The Joint Waste and Recycling Committee considered the report of the Lead Director which provided an update on how the COVID-19 emergency had impacted waste services and the Joint Waste Contract (JWC) during the period March to June 2020.
The Partnership Manager paid tribute to the excellent collaborative working between all partners in the waste stream to ensure that public waste services were maintained and provided. Weekly conferences were held to ensure that services were actively managed. Under Government guidance, staff were considered “essential workers” and supported by the Sussex Resilience Forum in all aspects during the pandemic lockdown e.g. testing etc.
As the pandemic developed a COVID-19 Business Continuity Plan (BCP) was developed, a copy of which was appended to the report at Appendix 2. The 30%+ level of workplace absence was not realised and therefore the impact on the contract was not as severe as initially forecast. However, Biffa staff absence exceeded 20% at each depot during 23-27 March 2020 and therefore triggered the first level of service suspensions as per the BCP. From 30 March 2020, Biffa deployed resources to maintain services on a “skeleton” basis. The suspension of garden and bulky waste collections released resources to allow other activities to be sustained e.g. litter and dog bin emptying. Biffa and the Partnership were reconsidering the BCP in terms of service priorities and expectations which would enable a more common approach regarding service suspension should a second wave of the pandemic escalate.
Despite staffing issues, performance levels were upheld across all services except for two collection cycles of garden waste. A comprehensive service performance record was maintained and highlighted at Appendix 1 to the report. It was noted that fly-tipping incidences had increased since the beginning of May. Monitoring would be ongoing by the Partnership and Waste Strategy and Resource Group.
Measurement of performance indicators continued however financial deductions had been suspended until 1 July 2020. It was noted that Biffa had sustained an extensive range of waste and street services in comparison with other local authorities. The long-term operational and financial consequences of the pandemic were unknown however, there was no indication that Biffa Municipal Ltd faced significant financial stress, because of the pandemic. The JWC protected the Partnership from direct cost liabilities e.g. agency cover, unrecoverable furlough costs, provision of personal protection equipment (PPE) and hygiene procedures etc. Work was on-going to finalise a contract Variation and financial reconciliation to ensure that the Partnership was well placed to handle a similar situation in the future with agreed principles in place.
In March, the Government issued Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 02/20 which provided guidance on how local authorities paid their suppliers/contractors during and after the pandemic. The JWC terms enabled Biffa to claim “relief” and on 30 March they claimed for the full extent of PPN 02/20 to be applied. The application of the relief mechanism was agreed from April to June and comprehensive records were maintained throughout this period.
The JWC remained at a business continuity status until Biffa staff absence reduced and was maintained at less than 20% for week commencing 27 April to 1 May. Daily absence continued at an average of 17% throughout May and June. It was noted that Biffa had the opportunity to seek public sector support through Job Retention Scheme, as well at PPN Supplier Relief.
Biffa had successfully managed to acquire and sustain good levels of personal protective equipment and cleansing products at each depot. Daily operational practices included staggered start times, social distancing and management of potential symptomatic staff. They would continue to comply with Government guidance and support the national effort to control spreading the virus. The Partnership would continue to support Biffa’s management decisions and policies as the longer-term implications became apparent. Health and safety monitoring was being maintained and NI195 street cleansing inspections resumed with minimal impact on the annual schedule.
RESOLVED: That the report be noted.