23 December 2011

A target for Impower

When Mr Mustard saw that a survey was being carried out by Barnet Council to try and improve recycling rates he asked a few questions. Here they are along with the answers:

I am writing in respect of your enquiry for information held by the Authority under the provisions of the Environmental Information Regulations.
Please find the information you requested enclosed. If you have any queries concerning the information please contact me at the supplied address.

1       What experience does Impower have in recycling as a search for the word "recycling" on their website brings up no responses?

This is a joint project between Barnet Council and Impower. Impower do not have specific experience in recycling
Mr Mustard thinks that the next answer, which was in response to a question that he didn't ask, actually provides the answer to the problem.
Their experience is primarily with delivering improvements and efficiencies in local government. They have experience of a wide range of projects that relate to understanding the motivations of service users. Let us assume that May Gurney actually collect everything that is put out by residents. Therefore the biggest improvement in recycling rates is to be found from making sure that all residents recycle every possible item.

For this project the knowledge of recycling is provided by Barnet Council officers.
So all that Impower had to do was to make 600 phone calls, presumably using a database from Barnet Council, run through some questions with the 120 residents who had the time or inclination, and then set up a meeting or two. A doddle, and never worth the price paid for such a simple mechanistic job. So Barnet Council officers are providing the knowledge and yet, as noted further down, Impower are leading the project. Sounds like the tail is wagging the dog.

2       What is the cost for the survey to be carried out?
Barnet Council officers on inflated salaries really don't think about what things should cost or how reasonable they are in relation to the workload. 

3       How was Impower chosen for this work?
As part of the One Barnet Programme the Council has commissioned a number of delivery partner organisations and this includes Impower. This project is being led by Impower under these arrangements.
So they were a shoo-in.

4       How many people will be spoken to on the telephone and how many will be met face-to-face?
Over 600 residents were contacted by telephone. Of these 120 completed a telephone survey, and 31 attended face to face discussion group meetings. Mr Mustard wonders if the type of people who can be bothered to complete telephone surveys are the same ones as can be bothered to do their recycling properly? This exercise should be carried out by a council officer walking the streets with the lorry and knocking on the doors of the properties which don't recycle and finding out why and offering some sort of carrot to get started.

There is a bit more to this story yet. On 6 December there was a meeting of the Budget & Performance Overview & Scrutiny committee. Here is the item presented about recycling and waste

Budget & Performance Overview & Scrutiny 6 December 2011 Recycling

Don't worry about the £50 fines that they are so keen on in Harrow if you put the wrong thing in the bin as Barnet are not going to do this ( perhaps they are learning that the stick does not work ) which is fair as you cannot stop anyone who passes your bin in the front garden from putting what they like in it as they pass down the street.

There is a chart on page 42 that Impower doubtless created which one of the councillors wanted to know more about and he wanted a simple explanation. Good on you councillor as charts of this type are pointlessly complicated. You asked how much this report cost. The Assistant Director in EPR might have mumbled the answer, or the room could just have been too noisy as there were 2 or 3 £millions worth of officers in the room, as Mr Mustard heard £5,000 but upon checking the figure he was staggered to find that it was £65,000

Now according to the press release about recycling with Cllrs Old & Rutter in the picture, Barnet residents have generated £1m of recycling in one year ( and May Gurney pocket the same amount for no good reason that Mr Mustard can think of ) so a 1% increase in recycling would generate £30,300 of extra income from the sale of recyclates. Assuming that the same amount of rubbish is kept out of landfill there will be a commensurate saving in landfill tax.

The story is a little more complicated than that though as Barnet council just love making the population bigger every year which they encourage mainly by building, or allowing the building of, more and more properties without, in Mr Mustard's opinion, sufficient regard to the manifold consequences.

The population projections used by the council show Barnet's population rising from 334,600 in 2008 to to 371,150 by 2018 - a rise of over ten per cent.

So a 10% increase in population means that recycling tonnage should go up by 1% every year without even trying.

The amount Barnet Council receives is £33.11 a tonne from recycling ( so it is actually worth £66.22 per tonne). If £1,000,000 is received by Barnet Council, then the total income is £2,000,000 which at £66.22 per tonne means that about 30,200 tonnes were recycled. This is very odd as the report shows 13,000 to 15,000 tonnes being collected per quarter so that should be 52,000+ tonnes per annum and much more income for the tax payers of Barnet to help keep their council tax down. Mr Mustard will take this apparent discrepancy up with the Assistant Director.

The saving from sending another 1% to recycling instead of landfill is 600 tonnes ( £1,000,000 / 33.11 ) at current landfill levy of £56 a tonne = a cost saving of £33,600

Mr Mustard thinks that a 1% increase in recycling rate, from 33% to 34%, would generate an income of £30,300 ( £1,000,000 /33 * 34 ). Add this to the cost saving and 1% = £63,900 which is, by chance, very close to the cost of Impower.

So we need to see at least a 2% improvement in the annual tonnage performance as 1% is just population inflation and 1% is equivalent to the cost of Impower.

It will be at least a year before we know if Impower have been of any use.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. Just a stab in the dark here, Mr Mustard, but would the Impower company you refer to be the same Impower company which has recently been joined by a Mr Max Wide, previously of BT, and then seconded long term to Barnet and then safely returned to BT with many happy memories I am sure? Or is this another Impower?

  2. "Improved coverage of recycling services for flats – as set out in paragraph 9.1.1,progress is being made on engaging with flats which have never contacted the Council, to offer free recycling facilities. Work is ongoing to provide these sites with recycling facilities through negotiations with their managing agents."

    They fail to mention something that was in the papers a few months ago - that our council failed to even apply to Boris for a grant from London-wide funds for recycling - one of the few boroughs in London that did not.

  3. I also notice there is more emphasis on recycling than on waste reduction (although there is both). The borough saves money if people buy things that don't have masses of packaging. Maybe campaigns need to push that idea.

    It was good to see "waste reduction" as well as "recycling" mentioned to new residents though.

  4. We need a code name for them I think Mrs Angry. I was thinking of "I'm Power-less" or "Impotent" but expect you will come up with a better one.

    As for recycling baarnett you amaze me that there come be yet another example of incompetence to highlight. As Clive Anderson said to Paul Daniels "is there no start to your talents" so we could say about Barnet Council "is there no start to your competence"

    Sending someone a leaflet with their council tax bill about recycling along with other crud in the envelope is hardly likely to have much effect. Campaigns on billboards or the sides of dust carts only work on the complaint. The real gains are to be had from converting people who don't yet do it to recycling and I think that needs to be done by foot slogging or on cycle ( the cycle recycle team ). A team of pretty ladies and hunky men walking the streets extolling the virtues of recycling should do it.

  5. oops, compliant not complaint ( you can tell which Mr Mustard does most often from this slip )

  6. "A team of pretty ladies and hunky men walking the streets..."

    The Cabinet, then!


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