Welsh Local Government Association and Wales Audit Office Route Optimisation Workshop – How it went…

What is Route Optimisation? / Beth yw Optimeiddio Llwybrau?

We all know as a service, waste can be a difficult service to change. It’s one of the most visible services run by the local authority. Any changes to the service impacts on all residents, and therefore, it goes without saying, any service changes should be well thought through. Addressing route optimisation can allow smooth transition without effecting service delivery. It can also achieve significant financial savings, helping to keep public and politics happy.

It’s not easy – there’s no magic button – but it’s not difficult either, allocating the right resources is essential to get the best results.

Here’s a synopsis of approaches highlighted at our workshop:

Carmarthenshire’s Approach

In his presentation, Hywel Thomas from Carmarthenshire County Council shared their experiences of going through the route optimisation process. Carmarthenshire has diverse needs, with the North of the county being quite rural, whilst the southern half is somewhat more urban. Either way, the population demands a robust, cost effective, efficient and reliable collection service.

The most significant decision was to allocate dedicated staff to the project. They were moved away from their day job which enabled staff to focus 100% on the route optimisation project.

Prior to actually starting the project, It is essential to collate robust data, including; tonnages collected on current routes, timing of current routes, vehicle capacity (per type of material stream), and access to hard to reach areas. This base line day is essential to the quantifying the efficiencies made.

Once all the base line data is in place, the real work begins. Carmarthenshire used local knowledge and expertise to build their own rounds ensuring the operational team were happy with the final detail.

All this hard work resulted in significant savings and benefits:

  • An efficient service
  • Reduction of 6 front line vehicles
  • A 31% reduction in mileage
  • Advice and guidance for Local Authorities

The workshops

Here’s a synopsis of the key points from the four workshops.

At the Webaspx workshop, we heard that accurate baseline data is essential as a starting point. We also heard that if you run various scenarios, you can make sure you have the best outcome for your authority, as it provides you with hard evidence to help the decision making process. Technology and software is always adapting, and it can help waste managers get the most efficient services possible.

In the Integrated Skills workshop we heard how ‘Binfo’ allows crew to provide live updates to operational and waste managers. Again, we heard that accurate data is essential, as assumptions and averages can cause problems. The key message from the workshop was that a saving is not a saving until it has been delivered – plans must be delivered effectively.

The discussion in the Carmarthenshire workshop focussed on dedicating time and resources up front to collate relevant information. In house staff have the local knowledge and expertise, which we should make use of to make the most of the technology, because technology and staff can work hand in hand to achieve savings through route optimisation.

There were lots of discussion in Caerphilly’s workshop, including on the benefit of engaging your staff and trade unions from the start, so that you can bring everyone with you on the journey – be open and transparent. This will also help maintain ongoing relationships with crews as further changes are adapted. It’s essential to have a robust project plan with realistic timescales, and there are benefits to consulting with other departments like planning to understand future building developments.

What did I take away from the day?

Walking away from the workshops, it was clear, the top three messages were:

  • Robust baseline data
  • Engaging with all stakeholders at the earliest possible opportunity
  • Utilising in-house staff and local knowledge

Next steps for you?

There may be support available to you and your council from the Collaborative Change Programme through WRAP.

Communication is key to ensuring success during the route optimisation process. Networking opportunities are available through the South and North Wales Waste Managers Group. Remember, it’s good to talk.

Gwyndaf Parry, WLGA

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