Biffa Municipal managing director Roger Edwards has slammed a councillor’s “disrespectful” comments on waste businesses, during a heated debate over how collections should be serviced.
Steve Munby, Liverpool’s cabinet member for Neighbourhoods, was speaking at letsrecycle.com’s Remunicipalisation Conference in London yesterday (28 January) when the war of words erupted.
The councillor claimed that it is better for councils to retain in-house collections of waste and recyclables, and accused private sector waste companies as operating as if they were ‘cartels’.
Councillor Munby said: “Private sector monopolies on waste are a clear example of what’s wrong. There are a number of cartels. We [Liverpool] had a street cleaning contract where one company took another over halfway through the contract.
“There are many councils for whom the idea of being locked into a contract is a nightmare. A lot of big private sector companies have huge problems – I am waiting for the first big one to fail and it’s not far away.”
He added: “There is an overemphasis on public sector discussion on hi-tech innovation. It’s more important to focus on good working systems that may later introduce innovation but it’s the labour process rather than machines. We need to throw out the old dogmas.”
Taking to the podium to defend the use of private contractors to deliver waste services, Mr Edwards suggested the councillor had a “narrow view” of the benefits waste firms could provide.
He said: “It’s slightly disrespectful to this industry when words like monopolies and cartels are used.
“Innovation is something the private sector has really developed. These changes come with a degree of risk and it’s the private sector that has taken on that challenge. It’s easy to say that but if we see the top 10 recycling authorities in Defra’s league table, these are all delivered by private sector companies except two. It’s no surprise to see that the private sector is really delivering there.”
He added: “Waste is an incredibly dangerous industry and we are working to keep people safe. That’s something that the private sector has championed really well.”
It is the latest disagreement in a long-running dispute between the two panellists, after Councillor Munby made similar comments following Liverpool’s decision to go in-house in November last year (see letsrecycle.com story).
Later, Cllr Munby criticised former Secretary of State Eric Pickles for dictating how councils should collect bins. He added that he did not support further central government intervention on waste.
But Mr Edwards responded: “Central government intervention with a few more quid may help us all. We cannot keep cutting and expect to deliver the same level of services and targets we are all aspiring to. More guidance in terms of where that funding may come from would be very useful.”
Other panelists speaking in favour of councils retaining in-house collections included accountant and Queen Mary University professor Colin Haslam. “Firms have a considerable amount of control on services we depend on as householders,” he said. “This power is fragile as they themselves are prone to financial instability and collapse.”
But Environmental Services Association executive director Jacob Hayler, who chaired the second session of the Conference, said: “The most important thing to me is competition. If a local authority decides it doesn’t want to go through the tendering route then at the very least we need to see better benchmarking against the market by these authorities.”