Extra agency costs ‘helped keep Adur And Worthing’s refuse collection service going’

Council leaders and officers have defended agency staff costs incurred by hiring temporary refuse drivers and collectors.

Adur and Worthing's fleet of waste collection vehicles
Adur and Worthing's fleet of waste collection vehicles

A report presented to Adur and Worthing Councils on Tuesday (December 7) shows the cost for refuse staff coming in £220,000 over budget.

Overall, the councils’ waste and recycling service is set to spend £238,000 over budget.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

The issue was raised by Labour councillor Lee Cowen (Mash Barn) who said: “It feels like a lot of money has been spent on agency staff.”

Current budget ‘insufficient’

Finance officers at the council said that the existing budget of £163,000 per annum for agency staff within its refuse, recycling and street cleansing service ‘is insufficient to cover minimum costs’.

The cost to cover annual leave for 80 staff alone is £240,000 per year.

COVID and demand for HGV drivers were to blame, said officers, as the council had to cover ‘higher absence levels and self isolation for staff’ as well as paying a ‘market supplement’ for drivers.

Officers added that cover is ‘only provided for key roles’ and the use of agency staff is ‘minimised where possible’.

They reassured Mr Cowen that the overspend would be factored into the budget for the 2022-23 financial year so it no longer presents a ‘cost pressure’.

“We are paying market supplements so that our work remains attractive to potential employees and we retain our existing employees,”  officers explained.

“Other local authorities are paying more and it’s a labour market.

“It’s essential that we crew up our waste service appropriately so that it’s reliable and safe.”

Council could have been like Brighton and Hove without agency bin staff

Angus Dunn (Con, Hillside), Adur’s executive member for resources, criticised Mr Cowen for ‘disappearing off into some kind of rabbit hole’.

“The report quite clearly gives the explanation for why environmental services is currently overspent,” Mr Dunn said.

“We’re only in quarter two so I’m not sure we’re going to get too upset and too concerned.

“I think we’re showing some cautious progress towards coming out with the result that we’ve budgeted for.”

Officers also explained that a past initiative to use street sweeping staff to fill in for refuse staff had been ‘unsuccessful’, making agency costs unavoidable.

They were praised by several councillors for not using street sweepers as stand-ins, which councillors said could have led to a situation similar to that in Brighton and Hove.

Refuse workers in the city went on strike for two weeks in October over changes to duties and in order to improve pay, which caused rubbish to pile up in the streets.

Lengthy negotiations between GMB union and the council resulted in a pay rise for workers and narrowly avoided a month-long strike.

Emma Evans (Con, Buckingham), executive member for the environment, said: “I’d just like to support the officers’ actions with regard to waste disposal.

“You’ve only got to look east a bit to see the situation that we could have been in had we not been as sensible with our choices and the support that we’ve been giving.”

Adur’s leader Neil Parkin (Con, St Nicolas) agreed, saying: “If we hadn’t upped the ante for our drivers, they’d either be off working for Brighton and Hove or for Tescos or somebody.

“When you talk to people on the doorstep, the one thing they admire about the two councils more than anything is the way our refuse service just keeps on going, regardless of what happens.”

Mr Parkin said officers had done a ‘first class job’.