Hot enough?

A few hot topics from me…

First off – we have enjoyed an almost unprecedented run of hot summer weather over the last couple of months. This is great for the many people and their families who enjoy the sunshine and the leisure opportunities that go with it.

However, spare a thought for some of our staff who work outside most days and perform some very physical and demanding work. I know some of you were not best pleased that we suspended our waste collection service last Friday afternoon, when the weather touched 33 degrees centigrade, but I make no apologies for it.

Our crews had worked week in and week out in relentless heat, walking 15 miles a day, and they literally push, pull and pick up tons of refuse every day. That day, they were almost ‘out on their feet’ and rather than have a higher than normal risk of accidents, we felt it right to send them home earlier in the afternoon so they could return refreshed (and a little cooler) the following week. We even managed, over the next few days, to catch up on most of the black backs and recycling that hadn’t been collected on the Friday afternoon.

I can assure you that this decision was not taken lightly – and nor should it be seen as soft or inept management. If anything, it was a tougher decision to make than to simply do nothing and leave our crews out on an extremely hot afternoon.

I am grateful to everyone who understood our decision. Thank you for your tolerance and your appreciation. You are the ones, I know, who sometimes offer our crews a quick drink on really hot days. Thank you, once again.

Now on to litter…

We never have enough resources to do all the things we have to do by law, or want and need to do, for the borough.

“I know, I know,” I hear you say, “but you would say that wouldn’t you?”

What I can say to you, nevertheless, is that in 2009/10 the council received a government grant of £12.7 million to provide our statutory services. This year, 2018/19, that same grant has reduced to £245,000. I know we receive some other government funding – although we quite often have to bid against others to secure it – but however well we do, it does not replace the £12.5 million we have lost over the last eight years or so.

Therefore, like you, I am pleased to see that we have some additional resources to undertake a deep clean of the town centre, where the issue is most visible to residents and visitors, and we also have some additional resources to try to keep it that way.

grab_street

My concern, nevertheless, is that if people don’t take personal responsibility for throwing away their litter, before very long we could be back where we were before the deep clean took place. Then people will get very hot under the collar and say to the council that it needs to do even more and spend yet more money (money we don’t have) on additional clean-up and deep clean operations.

Rather than do that, would we not be better served by campaigning against those people who cause the litter in the first place? Rather than having to spend more money, we could actually save some if everyone put their litter in the bins or took it home.

I get the need to spend money on environmental health, to keep us safe, and on road maintenance (which, of course, Colchester Borough Council is not responsible for) to repair our roads after usage and weather damage. What I simply cannot grasp is why a great borough like ours would be spoiled by its own people or visitors carelessly throwing away their rubbish, which in turn costs the local council tax payers’ money to pick it up (though never quite to the degree where we all feel it is clean and pristine), only to have to do it again and again, the next day and beyond.

I know a recent Gazette headline has already called for a little more local pride, but wouldn’t it be great if we all made a concerted effort not to litter or foul our great borough?!!? Collectively, we could all decide to do this from today and feel the really positive effects tomorrow – notwithstanding the money we would also save in the process.

Rather than a warm reception, I suspect my suggestion – nay plea – will get a cool response from some, with just one or two people possibly changing their habits. I hope not.

Adrian

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Standing on our own two feet

Amphora_blog_graphic

There comes a time in the life of almost all of us when we are compelled to take control of our destiny and stand on our own two feet. This is just as true for organisations, of course, as it is for individuals.

Mind you, unless you’re living off-grid like a desert island castaway, it’s nigh-on impossible in today’s intricately-connected world to provide all of the things you need for living or doing business without the help of somebody else! Hands up, anyone who would be happy taking their chances like Robinson Crusoe! [Cue tumbleweed.]

In my previous article I talked at length about the council’s finances in a period of continuing austerity and government reductions, and how our success attracting substantial amounts of new external funding is enabling us to deliver additional services and schemes that serve to make a positive difference in our community.

Consider this here blogpost Part B of that previous article – because I want to continue the theme of what we are doing as a council to outrun one of the deepest and most prolonged periods of austerity this country has ever known…

One major consequence of the Government continuing to reduce local authorities’ purse-strings is that councils can expect to operate with a far greater degree of autonomy in future, being empowered to function on a more commercial basis that will allow us to pursue new sources of revenue, increase income, boost innovative practices and drive greater efficiencies.

It goes without saying, if Colchester Council is to ultimately stand on its own two feet after the Government ends our Revenue Support Grant in 2019, that we must manage to do so in ways which enable us to continue and even increase investment and spending in the provision of key services.

And I’m delighted to say we’re way ahead of the curve when it comes to looking at every available option to deliver on our promise to protect vital services, promote business, attract inward investment and create more growth in the Borough – not least through the formation of a number of new commercial companies.

You’ll get to hear a great deal more about these new companies, in the coming weeks and months, but now seems like a good time to tell you a little bit more about them…

Firstly, this is about the council continuing the journey to being ready for the changing Public Sector landscape. Five years ago, we could only have dreamed about what we’re now doing commercially with the creation of Colchester Commercial Holdings Ltd – the parent company I also head-up as Managing Director – and its subsidiary companies Amphora Trading, Amphora Housing and Amphora Energy.

Their formation is a continuation of what began in 2010 with a change in Government and its decision to pursue a course of austerity – a policy which has obliged us to look at becoming even more commercial in future so we can put back into the Public Sector-side and continue to deliver services that otherwise might not be provided in a more austere economic climate. Put simply: we have had to look to become much smarter and more commercially-minded with money, in order to generate the funds that will enable us to stand on our own two feet after 2019.

Any income generated by these new commercial companies – which are preparing to go live on 1 April and are wholly-owned by Colchester Borough Council – will be returned to the council for the benefit of local people.

The new commercial companies are:

  • Colchester Amphora Trading Ltd (info@colchesteramphora.com), which will offer a range of direct professional services, to both public and private clients, including property and development consultancy services, events management that you already know as the Colchester Events Company, Helpline (an emergency alarm service: 01206 769779 / https://helplineplus.co.uk/) and provision of Ultrafast broadband.
  • Colchester Amphora Homes Ltd (info@colchesteramphora.com), which will be focused on building high-quality homes for sale and rent, and is committed to delivering affordable homes for local people. The company will work to support the Borough’s regeneration and economic development objectives.
  • Colchester Amphora Energy Ltd (info@colchesteramphora.com), which will provide a district heat network project initially at North Colchester and provide heating to the buildings soon to be built up there, deliver other energy-saving schemes to businesses in the future and promote more low-carbon sources of heat and power choices for Colchester.

This may seem a million miles from the way we traditionally think about councils and how they operate, but like Robinson Crusoe thrown back upon his own resources, it is imperative we become much more self-sufficient in order to meet the increasing challenges that further austerity measures will almost certainly bring over the next five years and beyond.

I am determined this renewed emphasis on commercial opportunities will see us create a modern structure for the council – one that is fit for the 21st century, more agile both fiscally and politically, yet which retains a Public Sector ethos that is able to protect vital services and ensure all profits return to the people of Colchester.

With a more efficient management structure in place, we already expect to deliver more than £200k per annum savings for the council each year, which will help to plug future deficits.

I want to be absolutely clear: this is not to be mistaken for a ‘commissioning council’ model, where profits return to external contractors and beneficiaries. In this case, every single penny in profits our new companies make will return to the people of Colchester by continuing to provide the good quality public services expected.  And while we’re not just doing this to save money – as necessary as this is – we’re also doing it because it will be the right thing for Colchester in the long run. It’s about providing the best and the most efficient services for the people of the Borough.

We know that local government is already the most efficient public provider of services in the country – second to none. Nevertheless, looking to the future, it is clear all councils will have to adapt and change if we are to continue to deliver those services that residents rightly expect and deserve.

I am determined that this will not compromise our service to residents or the principles of equal and fair pay and conditions for staff, but will allow us to meet the changing needs of Colchester.

And that means, whether we like it or not, standing more and more on our own two feet.

Adrian.

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Everyone has a favourite festive story, but surely one of the most celebrated and captivating has to be ‘A Christmas Carol’, by Charles Dickens. It’s so well told, even the Muppets’ version became an instant classic!

When Ebenezer Scrooge wakes on Christmas morning from his ghostly ordeal the night before, his transformation is complete. Suddenly, the mean-spirited old miser realises that what matters most in life isn’t his own selfish greed, but the universal happiness and wellbeing of his fellow human beings.

Dickens’ timeless morality tale tells us plainly that the drive to accumulate money is no guarantee of contentment, or even of prosperity if it’s simply hoarded, but that individuals and communities truly thrive when wealth is shared.

Now this may seem a tenuous allegory to introduce the main theme of this article – which happens to be about the Council’s success in securing new sources of funding – and I really don’t want to overdo the analogies either – but since my role as Chief Executive entails thinking a great deal about what the Council does with its finances, Scrooge’s revelation about serving the greater good chimes loudly.

For it has become increasingly clear that we face some quite serious economic challenges as a council (as a country, for that matter), and that we will need to work even harder and more imaginatively to increase our revenue. Not merely for its own sake – like old Scrooge – but in order to deliver the services and develop the projects that can improve the lives of people in the Borough.

Against a backdrop of significant and ongoing government cuts, increasing our income in other, more business-like, ways becomes less an exercise in Scrooge-like self-aggrandisement (not that it ever was), but simply the path we have to take if we are to continue to safeguard essential services over the coming years.

And, I’m delighted to say, we’ve been making significant progress in rising to this challenge – not least by attracting substantial amounts of external funding for services and schemes that make a positive difference in the community.

In some cases we’ve achieved success on our own; sometimes by working in partnership. Whatever the approach, in each case the funding we’ve secured helps to increase our chances of outrunning austerity and provide better protection for those essential front-line services that residents rightly expect and deserve.

One of the largest single sources of funding secured in 2017, for example, was for an exciting – and quite literally ground-breaking – carbon-saving initiative in north Colchester, which will see £3.5m invested in the development and construction of a sustainable district heating system using natural heat from groundwater to warm local homes and businesses.

Our project is one of only nine district heating systems to be financed by the Government, and provides a fantastic boost to the Council’s efforts to cut carbon emissions. As well as providing a single source of sustainable energy – saving around 850 tonnes of CO2 per annum compared to conventional heating solutions – the Northern Gateway Heat Network is also expected to generate income for the Council once the project completes in 2020. A brilliant example, I’d say, of our leading commitment to new forms of green technology.

Working with our partners Essex County Council, Braintree District Council and Tendring District Council, we were able to secure £700k last year and a further £700k this year to develop the North Essex Garden Communities project, which will help meet local housing need for decades to come. This huge vote of confidence by the Government will enable new, infrastructure-first garden communities to be developed in sustainable ways that won’t burden the existing infrastructure and services that underpin the quality of life residents already enjoy. By planning these developments ‘holistically’, you might say, we have a real opportunity to explore new ways of delivering services, from waste collections, to rapid transport and social care, before a single home is built in earnest.

Only last month another flagship project boosted by new funding drew international plaudits, when the Council won the European Commission’s prestigious EU Broadband Award for its ultra-fast broadband – financed in-part by the South Eastern Local Enterprise Partnership. What would have cost £6m to deliver via a new fibre-optic network was achieved for less than £500k using our pre-existing CCTV cable network. Ingenious! It was this novel method of significantly reducing build costs, by using existing assets and infrastructure, which was key to gaining the award.

That’s not the only tech-solution I’m excited about… Over the next few months, the Council is set to bid for additional funds to begin the deployment of prototype 5G technology and expand the reach of the ultra-fast fibre network to urban and rural parts of the Borough – a strategy I revealed at a networking event attended by businesses from across the town only last month.

If we can entice the Government to put money into Colchester becoming a 5G pilot town, we will be able to attract even more businesses to invest in our community, which in turn will enable us to build further economic resilience, protect public services and improve the quality of life for everyone in the Borough.

And when I say ‘everyone’, I do mean ‘everyone. It goes without saying that, however rocky the road ahead, we simply have to continue to support and improve the prospects for the most vulnerable members of our community. And one of the ways we will be able to do this is by securing additional external funding sources aimed at tackling particular social problems.

So, for example, a successful funding application last year, submitted in partnership with Tendring District Council, will see £240,000 awarded by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) used to increase support for rough sleepers over the next two years .

Another successful joint bid led by Colchester Borough Council earlier this year, but this time in partnership with Tendring DC, Braintree DC, Maldon DC and Colchester & Tendring Women’s Refuge, secured £263k from the DCLG to help vulnerable victims of domestic abuse and their children access specialist refuge provision, particularly those living in hard-to-reach communities.

And the ‘Help for Single Homeless’ project, which benefited from funding secured by Colchester Borough Council, Tendring District Council and Ipswich Borough Council in 2016, aims to provide early intervention for prison-leavers in ways that will reduce the chances of them reoffending.

In October 2017, a joint Colchester Borough Council/Essex County Council project, aimed at encouraging young people to talk about their everyday life and wellbeing, was awarded £20,000 in funding from two leading health charities. Over the course of the pilot, Colchester Council’s No Filter team will contribute valuable project evaluation and community engagement expertise, backed by its own Startwell Campaign which promotes healthy-living messages and supports residents to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

And only two weeks ago, on 5 December, Sport England announced a major new funding stream (£130m to be spent nationally, in 12 pilot areas) to promote physical activity and wellbeing in Colchester – following a successful joint-bid with Essex County Council, Basildon Council, Tendring Council and Active Essex to explore ways for communities to become more active. Programmes developed within the Colchester pilot, will promote increased levels of activity among vulnerable young families and older people living in circumstances of deprivation.

Now, it’s well known that Charles Dickens was a man of the theatre, who loved all the life and vitality of London’s theatre scene, both on stage and off. He once even delivered a public reading of his work to a packed audience at Colchester’s Theatre Royal, on the site of the disused Queen Street Bus Depot, don’t you know?!

I’m pretty certain, therefore, that Dickens would have endorsed the Council’s participation in the Mercury Rising project, which is going to transform front-of-house facilities at the Mercury Theatre and provide a new production block for the benefit of up and coming theatre-makers. Today, as I write (19 December 2017), it has been announced that our joint bid to Arts Council England has been successful, and Mercury Rising is going to receive a whopping £3.5m of additional funding. What a great Christmas present!

It’s invariably the case that Arts funding declines during periods of austerity. That’s why it’s been so important, in recent years, to step up our efforts to secure external funding to invest in popular attractions such as Castle Museum.

Back in June, Arts Council England awarded almost £800,000 to Colchester & Ipswich Museums Service – funding that will bring more major exhibitions and a better experience for children and young people. The grant coincided with news that the museums service had won its bid for coveted National Portfolio Organisation status, opening the door to a further £200,000 boost every year from 2018 to 2022. A real feather in our cap, considering the fierce competition we were up against.

Add to this the three-year £666k Training Museums grant, £84k over two years for the Happening on the High Street project – both funded by the Arts Council – and £797k of Heritage Lottery funding for the four-year Skills for the Future programme, to help new talent sustain a long-term heritage sector, and you can really begin to see how successful our efforts have been to ensure Colchester remains one of the country’s leading destinations and a place worth caring about.

I could go on – but with the clock counting down to the festive period and presents still waiting to be wrapped, I’ll sign off for now by wishing you all a very happy Christmas and all good things for 2018.

Planning for a major incident

Emergency Plan © Nick Youngson

Following the Grenfell Tower fire and its tragic aftermath, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about Colchester Borough Council’s own emergency planning procedures.

Whilst I am delighted to be able to explain our plans for dealing with a major incident, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to make any comment on how the situation has been handled in Kensington and Chelsea.

As a local authority, our role invariably starts as support to the emergency blue-light services. They are there to save life, limb and – wherever possible – property. So we may be required to set up a rest centre, for example, where people who are displaced by a major incident can stay for a short period. We did just that, back in February, when Storm Doris unleashed gale-force winds and a tidal surge across our region and coast.

Our role as a council comes more to the fore when events begin to move into the ‘recovery’ stage. This is when we can begin to help support the community to return to as ‘normal’ a life as possible.

A few words of advice: It’s absolutely vital that people consider taking out appropriate insurance to cover the possibility of a major incident causing damage to their property or business. However, I’d say that it’s even more important to give thought at all times to our own safety, and never allow ourselves to become complacent about potential risks – such as, for example, when we stay in a hotel or visit public buildings. It won’t do us any harm (will help ensure the opposite, in fact) to make ourselves aware of fire exits and what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency. As Confucius once said: “It’s wise to always expect the unexpected.” After all, it’s for a very good reason that someone will always run through housekeeping rules ahead of a public meeting, so the audience knows, if the fire alarm rings, that it isn’t a drill. It’s not a matter of ‘health and safety gone mad’; it’s simply plain common sense and about taking responsibility for our own and everyone else’s wellbeing.

I’m keen that we continue to encourage other organisations in the Borough – both large and small – to think about their business continuity plan, too, and the way it will help them cope in the aftermath of a major incident or disaster – be it natural like a fire or flood, or premeditated like a cyber-attack.

Developing a comprehensive business continuity plan allows businesses to get ahead of the curve in identifying the potential impacts that could threaten their organisation and impact their customers. A business continuity plan, such as the one we have, provides a framework for building resilience and effective responses to all kinds of incidents, meets legislative requirements, and protects the organisation’s reputation. We know that ‘building-in’ business continuity, making it part of the way our organisation is run, is going to help us to recover more effectively after an incident and get us back to working normally again in the quickest possible time. An effective and tested plan, like ours, enables us to manage the unexpected and so reassure our residents, customers and staff that effective contingency plans are in place.

Some disasters, like the Grenfell Tower Fire, happen suddenly and without warning, of course, while others allow some time to plan. A tidal surge, for example, may be forecast hours or sometimes even days in advance. We need to be prepared at all times for both.

When facing an immediate emergency, there are a number of responses we need to consider simultaneously. These can be categorised as follows:

Information: This is often unknown, still emerging or just patchy. So just what is the scale of the emergency and what response is needed? The sooner we know, the sooner we can act.

Co-ordination: If we can establish what needs to be done – and, as I say, that is difficult, especially as the situation evolves and perhaps the situation begins to deteriorate – then co-ordinating the responses between a host of statutory agencies, volunteers and Third Sector bodies can sometimes be difficult, initially.

Communications and social media: From the moment a major incident happens, a mass of information pours in from numerous sources, some of which is helpful, some of which is misleading, some of which is plainly wrong. Separating the wheat from the chaff is critical, if our Communications Team and our various information channels, including our website and social media platforms, are to be able to update residents and local businesses with timely and accurate information.

We follow well-defined and well-rehearsed protocols to ensure that our Communications Team remains in close contact with the council’s First Call Officer, our heads of service, the emergency services, government agencies and other public bodies countywide, including Essex County Council, the precise moment a major incident is declared. This also includes providing regular updates to councillors and myself about the incident or emergency as it develops and when it is eventually resolved. The importance of maintaining clear and open channels of communication between all of the relevant authorities, throughout the duration of a major incident, cannot be over-estimated. That is why our Communications Team is on call 24-hours a day, 365-days a year, ready to respond to any media enquiries and share information with other agencies and the public.

Resources: We will usually have a presence on the ground, at the scene, but with all the blue-light services doing their job too, we cannot get in their way. We need to plan to use our resources efficiently, since they might be needed over a longer period of time. It can only be counter-productive to throw everything we have into an emergency, to only then find we have nothing left for tomorrow, the next day, the next week, etc.

The immediate versus long term responses: Obviously we have to consider, as a matter of priority, our immediate response providing help and support to those caught up in an emergency situation. But we also have to think about what we must do, practically speaking, after the emergency has passed. For example, there may be a sudden need to re-home hundreds of people, even though the housing list already has 4000 people waiting on it. And, in the longer term, we will invariably have to consider all of the complex issues, both material and psychological, that are necessary to help the community to ‘return to normal’.

Learning: There are bound to be urgent lessons regarding the incident itself which need to be understood and actioned without delay – but we will also need to examine how the emergency was handled and what could work better in the future.

Compassion: It is important that we understand and relate to every single one of the human stories that emerge after a major tragedy, because every catastrophic event will have a devastating impact on individuals and families.

I am pleased to be able to reassure residents that we routinely practise our emergency planning response to incidents, and that seven of our senior managers take it in turns to be our First Call Officer a month at a time. And we usually deal with a number of ‘incidents’ each and every month.

As I alluded to earlier, I didn’t write this blogpost to pass judgement on what did or did not happen in London recently. I hope you will have found it informative and have a better understanding of the issues and responses a local authority like Colchester Borough Council needs to consider in the event of a major incident or emergency.

If, heaven forbid, a event of the order seen recently in Manchester and London were to happen in Colchester, I would like to think my colleagues and I would get more decisions right than hindsight would show had been wrong – simply because we are confident that we constantly plan and practise for it.

Finally, I would just like to reassure residents that we have no high rise buildings in our housing stock – only two- and three-storey blocks – all of which have been inspected to ensure they do not have the same cladding as that used on Grenfell Tower.

It pays to recycle

recycling

I was reading some interesting facts the other day about the origins of certain products and was astounded to learn about the lifecycle of the humble fizzy drink can.

Apparently, it takes around 330ml of crude oil to produce a 330ml can of fizzy drink. That’s an awful lot of energy, when you consider that just one teaspoon of oil packs enough power to lift a medium-sized family car as high as the Eiffel Tower!

A staggering amount of effort goes into producing a single can of fizzy drink, it transpires. Beginning with the energy used to mine bauxite in some remote part of Australia or the Amazon Basin, the ore eventually reaches a smelting plant where it’s heated to extract aluminium. From there, the now-sheet metal is shipped to factories across the globe where it’s formed into cans. Then it’s on to the canning factory, to be filled with fizzy drink – which also requires an additional energy-stream to produce.

I know, I need to get out more!

Next, yet more energy is used to transport the final product to the retailer, who uses still more storing it in a chill-cabinet and lighting and heating their premises – until you, the consumer, uses even more energy to travel to the shop to buy the product. But that’s not quite the end of it: on the consumption-side of the equation, you then have to factor in the energy used on the trip home, the energy used to cool the drink in your fridge, the energy required to… but I’m sure you get my drift by now?

That whole process, from opencast mine to waste bin, uses around 330ml of oil-equivalent energy per can of fizzy drink. And every day, worldwide, tens of millions of cans are produced. In fact, 24 million tonnes of aluminium is produced around the world annually, of which 51,000 tonnes is used as packaging in the UK.

But here’s the rub – £36m of aluminium ends up in landfill each year in the UK, even though an aluminium can could be recycled and ready to use again in as little as six weeks, and requires 20 times less energy to manufacture than one made from scratch.

See, now I’m getting out more!

So why have I chosen to start this blogpost with the lifecycle of a typical drinks can? Well, firstly, because I think it’s becoming increasingly apparent that our ‘take, make and throw away’ society cannot continue to treat our planet as if it was simply a limitless source of resources at one end of a production-line and some sort of free dustbin at the other.

Secondly, because I think it’s sometimes easy to ignore the wider picture and to begin to take for granted the highly organised efforts that go into producing the everyday items that we consume – which, in turn, can blind us to the consequences of what happens to them after we’ve thrown them away.

And, lastly, because I thought the lifecycle of the ubiquitous aluminium can seemed an appropriate way to introduce the subject I really want to talk about, which is the Council’s decision to change the way it disposes of the Borough’s household waste…

Last December, the council decided to introduce a new Waste and Recycling Strategy from June 2017. It follows a huge amount of work by my staff to find ways to decrease the amount we send to landfill and increase rates of recycling in the Borough.

Since this is an issue that involves everyone and affects everyone, we’ve been careful to listen to what residents said should happen, with over half who took part in last year’s consultation in agreement that some change is necessary in the way their waste and recycling is collected.

But while the survey told us that there are high levels of satisfaction with our waste and recycling service, we also know that we need to make changes and improvements in the way we deal with our waste in future, if we are ever going to meet our targets and fulfil our broader environmental obligations.

That challenge – to do business and deliver services as sustainably as possible – goes well beyond reducing the amount of household waste the Borough generates, however. It also means, for example, reducing by 40% the Council’s carbon footprint by 2020, generating solar energy on our buildings and revolutionising the way staff uses IT to virtually eradicate paper-use across the organisation.

Our Environmental Sustainability Strategy is an award-winning example in the community and is helping us to become even more resilient to the challenges we face from climate change. Did I just say ‘award-winning’? Indeed, I did, because I’m delighted to say Colchester Borough Council recently won the Environmental Awareness Category at the Countywide Essex Business Awards! You can find out more about how we’re leading the field with our environmental policies, here: http://www.colchester.gov.uk/sustainability.

The new Waste and Recycling Strategy is one component of our wider sustainability agenda, addressing as it does a number of vital issues which we believe will drive efficiencies, improve our recycling performance and enable us to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill.

It surely cannot be right for the Borough to continue to send in excess of 35,000 tonnes of waste to landfill each year, incurring a considerable financial cost at a time when the Council is facing significant budget cuts?!

While it’s encouraging to know that we currently earn £350,000 each year from the recyclable materials collected in the Borough, just think how much more income we could generate and money we might save if we all did more to increase the amount we recycle and send less waste to landfill. Just as important: think how boosting recycling will reduce our overall impact on the environment, and imagine how much energy could be saved if fewer aluminium cans and bottles needed to be made from scratch.

You can find lots more information about the planned changes to the waste and recycling service by visiting http://www.colchester.gov.uk/recycling, but in short the main proposals include:

  • Introducing fortnightly collections for general rubbish
  • A limit of three black sacks per household, equivalent to the same capacity as the wheeled bins proposed for some areas within the Borough
  • An optional second free green box to separate glass and cans
  • White garden sacks will be free and residents will continue to get free clear sacks, but won’t receive free black sacks
  • Residents will continue to use their existing recycling containers for paper, plastics, cans, glass, textiles, food and green waste, and,
  • Continued weekly collection of food waste.

I am one of the first to recognise that our plans haven’t been received positively in all quarters and that some residents are opposed to some of the detail of the new Waste Strategy – particularly around the limits and frequency of residual waste collection and the use of wheelie-bins in certain areas. However, we have listened carefully to the views of ward councillors and the voices of the residents they represent, and that is why we won’t be imposing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ service where it isn’t wanted in the Borough.

Instead, we’ll be introducing what you might call a ‘hybrid service’: one which is appropriate for local circumstances – for instance, where buildings or the local terrain make it impossible to use wheelie-bins – and which also provides exemptions for householders who generate more residual waste by necessity, such as those with very young children or with a long-term medical condition.

If you have any questions or concerns about how the changes might affect you, please continue to check our website for information and guidance between now and when the new Waste Strategy is introduced in June. We’ll be publishing more details, in late spring, but until that time I would encourage you to recycle as much as you can. Just a few extra items recycled by each of our 77,000 households would make a massive difference.

I’d like to end, if I may, with a line by the poet and naturalist Henry David Thoreau: “What’s the use of a house,” he said, “if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

I think those words will resonate with everyone who places a concern for the environment high on their personal agenda, as I do. But they also chime with the determination we have as a Council to provide a waste and recycling service which is both sustainable and fit for the environmental challenges of the 21st Century. We all want a decent quality of life and to protect our environment. Addressing the amount of waste we produce is one way to guarantee it, as our town continues to develop and grow in the decades to come.

Please recycle a bit more, for the benefit of your children and your grandchildren, so they can live in a cleaner and healthier environment.

Christmas Greetings

I wanted to post a blog to wish you all a very Merry Christmas in a few days’ time.

I also hope that, for most of our 183,000 residents, you will have not really noticed the services we have provided consistently on a daily or weekly basis. This is because, unless you specifically have to contact the Council for something, you really should not have to think about whether your rubbish is being collected or that the Environmental Health team is doing food hygiene spot checks to help keep you safe this Christmas.

But for those of you who have contacted the Council for a particular purpose or for help with a specific problem, I do hope you feel we have treated you properly, professionally and with respect.

I do accept that on occasions (I would say, very rare occasions) we do not get it completely right – but for the millions of people we do see (Colchester Leisure World alone serves a million customers a year), I believe we do get it right the vast majority of times.

I am also delighted to see so many of you contacting us using the technology we all have at our disposal. So many more people are going on-line to do their business with the Council. This is so much more cost effective for us, allowing us to target our reduced resources to those who need our face-to-face help with complex problems, and allowing you to interact when it is convenient for you to do so at a time and in a place that suits you.

Anyway, I do hope you have no need to contact us this Christmas and that you will be enjoying the seasonal festivities in the way you have planned.

Many of our staff will be providing services to you during the Christmas break, and the rest of us will be back in January to continue to serve you, our residents and our communities to the best of our ability.

Have a super but safe New Year, and I wish you a peaceful and trouble-free 2017.

ADRIAN

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At your (Express Zone) service…

As Chief Executive, I get to meet hundreds of people in the course of a year. I’ll wager you that I don’t hold the staff-record for the greatest number of face-to-face encounters, however. That accolade – I wouldn’t be at all surprised – may well go to Luke Daley and Charlie Beattie.

The reason I say this – and who the aforementioned are – will become apparent further down the page, but, by way of an introduction, Luke and Charlie work in Customer Services, within the Express Zone, at the Community Hub, in Colchester’s Central Library, where their time is mostly spent meeting, advising and supporting people to access the many services we provide. It might even be said that, for the thousands of residents and customers who use the Community Hub each year, Luke and Charlie characterise the familiar human face of the Council.

The achievements of an organisation are the results of the combined effort of each individual, and I’d like my blog to increasingly reflect that truth. Which is why I’ve asked Luke and Charlie if they’d both like to shine a light on what it’s like to work in the Community Hub, so that we might better appreciate the outstanding customer service that they, along with many other Council employees, deliver all year round.

Luke and Charlie, it’s over to you…

Luke and Charlie

Luke and Charlie

Hi, I’m Luke Daley and I’m an apprentice working in the Customer Support Team, based in the Colchester Library and Community Hub. As an apprentice, I have to spend at least three hours each week completing my NVQ, writing reflective accounts which culminates in a meeting, once a month, with the assessor who monitors my progress. Mostly, though, I work in the Express Zone.

The Express Zone is where we help residents find speedy solutions to benefits, Council Tax, housing and many other Council-related enquiries. Or, if their needs are more complicated and require additional work to resolve, we refer them to specialists on the First Floor for more in-depth advice. It is also where we provide one-to-one help and support to some of our most vulnerable residents who may need assistance using a range of online tools to self-serve, such as how to quick-scan personal information and provide evidence to access particular Council services.

A lot has changed, since I first started working at the Community Hub. Nowadays, as a result of the recent work to transform the service to encourage people to self-serve as much as possible, increasing numbers of customers are using Express Zone services to self-scan and interact online with the Council.

So that’s a bit of context, but what does my typical working day look like? Not that there is ever really a ‘typical’ day, mind. Well, I’ll try my best to do justice to it, but it usually goes something like this…

8:45am – We set up the self-serve equipment and make sure everything is fully charged and connected to the internet. We then have our morning briefing, to discuss any business updates and anticipate challenges that may arise over the coming day.

9am – The Morning Rush begins. I must say, we’re always well-prepared for this, as the technology in the Express Zone helps us to work really well together as an efficient and effective team, answering people’s questions and concerns. The Community Hub is an incredibly busy and dynamic place to work, not least because it brings together a variety of partners such as Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Colchester Community Voluntary Services, Essex County Council and Colchester Borough Homes. This enables residents to access a range of services in a joined-up way.

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Luke shows a customer how to use the Quick-Scan machine

1pm – Another customary busy period ends. I take my lunch-break upstairs, managing to find a few moments to chat with some Community Hub colleagues from Essex County Council.

2pm – After lunch, I usually undertake some study time for my NVQ coursework. I find this time incredibly useful, as I really don’t want to get behind with my work!

I feel very fortunate to be able to support some of the most vulnerable residents of Colchester. Though my job can sometimes mean assisting people who may find themselves in a very difficult place, coping with the troubling issues they face, it really is a great feeling to know I’ve played some part in helping people overcome obstacles in their life.

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Charlie Beattie – “Welcome to the Express Zone.”

Hello, my name is Charlie. Since graduating from University two years ago, I’ve been working for Colchester Borough Council.

Allow me to proudly welcome you to the Express Zone. The Express Zone helps residents in need of advice and guidance, focusing predominately on shorter enquiries and helping them to interact with our brand new technological services!

We strive to ensure that all residents receive clear, professional advice and help needed to improve confidence with our technology. We promote not only self-sufficiency through the use of ‘self-serve’, but we also take great pride in being able to recognise the most vulnerable customers who come to us, who may need further assistance to use our systems. We are incredibly passionate about the work we do and about the customers we support.

Luke has already hinted at the schedule we follow as a team each morning, before the day begins in earnest, but I think it’s worth reiterating because, without that early morning team effort, we wouldn’t be properly prepared to hit the ground running the moment the doors open to the public.

So, at around 8:30am, to ensure that all of the technology is up and running and the systems are operational for our busy day ahead, we charge all of the equipment and make sure it’s working and ready for public use. I cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to ensure that we’re able to provide a full and continuous service throughout the day. We then have our team meeting at 8:45am, which helps give an insight into what to expect during the course of the day and any other important issues we should be aware of.

9am – The Express Zone opens and we begin to welcome our customers. The Customer Support Officers on the First Floor are ready to support those with complex Benefits, Council Tax issues or housing needs.

We’re here to support each and every customer, especially those who are vulnerable, and we have become extremely adept at determining whether or not someone requires wider support. Since we work closely with many other specialist organisations, it is essential that we keep up-to-date with the range of services they provide, so that we can give the very best service and support to our residents – whether that be in the form of help to overcome a current housing problem, Welfare Benefits Advice, or simply supporting those who lack confidence using the latest technology. Any one of these factors may contribute to a reluctance in some people to approach us with their concerns. And, of course, whenever it’s appropriate, we also actively promote the ‘Go Online’ initiative, so customers with the confidence to use IT can complete their applications or engage with the Council outside of normal business hours if they want to.

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“…We’re here to support each and every customer…”

1pm – We usually rotate the lunch-time breaks to suit the daily plan, making sure the customers we are supporting are dealt with before we leave. You have to be flexible, in this role, because of the unpredictable nature of certain queries. Luke, myself and the others are each able to determine if someone requires much more time to resolve an in-depth query, and we will often rotate and juggle our times around if necessary.

We are incredibly enthusiastic about the Express Zone, and this energy transfers to the customers who are also very happy with our transformation!

5pm – Work ends and I have a chance to reflect on my achievements during the day. Oh, before I go, I must tell you about our monthly whole team meetings: these are quite different, in that we don’t just listen to our managers! What I mean is that, each month, a different internal or external partner talks with us to make us aware of their work or what their organisation delivers. This helps us to connect with and understand the wider support which is on offer in the community, and we can join all this up in our conversations with customers. Luke and I have almost become walking and talking support directories!

(Adrian): Thanks Luke and Charlie for your thoughts and insights. I think it’s fair to say the ground-breaking Community Hub has become, in a relatively short space of time, a hugely busy and vibrant community space, with a reputation for supportive and innovative customer service. It truly is an impressive example of how organisations can work together to deliver a range of frontline and other speciality services under one roof.

I know from the feedback we’ve received from our customers that residents have welcomed the one-stop shop approach and have embraced the idea of assisted self-serve remarkably well.

As I reported in an earlier Blogpost, we’ve worked very hard as a Council to encourage behaviour-change, enabling residents and customers to understand that they do not need to see a specialist adviser for transactions that can be carried out online. The effect has been to reduce in-person contact significantly.

But as Luke and Charlie describe so well: there’ll always be a need for the ‘human touch’ if we’re to be able to continue to provide the best possible service to everyone in our community.