Struggling rubbish contractor demands £450,000 for wages and new vehicles

LIBERAL APPROACH Cllr Ben Chapelard lends a hand on waste collections last summer

TAXPAYERS’ money could be used to pay out as much as £446,750 to a failing waste collection service that needs money for drivers and leasing a new fleet of vehicles. There was a similar bail out last year.

Under proposals by Spanish-owned waste contractor Urbaser, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) and Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council (TMBC) will each pay up to £150,000 towards the replacement of the entire fleet of refuse collection vehicles.

On top of this, the two councils are also being asked to pay up to £29,350 a month to cover the cost of wages for Urbaser’s HGV drivers.

These proposals were discussed in a Cabinet Advisory Board last Wednesday (January 25), with a decision to be made by Cabinet in February as part of council budget discussions.

The one-off contribution from both TWBC and TMBC will go towards the £775,000 cost of terminating the contractor’s existing lease of vehicles and leasing 44 brand new vehicles as part of an eight-year deal.

The Madrid based waste collection service, Urbaser, will pay the remaining cost of the termination as part of a project to ‘re-round’ and ‘re-fleet’ its service after being hit with complaints about missed collections in both boroughs over the last four years.

Luke Everitt, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s Cabinet member for for Environment, Sustainability and Carbon Reduction said:

“The £150,000 is part of a one-off joint payment with our waste contract partners at TMBC.

“Both TMBC and TWBC are facilitating this investment in a new fleet of bin lorries to introduce new practices and efficiencies for our waste collection service.


“The new vehicles allow the opportunity to use HVO fuels that lower emissions and offer new opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint of waste collection rounds.”


In 2018, Urbaser was awarded an eight-year contract worth £3million with TMBC and TWBC and started service in March 2019 but has since struggled to fulfill requirements.

In response to ‘exceptional circumstances’ in the HGV driver market last year, as driver shortages hit multiple industry sectors, the two councils agreed to paying Urbaser £29,350 monthly – totalling £146,750 – until March 31, 2023.

The payments will raise the salaries of Urbaser’s HGV drivers from £13 per hour to £18 per hour, with the aim of retaining staff.

These additional payments are on top of a £100,000 bail out from TWBC in March 2022 to hire more drivers.

This happened after thousands of collections were not completed and the garden waste collection was suspended.

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 it is ‘the councils’ view that this level of indexation [price adjustment] takes into account the increased wage costs.’

Both areas of spending will be financed from Tunbridge Wells’ 2023/4 budget and must be approved by the full Cabinet at a meeting on February 9.

The new fleet of vehicles is expected to improve the 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.

Yet Urbaser’s request to enter the eight-year lease will extend beyond the end of their contract in April 2027 after which the council or new provider will become responsible for the vehicles until at least 2031.

If approved, the new fleet will be introduced in June and July 2023.

Piers Montague, Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Technical and Waste Services, said: “We’re determined to make our waste collection service both more reliable and more efficient.

“The changes being proposed will mean crews can focus on particular types of collection using modern, cleaner trucks and I’m confident residents we’ll see improvements as a result.

“If there are changes required to anyone’s collection day, we will ensure information is communicated to the those affected in good time.”

Urbaser has been approached for comment.

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