Harrogate council spends £400,000 on bin worker overtime
Last updated Oct 7, 2022
A Harrogate Borough Council recycling wagon. Picture: HBC.

Harrogate Borough Council has spent £408,000 on overtime for bin workers over the last three years.

The Stray Ferret sent a freedom of information request to the council after a refuse collector got in touch to express concerns about overtime spending.

The council spent £138,246 on overtime in 2019, £135,636 in 2020 and £134,196 in 2021. The figures do not include casual workers.

The council, which will be abolished in just under six months, employed 93 waste and recycling drivers and loaders in 2020, compared with 95 in 2021 and 100 in 2020.

David Houlgate, secretary of the Harrogate local government branch of public sector union Unison, said the council had been “in a recruitment and retention crisis for some time”, adding:

“There are a number of factors for this crisis but primary it is, in our view, because of pay freezes and below inflation pay rises for over a decade or more as a result of chronic under-funding from central government who do not appear to care about public services.

“Consequently, some services such as environmental services have endured staffing issues for a number of years.  Your readers may have noticed on some occasions that their refuse or recycling collection has been late or not happened at all, as a result.

“Staff may have been asked to work overtime to alleviate the problem but more concerning is that there has been an over-reliance on agency workers to deliver some services.”

Mr Houlgate said Unison submitted a freedom of information request around the costs of agency workers in 2019 and later wrote to the council’s overview and scrutiny commission asking it to look into the “excessive” sums.

The committee agreed to undertake a review but this was delayed by covid and in July this year Unison was informed it was “unlikely that the agency workers piece of work will be undertaken”. Mr Houlgate said:

“The staffing situation has arisen because council staff have been underpaid and undervalued for well over a decade and the situation now with the cost of living crisis has reached a breaking point.”

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The Stray Ferret asked the council what the overtime pay rate is for waste and recycling staff and whether it was able to manage the service better to reduce costs.

A council spokesperson said he didn’t have an answer for the pay rate but added:

“Our waste and recycling service has around 30 rounds out per day collecting household waste, recycling, garden waste and trade waste from the 500 square miles of the Harrogate district.

“There are a number of reasons why overtime is required to support the delivery of this service.

“On a day-to-day basis this could range from roadworks, delays or breakdowns leading to rounds finishing late and employees working over their contracted hours. Short or longer term driver and staff shortages also require additional time to be worked by employees to ensure the delivery of this service.

“It is fair and right that additional time worked by employees over contracted hours – that equates to less than five per cent of the overall delivery of the service – is paid at the appropriate rate in-line with our overtime policy. Equally, where hours are worked on bank holidays to ensure rounds are completed, overtime is rightly paid to employees.

“Without the good will and support from staff to work these additional hours we would struggle to deliver the existing quality of service that our residents and business customers expect to receive.”