Tag Archives: monmouthshire county council

To Charge or not to Charge?

Can councils make better use of their resources by charging for waste services? Gwyndaf Parry of the Welsh Local Government Association blogs for us on an event that they held with the Wales Audit Office.

Public services are coming under more and more pressure, with local authorities expected to deliver more with less. To deliver a wide range of services to residents and maintain that high quality of service, Councils in Wales have the legal powers to charge for a wide range of services, including Garden or green wastes, Bulky waste collections and replacement bins or recycling containers.

The event was hosted by the Welsh Local Government Association and facilitated by the Good Practice Team from the Wales Audit Office, to encourage and enable Welsh local authorities to share good practice when introducing a charge for waste collection services. Delegates were encouraged to participate in discussions and learn from others, helping to avoid making the same mistakes and to save costs and time.

Andy Phillips from the Wales Audit Office introduced the day and interestingly showed the income gained from waste services per resident, showing the difference between Wales, Scotland and England. Income earned in England has steadily being increasing since 2008/9 whilst reducing in Scotland and Wales.

A graph that shows that charging for Waste services has dropped in Wales and Scotland since 2008/9, but grown in England

Di Bradbury from Wirral Council shared her experience of introducing a charge for collection of garden waste, and how Wirral managed the introduction of a charge back in 2013/14. One of Di’s key pieces of advice was ensuring a robust IT system was in place from the outset, ensuring your IT system can handle customer registration, manage the customer database and manage payments. Di stressed that this was one of the most time consuming elements of introducing a charged service – people expect a high quality of service when they pay for a service. Missing a collection should be avoided, when building a reputable charged collection service.

Wirral acknowledged the importance of public consultation, as part of their waste planning they consulted with the public to gain their thoughts on charging. 51.7% of the respondents said they felt having to pay for a garden waste collection was completely unacceptable. However budget constraints meant the council had to push forward with a charge. However they ensured alternative options to residents including:

  • Online subscription discount of £5 (89% of customers use this option),
  • Shared bin option with neighbor, and
  • Promotion of home composting bins

A valuable lesson learned by Wirral was to offer a 14 day cooling off period, residents under law must be offered a 14 day period where they can receive a refund. In Wirral they only offered this refund if the resident had not received a collection.

As would be expected the tonnage of garden waste collected at the kerbside reduced in the Wirral, however the HWRCs saw a considerable increase in garden waste throughput. Overall garden waste tonnage reduced by 11% over a two year period. Contribution to overall MSW recycling rate decreased for two years post introduction of a charge, however in the third year the rate is seen to be increasing to just under its original state. Interestingly over the same period number of fly tipping incidents have continuously decreased.

Is the future green?

This first Workshop breakout session was hosted by Jim Espley from Denbighshire Council. Having introduced a charge for garden waste service on 30th March 2015, Denbighshire are the latest LA in Wales to charge, therefore had some valuable tips for other councils.

Since getting approval to introduce a charge in September 2014, Denbighshire had relatively short time period to introduce the service, key activities to ensure success were:

  1. Communicating with residents – introducing the new service available,
  2. Setting up a suitable IT system including payment processing system,
  3. Dealing with complaints and setting up suitable processes, and
  4. Buy suitable barcode and scanners for the bins.

12,500 (30%) properties signed up to the new service initially, by the end of the year this went up to 17,000 (40%) properties. Customers could sign up online (with a discount) or face to face, over the phone and at One Stop Shops. Denbighshire worked closely with their IT department to ensure a fit for purpose system was in place. A purpose built Database allowed them to capture, address details, collection day, assisted collection info, as well as other collection history. Every bin is issued with a barcode sticker and this is linked to the customer database. The database is also liked to a ‘Trackyou’ software system that has in-cab technology allowing the crew to monitor and record customer details in real-time. Helping Denbighshire offer their residents a top quality service.

A photo of the Track You device used by Denbighshire County Council

A valuable lesson that Jim shared with the group was that on-line subscriptions would ensure high quality data was fed into the IT database. Whilst a number of errors were experienced in customer details when hard copy paper work was completed. Therefore Denbighshire is working towards encouraging more and more to subscribe online.

How green is your valley?

A second workshop hosted by Carl from Monmouthshire was all about sharing lessons learnt, Monmouthshire have a well-established charged garden waste collection service. From July 2013 Monmouthshire have been charging for the collection of Garden waste. Having an initial charge of £8 per collection of a 90litres hessian reusable sack, by 2016/17 the charge has increased to £14 per sack.

Residents are issued with a free sack and must pay for the permit that is tagged on to the sack. Once again Monmouthshire reinforced the importance of having an IT system that was fit for purpose – this can make or break a successful service.

Number of residents signing up to the charged service has increased year on year in Monmouthsire, with households that tend to have larger gardens purchasing an increased number of bags. Carl also emphasized that an increased tonnage of garden waste was going into their HWRCs, therefore having suitable HWRCS in place that could manage the increased capacity was important.

Top Tip

A key message from the day was to invest and allocate time and resources into a suitable and fit for purpose IT system that can manage payments and manage customer data and information, making it easier to know who is signed up for the service and if their collections have been delivered or not. Customers expect a high quality service when they pay for it.

Jargon busting


Recently we’ve been hearing from the Wales Audit Office Communications Team about how our upcoming new and improved website will be simpler to use and also make it easier for people to find the information that they need.

Andrew Purnell, the Wales Audit Office’s Digital Communications Officer, has been educating us as a team about what an effective website looks like, and also how language plays an important part in that. It’s almost impossible to find what you’re looking for if you don’t understand the headings you’re looking under, and it’s even worse if you can’t make head nor tail of the information once you’ve got there. He explained to us how providing a website glossary means that you’ve failed at your duty to provide a clear language website, and if people don’t find the right information first time they’ll simply click away from your site.

As the public service watchdog for Wales, the Wales Audit Office has an important role to play here. It’s important that we show how important it is that information from Welsh public services is clear, because it means that people have a better understanding of the work that we all do.

Cllr Andrew Jenkins recently blogged for us ahead of the upcoming scrutiny conference, saying that ineffective communication between politicians and the electorate has led to distrust in politicians. The same things can also happen with public services, as this moving blog from Mark Neary shows.

There’s lots of information online, including guides from the Plain English campaign and its Drivel Defence tool, as well as the Cymraeg Clîr or ‘Clear Welsh’ handbook from Bangor University.

If you choose to go down this route, there’s no need to start from scratch. Monmouthshire County Council have helpfully already made their staff writing guide available online.

I had the privilege of working with the Citizen’s Panel for Social Services in Wales in my last job with Participation Cymru, where I unfortunately heard too often about how people aren’t given the information they need to help them access the right services for them. It’s important that we all make sure that people can make the most of their public services by making information both easy to find and to understand. I wonder how many public service websites truly do this?

–      Dyfrig

We are passionate about not re-inventing the wheel

One of the four pillars of the Good Practice Exchange’s philosophy is that we don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel. If we came across an approach or project which has achieved reasonable success in the public, private or third sector from anywhere in the world, we want to promote it. We think it’s quite likely other organisations will have a similar problem.

We feel passionately about this. For instance, an organisation might have already done some serious leg work on pulling together a business case to change their approach to a service. Our view is that there will be at least some lessons learnt from the project team, which we think should be shared widely to benefit other organisations. Knowing what things to look out for, avoid, do more, do less of and manage differently is bound to be of benefit in terms of both time and money for other organisations who are or will be in a similar position.

Imagine further, what if the business case approach was of such a similar nature to what an organisation was intending to pull together that it saves hundreds of staff days? Doesn’t it make complete sense for us to promote the business case?

[On behalf of the Good Practice Team, I need to be quite clear; we are not saying this is THE approach to take, but that this is AN approach you could consider taking. The same thing goes for when we talk about good practice case studies as opposed to Best Practice. We think that Best Practice suggests that we are saying that this is THE approach, whereas, in reality what we are saying this is AN approach. In essence, we don’t advocate a one size fits all approach].

A good example of a business case which we have promoted is the Agile Working Business Case from Monmouthshire County Council (as part of our Agile Working Shared Learning Seminar). The Council have implemented their agile working well over two years ago now. We feel the Council is in a great position to share all the things that worked well, what didn’t worked so well and what they would do differently if they had their time over again.

Sian Hayward of Monmouthshire County Council is a great advocate of sharing her learning from the Agile Working project. She has had visits/telephone conversations from almost every local authority in Wales as well many other organisations, and you can hear her discuss this in the above video. We think this is an effective way for organisations to learn, adapt the business case and take it forward at a greater pace as they are not starting with a blank sheet of paper.

Another example of not re-inventing the wheel is that of a Welsh Social Enterprise called Indycube. This company has successfully set up a series of WiFi enabled offices in Wales where individuals or companies can hire a desk for £10 a day. What about the idea of organisations working with Indycube in setting up a site in their organisation? Listen to what the owner Mark Hooper has to say about the idea and different approaches taken by current organisations using the different locations.

So, if after reading this blog you know of an approach or project which other public services would benefit from, why not drop us a line? We’d really like to hear from you, as we are about sharing the experience…and the results.