Waste contractor Veolia has been accused of charging Sheffield council tax payers up to £6 million for a service which unions say costs the company nothing.
The firm, which holds a 30-year contract to collect and process Sheffield’s household rubbish and recycling, is paid £207,000 a year to provide assisted bin collections to more than 20,000 households where elderly and disabled people live.
Under the service, people who are too frail or infirm to take their wheelie bins to the kerb themselves are able to leave their bins in situ beside their homes - where they are collected by binmen, taken to the bin lorry and emptied, and then wheeled back in place.
But the GMB trade union, which represents binmen, told The Star that refuse workers’ rounds are exactly the same regardless of how many assisted collections are on them - and binmen themselves receive no extra payments.
The cost of the assisted collections was revealed in confidential background papers - leaked to The Star - which were given to councillors reviewing the waste service to find savings.
It is not known how much the council was charged for assisted collections at the beginning of the contract, which was signed in 1999.
But if the current £207,000 annual bill was the same for all 30 years of the contract, the total cost to taxpayers would come to £6.21 million.
Peter Davies, regional organiser for the GMB which represents most of Veolia’s 160 binmen in Sheffield, said: “The guys do the assisted collections as part and parcel of their work.
“They do not get extra payments, and the rounds are the same regardless of how many assisted collections there are.
“I do not understand how Veolia can justify charging the council the amount they do. The council should never have signed such a long contract for such an important service.”
Sheffield Council’s former leader Coun Peter Moore, who was in charge of the authority between 1999 and 2002 when the waste contract was signed with Onyx, a company later taken over by Veolia, admitted the contract had been signed in a rush and he had relied on officers to negotiate the best value.
He said: “I don’t disagree that we were at fault, the buck stops at the top. But I’m pretty horrified - it’s appalling that this should have happened.”
Coun Moore said he was asked to sign the contract ‘within days’ of taking office and the haste was down to ensuring a £28 million bill for replacing the incinerator at Bernard Road could be covered.
He said: “It was a case of either signing a contract to outsource the service to a private contractor which would cover the cost of the incinerator, or we would have to make immediate cuts to services to fund it.
“We had been left with a nightmare scenario by the outgoing Labour administration and it was a hugely difficult contract. We had to rely on the quality of the officers to get the contract right.”
The cost of assisted collections was not examined over the last decade by successive Labour and Lib Dem administrations - and has come to light only after being suggested by officers as an area where savings could be made as part of the present Labour council’s waste management review.
Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance, pledged assisted collections would stay - but said the cost would be examined as part of the review. He declined to comment further.
A Veolia spokesman said: “Assisted collections are operated to households where the occupier is physically unable to present their waste containers for emptying.
“The council provides details of the locations which require an assisted collection, and the crews collect the full containers and return them to the same location after emptying.
“This system has operated throughout the 18 years that wheeled bins have operated in the city.
“The assisted collections form part of the overall workload of the crews and is reflected within their stabilised wages.
“Nothing has changed in this respect since Veolia has operated the contract for the past 10 years.
“Veolia Environmental Services work on the basis of transparency, and the rates applied throughout the contract have been agreed with Sheffield Council. We are committed to providing efficient services to the city.”