Joint working and efficiency gains


The entire globe is suffering at the hands of the worst recession to hit since the 1940s, and this is not only a concern for the financial sector and people with savings and investments, but it is also a major worry for municipal authorities who are charged with delivering front line services that underpin our modern way of life—policing, health care, schooling and, of course, waste management.

In October 2010, the UK Government announced a fundamental spending review outlining how they were going to address public sector funding and help the economy grow. This has proven to be the biggest shockwave to hit local waste management services since the EU Landfill Directive was launched in 1999 and single-handedly led to the widespread adoption of curbside recycling programs and innovative residual waste treatment solutions to divert organic waste from landfills. This new shockwave has had a similar impact on challenging municipal authorities to think about the efficiency of the services that they offer, prioritize the services delivered and encourage greater joint working with neighboring municipalities to deliver the efficiency improvements required to satisfy the current government funding framework.

Budget Cuts
Across the UK, we are looking at a 28 percent cut in local municipal grants from Central Government, equivalent to an overall 15 percent cut in municipal budgets, along with a predicted 30 percent cut in capital spending programs. Waste management remains the single largest contract led by many municipalities— whether for collection and recycling or treatment and disposal—and as such, waste management has been targeted for an overhaul in terms of local priorities, service design and implementation. Clearly, these are challenging times for all of us involved in municipal waste management and challenging times require innovative solutions. The UK Government has limited municipal budgets from April 2011 and authorities across the country have been left to generate their own ideas and realize these savings over a three-year period.

The last five months have since brought on an unheralded amount of activity involving community stakeholders, budget holders and officers to look at the options available, often with the help of independent consultants who can comment on efficiency options and delivery alternatives from a wider perspective.

In some places, municipal authorities must save 50 percent of their operating budgets over the next three years. Birmingham City Council (the UK’s largest municipal authority) announced recently that 7,000 staff would be going in a bid to save £300 million per annum (about $489 million), while Blackburn Council will be cutting 1,000 jobs and Wakefield Council will be cutting their workforce by 10 percent. Job losses such as these aren’t simply trimming measures where departments are streamlining perceived ‘nice to have’ positions; these cuts (in scale and breadth) will require wholesale restructuring of departments and reductions in front line services such as waste collection and recycling. A hash reality for those of us involved in delivering waste-related services, but one that cannot be ignored, and perhaps one we should be embracing as it affords us with the opportunity to critically review our service design, performance and programming.

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