Driver shortages and 'pingdemic' put waste collection services in Hertfordshire under strain

Councils in other areas have suspecnded some waste collections - but collections continue in Hertfordshire

Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 5:35 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 5:36 pm

A shortage of drivers - and the ongoing Covid pandemic - are having an impact on waste collection services across Hertfordshire

Collections of waste and recyclables across the 10 districts and boroughs in the county are continuing.

But - amid a national driver shortage - a number of councils are having to send office-based supervisors on their lorries or are training existing staff to be drivers.

Collections of waste and recyclables have been put under pressure

And one council has even offered existing drivers a £3,000 retention payment to prevent them being poached by other companies.

The increasing pressures on waste services emerged at a meeting of the Hertfordshire Waste Partnership on Monday (July 26).

In Broxbourne, Cllr David Holliday said they were now "really struggling" with staff -

And he said: "We have had supervisors going out and filling the gaps to make sure that the lorries are still manned - and that has given us the benefit of actually still maintaining the services.

"The negative part of it is we have had a quite significant upturn in missed collections because temporary staff aren't as familiar with some of the nuances of where bins are placed as the regulars are."

In Dacorum Cllr Graham Barrett said personnel and drivers were the biggest challenge, pointing to the combination of Covid isolations, staff vacancies and the shortage of LGV drivers.

He said they had trained four existing members of staff who have now achieved an LGV licence, in addition to the regular pool of drivers.

And he said they are planning to look at other ways of maintaining driver numbers.

In East Herts Cllr Graham McAndrew said there had been 'minimal distruption' - with supervisors and other staff stepping in to cover shortages.

"Basically [it's been] all hands on deck to maintain services, " he said. "The crews started at six o'clock in the morning and finishing about 6.30 in the evening and they are also working Saturdays to catch up on missed runs."

And Cllr Anthony Rowlands, from St Albans, acknowledged that driver shortages, self-isolation and holidays would make the summer weeks "pretty demanding" for the service in St Albans.

But in Three Rivers the council has given their 29 lorry drivers - covering all council services - a salary increase of up to £3,000 for the next 12 months, starting in August.

At the meeting Three Rivers Cllr Phil Williams said: "We have had the same problems as everybody else - and dealing with them in similar manners.

"Although we have paid our drivers a retention to save them going off and finding a job that they are going to earn an extra £5,000 a year in.

"We have been approaching them and offering them a retention to keep them on board."

In addition he said the crews in Three Rivers were continuing with Covid measures - such as staggered starts and bubbles - to reduce absences.

At Welwyn Hatfield Cllr Stephen Boulton said there had been a point when one in four drivers had been absent - but that they had still managed to maintain the service.

He said: "We do have a problem with drivers - same as everybody else. HGV drivers are in great demand for all sorts of businesses, not just bin men.

"And again we have been using supervisors to drive the lorries where they are able to do so.

"We were probably a quarter of our drivers short at one time - so affected by Covid obviously.

"But overall we have managed to maintain all of the services. Apart from on occasion where we have slipped a bit in week - and then have caught it up later in the week - it has been pretty good."

Meanwhile Simon Aries also acknowledged that the driver shortage had impacted on services at the county council's Waterdale waste transfer station, near Watford.

He said the shortage of drivers for the 'bulkers' had for a time led to longer queues than they had wanted.