TAXPAYERS in the borough are set to bail out Spanish rubbish firm, Urbaser, to the tune of £446,750 this year.
The unanimous decision by Cabinet was part of the final 2023/24 budget report in which the coalition cabinet, made up of Lib Dem, Labour and Alliance, agreed that payments of almost half a million pounds will be given to the waste collection contractor.
The council money is expected to cover the cost of wages for Urbaser’s HGV drivers £29,350 a month, until the end of March 2023 and will also pay up to £150,000 towards the replacement of an entire fleet of refuse collection vehicles.
These additional payments are on top of another £100,000 bail out from TWBC in March 2022 to hire more drivers, after thousands of collections were not completed and the garden waste collection was suspended.
External contracts represent £6.6million of the 2023/24 revenue expenditure with the waste contract increasing by £798,000 in that financial year.
At the Cabinet meeting, outside speaker Dr Robert Banks voiced his concerns, saying that the increase alone [£798,000] represented nearly ’85 per cent’ of the £943,000 deficit.
Addressing contract costs, TWBC director of finance, policy, and development, Mr Lee Colyer, pointed to a gap between income and expenditure which he said ‘widens considerably’ in the financial year 2027/28.
With external contracts ending at that point, TWBC risk being trapped in an ‘uncompetitive market’ which ‘could result in needing to buy in an additional £2million for the waste contract, £200,000 for the grounds maintenance contract, and no longer receiving £290,000 worth of income as a management fee from the leisure contract.’
Some savings could be made, though.
Gary Stevenson, Head of Housing, Health, and Environment said the council want to relaunch the food waste and collection service.
“Food waste in the refuse bin costs the Kent taxpayer six times more than if they were to recycle their food waste.
“It costs somewhere in the teens to transport from North Farm transfer station and have it processed up there at Blaze Farm versus the £117 if it is in your green refuse bin and it is incinerated at Allington”, he said.
The new fleet of 44 vehicles will be introduced in June and July 2023 and is expected to improve the collection service by introducing separate vehicles for food waste and both recycling and refuse collection, as currently all household waste is collected in the same vehicle.
The £775,000 cost of terminating the existing lease of vehicles and leasing the brand-new fleet, will be partially financed by TWBC and Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council (TMBC) through a one-off payment of £150,000 each, with Urbaser paying the rest.
As the eight-year lease of new vehicles extends past the end of Urbaser’s contract in April 2027, any new contractor or provider will have to take over the remaining four-year lease until 2031.
TWBC has also agreed to continue to cover the cost of Urbaser’s HGV drivers, as it has done since May 2022, after ‘exceptional circumstances’ in the HGV market last year meant salaries were raised from £13 to £18, with the aim to retain staff.
Urbaser initially asked for payments towards driver salaries to continue until the end of the contract in 2027, but with a 16.3 per cent increase to Urbaser’s overall contract to be introduced in April 2023, TWBC concluded that ‘the council’s view is that this level of indexation [price adjustment] takes into account the increased wage costs.’
In 2018, Urbaser was awarded an eight-year contract worth £3million with TMBC and TWBC and started service in March 2019 but has been hit with a line of complaints about missing collections in both boroughs.
Urbaser has been approached for comment.