Forbury Environmental

Attitudes and awareness towards Social Enterprises within the Local Authority waste management sector in Wales.

Waste Management in Wales is undergoing a fundamental transformation. Policies are being introduced, which are resulting in new services being delivered, new infrastructure being required and new partnerships being encouraged, all with the aim of improving and protecting our environment.

The development of new partnerships, in particular between the public and community sector, is becoming increasingly identified as an opportunity where the environment and the economy can also provide social benefits.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s strategic agenda for the environment identifies sustainable Social Enterprises as having an important role to play in their overall economic strategy. The concept of a charitable, ‘not for profit’ provider of waste management services delivering savings to taxpayers and the Local Authority, whilst improving service quality and increasing investment, undoubtedly appears extremely attractive.

The question is how aware are Local Authorities of the benefits of Social Enterprises delivering waste management services and what are their attitudes to these services being delivered by ‘not for profit’ organisations.

What do Local Authorities perceive are the barriers, risks, challenges to the development of these community-based groups delivering services, most of which Local Authorities have a statutory duty to provide?

To address these issues, Forbury Environmental Ltd (FEL) carried out a study to investigate the attitude and awareness of the Local Authority waste management sector in Wales towards Social Enterprises.

The research stresses that it should be seen as a starting point and that the views of all sectors involved in waste management in Wales should be taken into account to obtain a fuller picture. A recommendation of the report is to encourage the Welsh Assembly Government to fund similar research on the attitudes and awareness of the community and private sectors to enable the views of all sectors to be considered. This survey, by initially identifying the obstacles and opportunities perceived by Local Authorities, will enable targeted strategies to be developed and instigated to create new ways of joint working.

This research was triggered by FEL’s work in Wales, supporting individual and groups of Local Authorities in the procurement of waste management services, technologies and infrastructure. In particular, we identified the opportunities and policy measures that exist to promote and develop new models for partnership working between all sectors of the community, which have the potential to provide continuous service improvement, increase public support and distribute wealth locally.

In June 2006, all 22 Local Authorities in Wales were invited to participate in the survey, 10 Local Authorities responded.

The survey identified that apart from the type and scope of services already delivered by Social Enterprises the opportunities that could exist is poorly appreciated and understood by the majority of Local Authority waste managers. The consequences of this is that the majority of waste managers do not recognise the role they can play, other than the type and scope of services already being delivered which in the main are small scale operations. However, there are exceptions where recycling collection services or material recycling facilities are being delivered by Social Enterprises in Wales, most notably Newport Waste savers.

The barriers to the formation and growth of Social Enterprises delivering services such as street cleaning, refuse and recycling collection or the operation of household waste recycling centres, can be attributed to a combination of some Local Authorities not wanting to relinquish control of their services and a belief that Social Enterprises are not capable of funding or staffing such ventures.

Local Authorities have opposing views of Social Enterprises. There have been conflicts and misunderstandings, which have soured relationships with some Authorities and left them with concerns about establishing future partnerships. Yet others have developed excellent relationships and are keen to develop and expand the services presently being delivered by Social Enterprises. The research clearly identifies that Local Authorities need to understand the motivations of Social Enterprises better and, in particular, the social benefits they are able to provide.

However there was a perception from some waste managers that Social Enterprises did achieve:
Increased participation of householders in recycling.
Better awareness of stakeholders when receiving recycling services resulting in less contamination.
These were outweighed by the obstacles identified by a number of Authorities that included:

Their reliance on grants.
The unavailability of grants in some areas to support Social Enterprises.
The restrictions and often short-term funding provided by grant bodies for Social Enterprises.
Organisational and managerial inexperience with no track record of delivering the main services.
An unpredictable workforce reliant on volunteers, or unskilled and inexperienced staff.

A lack of guarantees or assurances when services are delivered by Social Enterprises fail, resulting in:

Local Authorities having to pay additional costs to resolve the problems.
The service attracting bad publicity.
Both costs and poor public relations.
Cultural barriers where Social Enterprises see themselves as the true representatives of the community rather than democratically elected Local Authorities.
Social Enterprises’ view of Local Authorities as bureaucratic and unresponsive.
Local Authorities also made comments about the role of the Community Recycling Network for Wales - Cylch, whom several believed should be more active in improving expertise within the sector to bid for and deliver waste management contracts.

Many Local Authorities overall expressed a desire to find out the roles new partnerships can play and wanted to know how the private, public and community sector can combine their activities to deliver sustainable waste management services.

The research identifies that if the Welsh Assembly Government is truly supportive of the concept of Social Enterprises delivering waste management, then Local Authorities require confidence that ‘not for profit’/ community groups are capable of delivering the service. Apart from this reassurance, Local Authorities require a management structure in any joint working which provides them with an element of control of the service. These concerns, both technical and financial, could be addressed by encouraging the private sector into these partnerships. The research recommends that different legal models for partnership working be developed which are attractive to all sectors of the waste industry. In particular, joint delivery vehicles, which focus on using Social Enterprises for larger integrated waste management projects, as carried out elsewhere in the UK.

The research also identifies further issues that require additional investigation and provides recommendations for the Welsh Assembly Government, including:

Support for pilot projects showcasing the role Social Enterprises can play in delivering services and operations, particularly through private sector partnerships. This could build upon the exemplar scheme, which has operated in Wales. Exemplar projects are Local Authority and community sector partnerships seeking to achieve high diversion rates from waste disposal to provide examples of best practice for other regions to follow. They specifically focus on reuse and recycling and not other waste management services. Excellence Wales, a scheme unique to local government in Wales, can take a lead role in promoting good practice in this area.

Commission a risk analysis of services if provided by a Social Enterprise. This will reveal the actual level of risk and would identify the areas that Local Authorities require guarantees for. This could provide reassurances when risks are identified as not being as high as was originally supposed.

Produce contract evaluation methodologies, which take account of social benefits, not just cost and quality. The use of the ‘well being’ powers found within the Local Government Act 2000 can assist Local Authorities.

Develop better communications and understanding between Local Authorities and Social Enterprises, which would help break down some of the perceived barriers that have been created. This could be supported through initiatives between Local Authorities and Social Enterprises, such as staff mentoring schemes, secondments and in kind support. A guaranteed way of assisting the appeal of Social Enterprises to Local Authorities is if research was carried out to prove that they are able to provide increased participation, better awareness of stakeholders and more support when they deliver services, rather than the public or private sector. Evidence to this effect would also satisfy the Welsh Assembly Government’s aim to provide a ’people based solution’ , which promotes individual responsibility to waste reduction and diversion.

There is no doubt that there is still a great deal more to be done and a number of barriers to be breached if the potential contribution of Social Enterprises to waste management and the Welsh economy, society and environment is realised. The culmination of the activities identified in the report can only assist the Welsh Assembly Government realise their vision of ‘dynamic and sustainable Social Enterprises strengthening an inclusive and growing economy’ , particularly in the field of waste management.

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