East Devon District Council will ask Central Government for help in meeting the additional costs that their recycling contractors have incurred during the coronavirus crisis.
The council’s cabinet on Wednesday night heard that SUEZ had incurred extraordinary additional costs during the Covid 19 pandemic as a result of the Government’s instruction to stay at home during the lockdown, which meant that households generated high levels of recyclables and waste during a very short space of time.
The meeting heard that the increase volume of kerbside collections was compounded by the loss of key frontline staff through shielding and self-isolation, and the overall effects of lockdown meant that East Devon waste and recycling streams increased significantly in volume and changed greatly in terms of composition.
“None of this had been planned or budgeted for and the service was working outside of normal contract arrangements,” councillors were told.
The cabinet agreed to consider the extraordinary additional cost claim submitted by SUEZ for costs incurred in responding to the coronavirus pandemic conditions, and that a further report would come forward to a future meeting detailing the exact amount they are asking for.
Simon Davey, strategic lead for finance, said that the cabinet would need to know the amount of money involved and officers are currently seeking legal advice around contracts to make sure East Devon District Council only has to pay what they have to pay.
Cllr Geoff Jung, portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, said: “This is a large amount of money, but they have had to do far beyond their own contract to cover what they have been having to do since March.”
Cllr John Loudoun added: “If there are extra costs identified, then we should ask our MPs to lobby for some or preferably all of the extra costs identified,” while Cllr Philip Skinner said that was a very sensible suggestion and one his Conservative opposition group would very much support.
He said: “We need to put party politics for one side as this is something never come across before, so we need to make sure the financial position we are in is as sound as can be.”
The cabinet heard that SUEZ had submitted a claim to East Devon for reimbursement of additional costs that had arisen through operating in pandemic conditions, which included itemised costs for additional labour, vehicles and fuel costs during the peak lockdown period.
As the costs had arisen through the response to extraordinary and unforeseeable circumstances they were unbudgeted and although the additional costs were reducing consistently, it was uncertain whether costs were now stable as it was not known what the long term effects of Covid-19 would be, and it was too early to tell whether the kerbside composition change was long term.
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But they were told the route changes that had also taken place had also blurred the lines between operational costs and Covid costs and that there was likely to be an additional increase in cardboard with more people online shopping for Christmas.
Tipping point negotiations are now set to begin with SUEZ regarding collection tonnages to establish what are and aren’t Covid 19 costs.
The cabinet also agreed to consider the request from SUEZ that the addition costs were to be met by the council, but also to lobby MPs for support from Central Government to help cover the costs.