Conservatives have called for a probe into whether a decision to launch a wheelie bin trial contributed to a developing crisis in waste collection in the city.
On Thursday (14/1), Milton Keynes Council suspended food and garden waste collections across the city to allow a covid-hit Serco workforce to keep the collection of black and clear sacks going.
Tragically, it emerged that two waste lorry drivers who had previously tested positive for covid had died. Contractor Serco denied claims that there had been breaches of guidelines, adding that employees are not at risk.
The council’s public health team has been asked to carry out a Covid safety investigation into waste services.
Cllr Dan Gilbert (Cons, Loughton & Shenley) said he had the two deceased keyworkers in his thoughts, but that he also has concerns about the state of waste services generally.
“The fact that we are looking at 40 per cent isolating, I understand that overruns are well north of 7,000 a day and we’ve had today the suspension of all food and garden waste across the entire borough,” he said at a meeting on Wednesday.
“From a scrutiny perspective there is a concern for us as a committee and therefore validates a need to look at this in much more detail,” he told the strategic placemaking scrutiny committee.
Chairing the meeting, Cllr Peter Geary (Cons, Olney) agreed: “We certainly have the the thoughts of the families and colleagues of operatives who passed away recently.
“Yes definitely I think as far as the other items you raised, we will pick that up and look to see how we can deal with that.”
Cllr Geary added that he was sure that “officers and operatives are doing their very best to deliver the best service as they can.”
After the meeting Cllr Gilbert said the Labour-run council had questions to answer about how many hours went into planning the waste trial that could have been better spent looking ahead for this latest Covid wave.
Cllr Gilbert said: “Back in the autumn we warned of a winter waste nightmare and urged the administration to pause the wheelie bin trial to ease pressure on officers and ground crews.
“Although this is in the context of the pandemic, I fear it has been exacerbated by poor political leadership and lack of foresight.
“We are looking at a waste service in crisis, and this now touches every household in the borough.”
Labour’s Cllr Emily Darlington (Bletchley East), the council’s cabinet member for waste services denied that the wheelie bin trial across 3,000 houses across the city drained resources.
Cllr Darlington said a new waste collection vehicle was brought into the city for the trial, and more resources were added to carry out the consultation with residents.
She added that the work has to be carried out now because the council has the opportunity to re-design its waste contracts in 2023.
“We have to find out now what will work best for the city,” she said.