FOI request reveals Wirral Council issued 168 Fixed Penalty Notices (mainly for alleyway dumping)

FOI request reveals Wirral Council issued 168 Fixed Penalty Notices (mainly for alleyway dumping)

FOI request reveals Wirral Council issued 168 Fixed Penalty Notices (mainly for alleyway dumping)


Wirral Council Environmental Streetscene Services Contract page 122 Schedule 2 - Nominees to the Partnering Agreements

Yesterday, Wirral Council responded to a Freedom of Information Act request I made last month for minutes of the meetings of the Partnering Board (which comprises of Wirral Council and Biffa Waste Services Limited) for the last year.

The minutes of the Partnering Board meetings of the 10th March 2015, 18th December 2014, 21st October 2014 and 14th July 2014 contain some interesting information.

Below are extracts from the minutes that hopefully will be of wider public/political interest starting with the meeting held on the 14th July 2014. I have submitted an internal review request to Wirral Council for the minutes without the names of Wirral Council employees redacted. RE stands for Roger Edwards, FPN stands for fixed penalty notices, MS stands for Mark Smith, Cllr BM for Councillor Bernie Mooney and VO stands for variation order.

Noted garden waste has now exceeded last year’s figure and hope to get to 40,000 properties. RE queried about incentives for signing up however XX noted we have to be very careful as the £5 reduction online has raised objections by some residents and opposition members and that XX is exploring alternative cost effective payment mechanisms. However, XX advised we can market to people who signed up last year who have not signed up this year and there are around 3,000 who have not re-signed.

Street Cleansing
The Entry Investigation Team has been introduced and 28 FPNs have been issued as a result of this.

7. AOB

Possible Industrial Action Update
RE updated that Biffa offered pay settlement to the workforce of 1.8% in line with RPI – the request from the workforce was 6%. RE advised the workforce have decided to ballot for industrial action before any decision made. RE is working hard to resolve this situation. The industrial action is planned for Fri 18 July.

There are parts of the minutes of the meeting held on the 21st October 2014 that will be of wider interest too:

Managing Down Demand – Missed Collections

XX have been looking at all the missed bin calls we had in for 2010-14 and the breakdown of unjustified (which was about half) to give an idea of the proportion of calls coming in. The 3 main reasons for unjustified bins are: bin not out, entry work and access issues. Disputes occur where resident is told the PDA said bin not out and they disagree. XX wants to look at the dispute figures and drill down i.e. is it the resident at fault, is it the crew not using the PDA properly etc. When a resident does not agree with PDA data this causes a lot of work in the back office. There could be an education issue here reminding residents that 7am is the time rounds start and the crews can come to roads at different times each week.

If we do some re-training around contamination to show the importance of the PDA and show the impact of not using the PDA correctly that should be beneficial. RE noted if we do not have confidence in the PDA data then everything else becomes difficult.”

Alleyway Dumping

XX advised had over 600 referrals for the Waste Investigate Unit (WIU) and issued 168 FPNs to mainly the Seacombe/Birkenhead areas. XX noted we need to do some work around where issuing the FPNs. 5 court cases regarding litter have gone well with the offenders being fined and this information is on the Council website. XX hoping to do full leaflet drop to relevant properties to say what we are doing and what success we have had. Currently drafting up a second leaflet to get out before Christmas to all terraced properties to highlight the good work we have been doing.

XX noted some new anti-social behaviour laws which are coming out and she is looking if we can go down this route with landlords. XX going to be looking at the licensing scheme and if we can make that work for us by adding in further conditions (Selective Licensing scheme). MS noted when speak to Senior Members of the Council enforcement is now an issue they are behind it. Noted 260 good neighbourhood packs have gone out to a variety of areas.”

From the meeting held on the 18th December 2014:

Alleyway Dumping

XX advised the Waste Investigation Unit are doing a fantastic job. XX noted an incident where a disgruntled member of the public, because of his threatening behavior, was issued with an ASBO. Main issue is the Courts are only letting us take 5 cases a week. Legal services need to approach the courts to get more time to hear more cases. XX plans to do another leaflet drop after Christmas to highlight to the public the financial costs of failing to manage their waste responsibly, or through ignoring fixed penalty charges. XX next steps are to meet the selective licensing team. Birkenhead and Seacombe have been identified as a selective licensing areas which means we can prescribe to landlords what they must do re bins and as Birkenhead and Seacombe are where the most is, it is hoped this will have a significant impact over time.”

Transparency Code

The code is about being more transparent about what we publish for the public to see and waste collection is one of the things requiring more details including publishing a version of the contract. XX are going to look at refreshing the contract, redacting certain bits and then send to Biffa to consider. Agreed a good idea would be a half day session with both parties to look at updating and modernizing the contract.”

Finally from the meeting held on the 10th March 2015.

Action Log

50 Street Cleansing Transitional Money

MS advised there is £116,000 available. XX is currently working on a briefing note recommending how that money could be used. MS has the authority to spend this money however he would get endorsement from Cllr BM first.

64 Benchmarking Data

XX advised some of the information required is deemed as commercially sensitive and there is a strong reluctance to share this information at the moment. MS felt we do need to be getting to a stage where we have the mechanism in place to demonstrate value for money from this contract. XX also safeguard the financial position of Biffa. XX to send through further details to XX & SC showing exactly what it is we are looking for.

67. Contract under the Transparency Code

XX has started this piece of work. By the end of April we have to publish the contract on Council website. XX noted his intention to incorporate the VOs and XX send to Biffa to redact the finance. XX commented that there are inaccuracies in the contract in relation to execution on the ground but nothing of serious concern. MS noted as we are signing off a significant VO if there are any anomalies we need to resolve them before we publish.


SC queried whether there had been any thought about the garden waste service passing to Biffa? MS advised if Biffa want to put an offer to the Council formally they were welcome to.

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Biffa asks Wirral’s Cabinet for a 10 year extension to bins & street cleaning contract worth at least £120 million

Biffa asks Wirral’s Cabinet for a 10 year extension to bins & street cleaning contract worth at least £120 million

Biffa asks Wirral’s Cabinet for a 10 year extension to bins & street cleaning contract worth at least £120 million


Biffa Waste Service Limited November 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1036840.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited November 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1036840.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited December 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited December 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited January 2014 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited January 2014 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28

Above are three of the recent monthly invoices to Wirral Council from Biffa Waste Services Limited for November 2013 (£1,036,840.28), December 2013 (£1,032,201.28) and January 2014 (£1,032,201.28).

I did not request the invoices for other months during that financial year (2013/14), but I would assume that the other nine are for similar amounts of around a million pounds. So why am I writing about this and what does Biffa Waste Services Limited actually do for it’s ~£12 million it receives each year from the taxpayer?

Well as shown on the invoices it’s for collecting the bins, cleaning the streets and extra amounts for working on a Bank Holiday. I’ll be looking more closely at the current contract with Biffa Waste Services Limited (which runs to 2017) tomorrow morning (if all goes well).

However there is some political news on the Biffa front, in fact Wirral Council seems to be bolstering itself for a bit of bad press coverage judging by the Cabinet papers for tonight’s Cabinet meeting (only tonight if you happen to reading this on the 11th September 2014).

If you’re interested in reading the papers yourself on Wirral Council’s website, it’s the Streetscene Environment Services Contract Extension item which is item 4 on Cabinet’s agenda.

I remember Mark Smith (a Wirral Council officer who is Head of Environment and Regulation) getting a grilling by the Chair (Rt Hon Frank Field MP) at a recent Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting about what the Rt Hon Frank Field MP seemed to see as a lack of openness and transparency in the area of how Wirral Council manages the Biffa contract.

In the Rt Hon Frank Field MP’s view (from my memory of the meeting) he wanted (rather reasonably some might say) to know exactly what the public were getting for the ~£12 million a year that the taxpayer pays Biffa Waste Services Limited through Wirral Council. Sadly there was no one present at the meeting to answer for Biffa Waste Services Limited and Mark Smith seemed to struggle a little to give the kind of answers that Rt Hon Frank Field MP seemed to want to hear. However moving on from the frustrations of Birkenhead’s MP/Chair of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee to more local politics (although isn’t all politics local)?

Rather helpfully Appendix 5 to the Streetscene Environment Services Contract Extension item contains the following two entries on the risk register (copied below):

Risk No Description of risk Risk category Risk Owner Gross likelihood Score Gross impact score Total Gross Score Net Likelihood Score Net Impact Score Total Net Score Proposed Controls Responsibility Target date RAG Status
1 District Audit scrutiny on decision process likely Legal / Regulatory Tara Dumas 3 4 12 3 2 6 Member decision based on thorough analysis of risks. Best value comparison work to be undertaken – Local benchmarking plus APSE/Audit commission comparison Update on market position sought from previous consultants contracted to review Biffa contract. Process to be reviewed by internal audit TD
2 Negative political and
media attention
Political/societal PR team – Kathryn Green 5 3 15 3 2 6 Proactive approach by PR with press releases Confirm offer not linked to service/workforce changes LF Post decision 31/5/2014 G

In other words, Wirral Council know (before any decision is formally made tonight to enter into negotiations) that it will cause all kinds of trouble. They’ve already decided (it seems) on a public relations line of telling the press it won’t lead to job losses/workforce changes and giving them the “gift” of a press release in the hope that most of the media will just print the press release more or less verbatim and not ask too many awkward questions about the matter.

They even know their external auditor (Grant Thornton) will be asking them a whole bunch of questions to do with it too but surprisingly there are even bigger risks than the media and Wirral Council’s auditors to tackle, although read the risk register at appendix 5 and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

So how can I sum up what is proposed to be decided tonight quickly? The current contract will Biffa Waste Services Limited will end on March 2017.

The impression I get from reading between the lines of the Cabinet papers, (a lot of the detail has been kept deliberately secret by officers who are recommending to politicians to keep it secret too on grounds of commercial confidentiality) is that Biffa Waste Services Limited seemed to be somewhat concerned that if their multi-million pound 11 year contract ends on March 2017, that they would have to bid in a competitive tender against other companies and organisations for the new contract.

There’s then uncertainty (from Biffa’s perspective) over whether they would end up being the successful bidder or not. It’s called “competition” and is generally required for such large multi-million pound contracts because of all kinds of laws I won’t go into at this point and competition is therefore required for a whole bunch of good reasons.

So someone as Biffa Waste Services Limited has read through the contract they have with Wirral Council and found a caveat. There was a part in the contract that could extend it a further ten years (current prices of ~£12 million a year but yearly increases and variation are usually built-in). This contract covers “all household waste and recycling collections, street cleansing and fly tip removal, waste collection from schools and council offices and wheeled bin deliveries.”

All Biffa had to do to get a further ten years (at ~£12 million a year) was make a formal offer to Wirral Council (which they did) and have this agreed to by Wirral Council (which hasn’t happened yet with the earliest date expected being October 2014).

Due to the size of the amounts involved it has to be a decision made by politicians, specifically Wirral Council’s Cabinet and the councillor with responsibility for this area is the new(ish) Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability Councillor Bernie Mooney (who replaced Brian Kenny earlier this year when he lost an election in May to the Green Party councillor Pat Cleary).

However what’s in the currently exempt appendices?

Well appendix 1 covers the “value and suggested terms of the formal offer from Biffa in return for the Council extending the contract to 2027. In summary the proposal offers the Council a one-off saving split between 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 followed by a continued annual reduction in the core contract price throughout the remainder of the extended contract period to the equivalent value. Officers asked Biffa to clarify the benefits to Biffa if the contract extension was agreed.”

I’m not allowed to link to appendix 1 (as it’s currently a big secret and you’d get an “access denied” type message from Wirral Council’s website if I did), but as the language used by a Wirral Council officer is rather opaque, it has to boil down to how I imagine a summary of what Biffa offered Wirral Council … “give us a further ten years and we will give you very good price if you pick us. Our price is very reasonable, many savings to be had, very good price, you buy from us again we treat you well. We are very good supplier and will take your bins to tip and keep streets clean for another 10 years for a very reasonable price.”

Wirral Council officers asked Biffa to clarify what Biffa would get out of extending the contract a further ten years.

Biffa responded to this on the 10th February 2014. Again I’m not allowed to show you Biffa’s response either on the instructions of Wirral Council officers!

The summary of this response is again in rather opaque language “Biffa indicated that the savings they could offer arose from avoiding future procurement and mobilisation costs, the ability to re-finance their operations and a reduction in overheads due to the stable nature of the contract. The discount is not linked to any service changes.”

In other words Biffa are saying “grant us a monopoly, save us the cost of having to retender for the contract in 2017, Wirral Council will save money from having to retender the contract” (which is a bit of a debatable point really anyway considering the extra costs this will cause doing it this way) “and Biffa will be able to borrow money cheaper because we’ll have a longer contract.” To be honest I don’t agree entirely with Biffa’s point about overheads being significantly lower to justify this.

Another letter from Biffa (exempt appendix 3) is also currently being kept secret by Wirral Council officers (pending a decision by politicians). This letter is about an offer to redesign the fleet of bin lorries from 2017 to collect things such as food waste (to meet Wirral Council’s recycling targets).

However Biffa make it clear that this is absolutely Biffa’s final offer (well unless Wirral Council’s Cabinet say no to negotiations or no to the offer in October 2014 and Biffa have to bid for the new contract starting in 2017)!

Wirral Council officers seem very keen to have the Labour councillors on Wirral Council’s Cabinet agree to Biffa’s plan. “80p cheaper per a Wirral person than Liverpool” they state in the report, but strangely 15p more per a person than in Sefton!

Of course Wirral Council’s Cabinet could just choose to reject Biffa’s proposal and decide to bring the service in-house from 2017.

The recent street cleansing cuts to the contract, have been the source of both political and media attention in the recent past. However, what’s the officer’s recommendation?

Oh and before I get to that, Wirral Council asked Eunomia (are they consultants?) in 2012 to look at the Biffa contract, the consultants in fact suggested the contract should be retendered! Eunomia also suggested that if Wirral Council did agree to extend the contract by a further ten years than there should be changes to “contract clauses relating to indexation, labour cost inflation and future efficiency gains” which would be extremely sensible to do considering the current contract is linked to RPI (and let’s face it inflation is quite high)! However the Eunomia assessment is now two years out of date and things have changed somewhat since then.

As Wirral Council officers freely admit in 5.3.4 of this report, they don’t really know if this will save any money at all versus retendering the contract, it all just seems to be educated guesswork and unknown quantities.

The estimated savings have been listed, but surprisingly (and isn’t this usually the case?) not the increased costs (such as an increased audit bill from Grant Thornton for extra work).

It’s the report gets to “legal implications” that things start to get interesting!

Here’s a quote from 10.2 “The Legal colleagues have highlighted that it is necessary to limit the amount of material changes to the contract in order to minimise the risk of the Council being challenged on the legalities of the extension.”

In other words, do it right otherwise one of Biffa’s competitors, or in fact anyone could sue Wirral Council over how it was done.

Then entering into catch 22 territory the legal advice continues:

“Due consideration has been given to establishing whether the Biffa proposal offers Value for Money (Sections 4 and 5 refers) as required under the Council’s Contract Procedure Rules. However, it is important to note that the only decisive way to determine whether a more advantageous contract could be secured by the Council would be through retendering the contract.”

In other words, Wirral Council don’t know whether this saves them money without retendering the contract in 2017, but if they agree to Biffa’s proposal they won’t be retendering the contract in 2017 so they’ll never really know or be able to prove “value for money” to their external auditors Grant Thornton.

However let’s see, what do officers want? They want politicians to agree to them to enter into negotiations with Biffa, more specifically the Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment (currently Kevin Adderley) and then report back to Cabinet no later than October 2014.

Personally (and this is just an opinion) I think politicians on the Cabinet will probably agree to enter into negotiations with Biffa tonight (even though Labour’s tendency in the past has been to bring back services in-house), if only just to keep their options open in October 2014. Quite what the Rt Hon Frank Field MP’s views on this latest development in the Biffa saga are at the time of writing unknown.

Coming up next today: What Wirral Council’s Cabinet is planning to do about Children’s Centres.

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