andy Patmore abstained from the vote.

Explaining the decision to abstain after the meeting, Cllr Lee said: “Although we are in favour of bringing the service in-house, we feel that the scheme proposed is unaffordable and doesn’t have enough checks and balances to ensure good performance.”

Further details of the proposals are to be discussed by at a full council meeting later this month.

Hastings Borough Council will continue to provide its household refuse, recycling and garden waste collections through the East Sussex Joint Waste Partnership once the contract with Kier ends.