High performance standards boost accreditation

Achieving high standards of management is a priority across the environmental and waste management sectors, in both the public and private arenas. Local authorities and commercial businesses keep a wary eye on their perceived image, often reflected in how they rate in terms of attaining ISO certification, EMS and EMAS, and, more particularly in LAs, by how many stars they gain under inspection by the Audit Commission.

Working in the public sector today is all about how local authorities, and their service providers, perform. There is no doubt that the introduction of the Best Value regime has stimulated town halls to take a highly professional approach to their delivery of a range of environmental and waste management services, from waste collection and street cleansing to recycling.

No one wants to see a council's performance standards given a low rating by the Audit Commission's inspectors but few would argue now that the analysis and criticism sometimes addressed to a particular service are not constructive.

Frequently the inspectors report on return visits that major improvements have been achieved, a conclusion confirmed last year in an independent report published by the ODPM which painted "an encouraging picture" of the Best Value regime. Interim findings from a study carried out by the Centre for Local and Regional Government Research at Cardiff University showed that Best Value was having "a positive impact on the internal culture and structure of many local authorities, producing better outcomes for local people."

Audit pros and cons

A recent report by the Audit Commission, awarding the Royal Borough of Kingston two stars, is not untypical of the approach taken by the inspectors.

The conclusions were that the waste management services provided by the Royal Borough of Kingston were "good but have uncertain prospects for improvement." The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service two stars out of a possible three because the recycling rate was high, there was a high standard of street cleaning, refuse collection services were efficient and services were responsive to requests and complaints. However, the council was constrained by its limited means to divert waste from landfill.

Derek Elliott, Audit Commission Relationship Manager, said: "Kingston council has put in place a range of measures to improve its waste services. These include letting a new street cleansing contract and expanding the range of its kerbside recycling collection services. However, there is currently a lack of suitable treatment and disposal facilities needed to divert local waste away from landfill sites, and plans to address this issue and meet the council's statutory targets are only in the early stages of development."

The inspectors found that the council's combined recycling and composting rate was high in comparison with other London authorities and above the national average; the standard of street cleaning was good and there had been effective removal of abandoned cars and graffiti; and waste services were responsive to service requests and complaints.

However, inspectors also found weaknesses: although the council had recently approved a new waste strategy, which was the first step in dealing with issues, there was currently a lack of suitable waste treatment and disposal facilities in reasonable proximity to allow diversion from landfill.

Initiatives to minimise and re-use waste were under developed; and recycling facilities for estates and private flats were under-developed. Bring sites were unevenly spread; and the lack of a borough-wide scheme for the collection and composting of green waste had resulted in a missed opportunity to contribute to the council's challenging targets for recycling and composting and to reduce the amount of bio-degradable waste sent to landfill. However, there were are now firm plans in place to address this.

Recommendations from inspectors

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including: establish clear project plans to develop and deliver partnership options for future waste treatment and disposal; develop key milestones and monitoring arrangements to ensure that the council's chosen options delivered both its landfill diversion and statutory recycling targets; and address issues impacting upon overall street cleanliness, including market cleansing and gum on the pavements in Kingston town centre.

Services within the scope of the inspection included street cleansing, refuse collection, recycling, waste enforcement and education activity and waste disposal. Waste services were budgeted to cost £7.23 million inclusive of disposal costs. Waste and environmental issues will continue to have a high priority in the coming year as waste and recycling figures amongst the Round 7 Themes for the Beacon Council Scheme announced by Local Government Minister at the ODPM, Nick Raynsford on 16 February. The pressure changes to CPA authorities to perform across the board is being intensified as planned changes to the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) system are introduced during 2005. One of the main changes proposed by the Audit Commission is that: "Corporate assessment will become more challenging" with councils due to receive one corporate assessment between 2005 and 2008.

This level of enhanced expectation in the environmental sector has been a major factor in stimulating of the growth of environmental management systems (EMS) and EMAS, in addition to a wide range of accreditation in both the public and private fields.

A recent example in the municipal area was the achievement by the Client Services & Contracts section of Oadby & Wigston Borough Council of certification to the quality management standard ISO 9001:2000 with BM TRADA Certification Ltd. The section provides a range of crucial front line services to the residents of the borough, including refuse and recycling collection, public cleansing services and ground maintenance.

Section Head Graham Norman said, "Achieving ISO 9001:2000 certification has helped us to improve service delivery, both in efficiency and quality."

ISO 9001:2000 is the internationally recognised standard for quality management. To gain certification organisations must continuously undergo the scrutiny of an accredited third party quality auditor, such as BM TRADA.

The section had to review all of its operational procedures and set them out in a manual. "By implementing the standard we have seen fewer service failures and staff are able to take even greater pride in their work," Mr Norman added. "It is key to maintaining customer satisfaction and high standards of environmental care, as it enables us to track problems back to source and address them immediately." Companies operating in the environmental market also set great store by recognition of their environmental credentials.

For instance, Servomex Ltd, as a consequence if an increased programme of recycling and environmental management, recently received the BSI accreditation, which conforms to the requirements of BS EN ISO 14001:1996 (certificate number 82701). The company says that working towards ISO 14001 has led to the introduction of controls for the complete lifecycle, including design and manufacture.

Servomex also sees itself as now well placed to comply with the new WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) and RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directives, reference 2002/96/EC and 2002/95/EC, respectively.

Wayne Brazier, Servomex Operations Director, comments: "We know how important it is for our customers to work with suppliers who are confident about their management systems as they are about their products. We have responded to this by developing our ISO 14001 environmental management system effectively as an extension of our ISO 9001 accreditation, which we have held for 18 years. "

He added: "Our customers want to work with a company that is able to deliver a high level of transparency in terms of its business practices and one that carries our its business in a society responsible way - ISO 14001 accreditation validates this."


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