Tag Archives: Waste Management

Public Services and the Private Sector (Part 1)

Bin Men

There is a lot of debate right now in the UK about who should best be trusted to provide public services, should it be provided directly or should it be contracted out to the Private Sector.  The Private Sector are the people who win Government contracts with exaggerated promises and then squabble about providing the services that they have promised and keep making menacing threats for more money.

Just this month a major Private Sector company called Carillion who enjoyed a lot of public sector contracts went bust and left the country and the tax payer in the lurch.

I feel well qualified to speak out on this matter because for ten years between 1990 and 2000 I had the misfortune to be employed in a privatised service in waste management.

This is how it all began…

Read the Full Story…

Malta, Love it or Hate it!

Mellieha Malta

“We are determined to deliver the highest quality service possible in Malta. Customers and their experiences are at the heart of our service. All our customers are important and no effort will be spared to ensure that all of the services we are trusted to deliver will be provided.” – Malta Public Transport

On 5th September 1800 the island of Malta, in preference to being under French Napoleonic administration, invited the British to rule the island as a Dominion of the Empire.  Except for a difficult little period in the 1970s when Malta declared itself independent under the leadership of Dom Mintoff the Maltese have been inviting the British back ever since.

I am glad of that because in the 1990s I visited the historic island two or three times and I have always wanted to go back.

We arrived late in the morning and immediately found the bus connection to Mellieha Bay in the north of the island and sat back for the seventy minute journey through the centre of the island.  I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence.  I love it but as we crawled through the growling traffic, through the unattractive suburbs of Valletta, past the inevitable McDonalds and Burger King and through miles and miles of road works I wasn’t so sure about Kim’s initial reaction.

I read somewhere that Malta was the last place in Europe to be cleared up after the Second-World-War, I remembered that on my last visit it was rather untidy and even now, nearly twenty years later there was clearly still some work in progress!

One thing that I had forgotten was, that as a result of years of British rule, in Malta traffic drives on the left.  Only four countries in Europe drive on the left.  Just for a bit of fun, can you name them?

At last we left the urban sprawl and moved into the countryside and the concrete gave way to green meadows.  Malta is overwhelmingly cream and buff coloured, the buildings constructed from local stone, the soil, the rocks and all along the route dainty yellow flowers complimented the natural colours of the earth.

Malta Buses…

I knew that some things would have changed since my last visit in 1997 and the first and most obvious thing was the buses because up until 2011 Malta had a wonderful bus service with a fleet of vehicles mostly imported from the UK, privately owned, lovingly maintained and customized and painted in a distinctive orange livery with gleaming chrome that required sunglasses just to look at them..

Malta Old pre privatisation Bus

Even in the late 1990s these old buses were, admittedly, beginning to creak with age and by 2011 the majority didn’t meet EU standards on carbon emissions, their fate was sealed a thousand miles away in Brussels and the upgrade could scarcely have been more undignified.

Under the old system each bus was owned by its driver, who would decorate it himself, giving each its own personality and charm. Some buses had been passed down from father to son, or even been hand built by the family that owned them. The service was crudely privatised which meant that the Maltese Government no longer had to pay expensive subsidies (this is a lot like the sad demise of the old Greek Island Ferry service story) and was taken over by a British private sector company called Aviva whose modern fleet replaced Malta’s beautiful vintage buses which now languish, awaiting rescue in storage at Valletta harbour.

The Perils of Privatisation…

By all accounts the transfer was chaotic and farcical, three hundred buses were reduced to one hundred and fifty, the old bus drivers either refused to work for Aviva and didn’t turn up for work on the first day or couldn’t be employed because many of them didn’t have driving licences, the new routes  were inefficient and the buses too big for the narrow Maltese streets.  Articulated ‘bendy’ buses rejected by London were sent to Malta and three of these caught fire because the heat melted the rubber bendy bit in the middle.

The Company name of Arriva is Italian for ‘arriving’ (a language that many Maltese speak due to the close proximity), soon after privatisation it was quickly nicknamed Aspetta  – ‘waiting’.

This doesn’t surprise me at all.  I have worked for the private sector trying to provide public service and it rarely ever works on account of the public sector ethos of service and private sector profit being completely incompatible.  Based on my experience I think I am well qualified to say that privatisation never results in improvement despite all of the extravagant promises.

It was an operational and financial disaster and by December 2013 Arriva had run up losses of over €50 million.  The contract was terminated by agreement and the service reverted to public control as Malta Public Transport. The Government didn’t really want the burden of the service however so in January 2015 it awarded a new contract to Autobuses Urbanos de León who appear to have picked up where Aviva left off but I’ll tell you more about that later.

As far as I could make out the bus route map suggested that the bus stop was quite near to the hotel so as we got close I pressed the bell for the driver to stop.  He ignored it and carried on so I walked to the front to take the matter up with him.  He told me the bus didn’t stop there but in about another kilometre or so.  To be fair to him he took pity on us and stopped the bus at the side of the road but he wasn’t terribly happy about it.

It turns out that for some reason the bus company doesn’t think it sensible to stop near the several hotels flanking Mellieha Bay where it is convenient for passengers to get off but thinks it is more useful to have one on a remote roundabout half way between two villages which is no good to anybody.

This reminded me of when I worked for a company called Cory Environmental  in refuse collection services.  One man I worked with thought he had a brilliant solution and produced work schedules in alphabetical order!  All the roads beginning with A-F on Monday, G-K on Tuesday and so on throughout the week, it didn’t occur to him that this meant driving hundreds of unnecessary miles and wasting hundreds of pounds worth of diesel.  I seem to remember that he had only a very short career in waste management.  Rather like the tendering team at Arriva who won the Malta contract I imagine!

Anyway, I could sense that Kim wasn’t terribly happy and was sliding towards the hating Malta side of the scale…

Buses of Malta postcard

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Turds

Paris Dog Poo

When I worked in the waste management industry the company that I worked for, the French Company Onyx UK  thought they had a perfect solution to pavement dog fouling.  Onyx UK were part of the French Water Company Compagnie Générale des Eaux  which through its network of companies also had responsibility for cleaning the streets of Paris.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow Refuse Truck

Dennis Eagle Cory Environmental Gedling

I found myself unexpectedly in the employment of Cory Environmental because in the 1980s and 90s local authorities were obliged to market test their services through direct competition with the private sector.

I worked for a Council in Nottinghamshire and we lost our work through the tendering process.  This wasn’t because we were too expensive or couldn’t put a decent business case together but rather because the people running Cory Environmental didn’t have much of a clue and submitted an under priced bid that they couldn’t possibly hope to financially or operationally achieve but importantly for them was absolutely certain to win the contract.

Read the full story…

Onyx UK and the Dog Poo Solution

“I can recall being in Paris and being so impressed with Jacques Chirac’s team of motorcycle cleaners (moto-crottes, dubbed the “Chiraclettes”). These guys looked like people from Outer Space in their near-luminous green overalls, and their motorbikes contained vacuum cleaners that sucked up the offending mess, and also a water tank and soapy shampoo, which they immediately applied to the area where the offending item had been.”                                                                  Dai Woosnam, Grimsby, UK

I believe that many dog owners are an inconsiderate breed and everywhere they should be required to take more responsibility for the  anti-social behaviour of their animals but perhaps nowhere more so than in France.

As I have mentioned here before in ‘The Chronicles of Waste’’, which is a collection of my memories of working in the waste management industry, I worked for a French Company called Onyx UK, which was part of the French Water Company Compagnie Générale des Eaux and which through its network of companies also had responsibility for cleaning the streets of Paris.

This included removing the all the dog deposits and as there was so much of the offensive mess littering the streets their research and development team was working overtime on trying to develop new vehicle solutions to tackle the problem.  A lot of street cleaning in Paris involves hosing down the pavements and flushing all litter into the water channels which are then flushed into the sewer system but even water hosing was not always capable of dealing with the sticky piles of excrement and it was simply smeared along the paving slabs or, worst of all, in between the cobbles just waiting for an unsuspecting Parisian or a tourist to step in it and spoil their day.

Onyx are best remembered for their dog poop motorbikes which as Dai said sucked up the mess by vacuum and then cleaned and disinfected the little patch of bacteria and germs that was left behind but they also introduced other innovative methods of removal including my favourite which was a two wheeled chariot like machine (rather like those contraptions that tourists can hire for easy sightseeing in big European cities) which had a container of liquid nitrogen which could be sprayed on the pile of mess and deep freeze it so that it could be more easily scooped up.  This didn’t really catch on mostly because it was extremely dangerous and there were health and safety implications in using a chemical that if administered carelessly could lead to fingers or toes being frozen and accidently snapped off.

The French were rather proud of these expensive and useless machines and attempted to persuade some of their UK clients to introduce them on this side of the English Channel.

They had a contract with the City of Westminster and tried hard to persuade the client officers there to approve their use on the streets of London.  Quite sensibly however the Council was not going to allow Westminster street cleaners to wander around the streets with liquid nitrogen!  They wouldn’t have been safe to use anyway because it is almost certain that the poor man operating the machine would have been mugged and the vehicle would have been stolen within five minutes of leaving the depot.  So they said ‘non merci’ and Onyx UK had to send all of the vehicles that they had hoped to sell in England back to Paris where they were probably returned to a warehouse and were never used.  This of course was typical of the profligacy and waste at Onyx UK and a contributory reason for them never making any profits from their under-priced contracts.

As it happens, these things are not even used in Paris anymore.  They simply couldn’t cope with the volume of poo on the streets, operating them was unpopular because cleaning them was unhygienic and smelly and when the contracts came to an end they were simply not renewed.

It also occurred to the authorities that by accepting responsibility for picking it up this didn’t deal with the problem that it is part of the French culture that dog owners seem to think that dog parcels on the pavements is somebody else’s problem even if it was their own canine companion that put it there.  It is such an issue that the Japanese even used it as an argument against the Paris bid to host the Olympic Games.

Having removed the patrols, the French authorities are now trying to tackle the problem in an alternative way but are making disappointing progress and even heavy fines, €185 for a first offence and €450 for a second, have had little impact.  It is estimated that in Paris alone there are sixteen tonnes of dog excrement deposited on the pavements every day, which is responsible for nearly five-thousand messy incidents a week and at least two seious accidents a day and removing it continues to cost €15m a year!  As Dai mentioned in his comment: ‘Well, it does not seem to be totally working in Paris.  Certainly, I encountered a small amount of such mess when in France just last month.’

If dogs are really as smart as their owners would have us believe then here is the solution…


More Waste (Mis)Management Stories…

Cory Environmental, Blunders and Bodger

The Tendering process

First Weekend as a Refuse Collection Contract Manager

Disorganising the Work

Cory Environmental at Southend on Sea

Onyx UK

An Inappropriate Visit to The Moulin Rouge

The Royal Ascot Clear Up Fiasco

An Unexpected Travel Opportunity


Cory Environmental, (dis)Organising the Work


“Compulsory competitive tendering was introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s to force councils to outsource or privatise services.  Everything was up for sale from NHS cleaning and catering, to road maintenance to refuse.  The plan was based on cost and profit, not providing a service, making a profit means slashing the service and worsening workers’ terms and conditions.”    The Socialist Worker

So, contract awarded, mission accomplished, winning the work had been a piece of cake and hacking off the entire work force a relatively straight forward process that usually took only a couple of hours at a work force meeting but now came the really tricky part when someone had to plan the work.

Read the full story…

Cory Environmental, Southend on Sea

Southend beach 2

Cory Environmental started out in 1896 as William Cory and Son Ltd, transporting coal into London on the River Thames.  Coal was the lifeblood of the city and after they had made a fortune in the first thirty years they diversified and began to transport waste using the city’s waterways.  In the 1980s however the company grew weary of the union riddled coal and oil distribution business and these services were sold, and the business decided to expand into and concentrate upon waste management.

In 1990 the company was renamed Cory Environmental and it appointed Blunders and Bodger to run the municipal division.

Read the full story…

Cory Environmental, Blunders and Bodger

Bin Men Gedling Cory Environmental Team

“Margaret Thatcher wasn’t just callously indifferent to the suffering of those she made jobless or snubbed.  (She) set out to destroy entire industries in an appalling act of political and social vandalism…. When she marched into Number 10, it wasn’t bad – it was horrible, absolutely terrible.”                         Daily Mirror Editorial

I have never been especially politically aware so when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979 I was completely oblivious to the potential impact that the Tory policy of privatisation could have on me directly.  The first Conservative term of office came and went without any real upheaval but then after her second election victory in 1983 the pace of destruction of public sector services began to increase and eventually in 1989 I became a victim of the Thatcher axe and lost my job in local government as services were handed over to the private sector.

Read the full story…