Innovating During Times of Challenge
The 2nd of a brand new series of podcasts, which brings together leaders from Local Authorities and LATCo's engaging in conversation, sharing and learning good practice.
This good practice could help others facing challenges.
Episode 2 involves Farooq Mohammed and Tony Lawless the managing director of Bristol Waste which is a LATCo with Bristol City Council.
This episode highlights some of the innovations Bristol Waste has made to continue service delivery in challenging times.
This episode is available in video and podcast formats below so you can choose the format that works for you. If you prefer to read the highlights of the podcast, they are paraphrased with timings underneath.
Be sure to subscribe on our Soundcloud channels for future episodes.
Welcome to the second of a brand new series of podcasts that we are having. These are with leaders from local authorities and LATCo's, engaging in conversation with and sharing and learning good practice which could help others facing challenges.
Farooq Mohammed introduces himself and Tony Lawless. a managing director from Bristol Waste which is a LATCo with Bristol City Council.
1:07 Question 1
Tell us about yourself, your role at Bristol and the services you're responsible for?
I have been the managing director at Bristol Waste for the last two years. I have a background in engineering and have worked for several companies whilst travelling around the world, examples are navy engineering and facilities management including hospitals. I then came to Bristol to look after Bristol waste.
Bristol Waste is a Teckal company solely owned by Bristol City Council. Services include;
Waste collection (residential and commercial)
Recycling and resource reuse including two recycling centres (third centre is in development)
Fly tip collection
Highways salting and cleaning
Community engagement and education in relation to recycling education in schools.
03:05 Question 2
Bristol Waste is a Teckal company. Tell us more about what that means?
The Teckal company was set up to be entrepreneurial and be able to run the business but also grow up to 20% of the turnover in commercial work so we do the day job but can also go out to local business around Bristol and get commercial work. Up to 20% of the turnover and all the profit that we make from that is reinvested back into the business or goes back to the city for use around Bristol.
03:46 Question 3
Tell us about Bristol and the local authority and LATCo structure and how big Bristol Waste is in terms of turnover, staff members etc.?
Bristol is a city in the southwest with a population of 450,000 and at our business we have several depots and offices around the city. The main base is at Albert Road where there are offices, a waste transfer station and where we look after our own fleet service. We have depots in Havenmouth where we have a reuse and recycle centre and reuse shop and a waste transfer station, as well as at Heartcliffe Way, where all the street cleaning, road sweeping and salt store is kept. At St Phillips is another reuse and recycle centre. And Lewins Mead which is a small depot which looks after its street cleaning in the centre of the city.
We employ over 600 people and carry out over 17 million scheduled collections every year around the city. We operate over 180 vehicles and collect and handle 185,000 tons of waste from 196,000 households in the Bristol area. 50,000 tons of these are sent for composting or recycling.
Our turnover is just over £42 million and any profit generated goes back to the council or is reinvested back into the business to improve our service.
COVID 19 Response Week 7 Lock down
05:45 Question 4
Can you tell us about the adjustments you've had to make on a personal and professional level?
We started a COVID response team to deal with all the issues, actions and plan for any contingencies. The team was made up of senior managers and is chaired by our operations director, Jason Eldrige, and we have senior leaders from around the business who will have an input.
We have a video conference meeting everyday from 8.30am and from there we communicate to all our staff and the council about anything we feel will affect the safety of our teams and the operation of the contract. This can be everything from PPE, social-distancing measures, hygiene, working patterns, operator backups and any changes.
The biggest change for the office space staff has been the video conferencing and working from home. This reduces the travel and office social distancing requirements. Recent events prove that technology can work along with hot-desking to deliver services and these measures reduce traffic congestion and improve the environment which is something we're all keen on.
The COVID response team has been a real success and key to the challenge response because everything that has come up we have sat and discussed and put an action plan in place. We can have a response and communicate this to the people that matter and be prepared for every eventuality. We then follow that on with a similar team review with members of the council to update them and ensure that everything that they want is being done. Although it has been a huge challenge it has worked extremely well.
8.33 Question 5
Tell me about you as an individual and what is the biggest adjustment you have had to make on a personal and professional level?
My leadership style is to support the team with the tools and trust to help them make their own decisions. Let staff perform, thank them, guide them and train them as they go.
The biggest issue is communicating to the staff that it is known how hard they work and the importance of that to the city; focusing on staff safety for themselves, staff families and the general public.
9.55 Question 6
Do you think your approach has changed during the current crisis?
No my style has not changed. It has been a pleasure to work with the team who have shone and come together through all of this.Many staff have gone the extra mile.
10:52 Question 7
Has more recent thinking about how leaders connect with their teams in a more compassionate way impacted on the way that you approach things?
From Bristol Waste point of view, the senior leadership team has been out to the workforce getting the message across. With social distancing in mind we have gone out and talked to them. We have worked closely with the unions, who have supported us and put joint messages out to the workforce.
The senior leadership team has put health and safety and wellbeing first. The majority of the team has risen through the ranks, so understands and relates to the team by being supportive. We are not just going through the motions, we hope this comes across.
12:14 Question 8
How have you supported, navigated and managed staff through what may seem like mixed messages that the news and media say about staying home and staying safe?
As people are heart of what we do we have put measures in place to reassure staff such as a mental health first aider and a dial in employee assistance telephone number, so they can talk things through.
Managers who may be working from home call staff on a regular basis. If staff come into work we make sure work areas are cleaned daily and in offices social distancing can be employed. We have made instructional videos and make sure PPE is always available.
If people feel unwell, we make sure they can leave work immediately. If they are at home they can be visited if necessary. We have terms and conditions in place that ensure they are paid from day one, so they can afford to stay home, stay safe and keep the rest of the workforce safe.
14:48 Question 9
Do you think there has been one single biggest challenge and how have you responded to that?
The single biggest challenge is to keep services running and maintain business as usual with staff, families and public safety in mind.
We had to suspend green and bulky waste collections, while the household reuse and recycle depots were closed as these were deemed non essential journeys by the government.
The Covid team were advised that one third of the workforce would be off so the closuress were necessary responses.
The situation of high staff absences did not arrive and we managed to keep business running as usual and re-started the green and bulky waste collections as soon as we safely could.
We will shortly be opening the household reuse and recycle as per latest government advice also in a safe and planned way.
So the biggest challenge was staff safety and secondly was keeping services running at full speed as much as possible.
16:51 Question 10
Plato said that necessity was the mother of invention. Losing one third of your staff must have driven the biggest innovation that I know of. Your family and friends scheme that appeared on BBC's The One Show. Where did the idea come from? What was the council’s and the staff's reaction to the idea? Is it working and will it continue after lockdown?
As a Teckal company one of our remits is to be innovative and come up with ideas. The Covid team examined all of the different scenarios and how to back up a service. We had already trained up staff in the offices and several people came up with the idea of looking at friends and family to help.
Driven by our L&D manager Sally Robinson with the support of the Covid team, we tried to recruit as many people as we could.
Once trained and kitted out with PPE, they were ready to support the team. (Video is available on website here). https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000hrkq/the-one-show-28042020
On the video we show father and son so rather than him being at home he can be paid, keep an eye on his dad and get the job done.
It may sound wacky but it is a really sensible idea. We know the people coming in and they have some connection with the business and we are looking after the people who support the business all year around.
Farooq congratulates the team on bringing the idea to fruition as you can clearly see how well it worked. Inspirational.
21:51 Question 11
Tell us about health and safety. Where does Bristol Waste stack up on that front?
Health and safety is an absolute priority to us. We want to do the right things. We want all our staff to come in and go homesafe and with no injuries.
This is a very dangerous industry with a lot of fatalities and a lot of reportable injuries. A few years ago we averaged about 8-10 reportable injuries per year. This is where an injury has resulted in a staff member being off work as the injury is quite serious.
We spent a lot of time on health and safety(H&S), training staff, doing toolbox talks and getting them to report near misses, so we can take action.
Our RIDDOR rate has reduced from an average of 8-10 per year to down to 2 in the past 18 months.This proves how far the H&S team have worked and how seriously we take it.
The operators have really taken on board what they are being asked to do.
We also put cameras on vehicles as a big risk to operators is traffic which mounts pavements around the vehicles when they cannot be bothered waiting. Now with safety cameras on board we will report anybody mounting the pavement to the police. The Bristol Post helped us by highlighting the issues and the dangers our staff are in.
We try to mitigate risks and have the support of the unions. This is a sustained effort supported at every level.
26:40 Question 12
In regards to service users, stakeholders and elected members, how has public opinion changed towards key workers in the last few weeks? Especially keyworkers that ordinarily would not have the profile they rightly deserve?
Public opinion has always been positive towards our staff in Bristol. As more people are at home they can see our teams out on the streets and how hard they work. People are genuinely grateful, applaud and say thank you.
Less traffic on the road helps them move around the city safely.
Some good always comes out of a crisis. It is a shame it has taken a virus to get people to appreciate the work all key workers do.
19.17 Question 13
You lead a high performing successful organisation. I know when we have spoken about this before you have attributed it to people. Can you tell us about the key factors in building a successful organisation?
We have great staff who work hard in a difficult environment. We keep them safe and well trained and expect them to embrace the culture and expectations of the city and stakeholders.
Training developing and trusting staff, treating them well and ensuring they work within set parameters. With managers, train them and let them manage and innovate. Look at ways to improve the service and commercially grow the non teckal side.
Farooq mentions the psychological contract and how important this is for organisations, treating staff as a partner.
Tony reiterates that everybody has a role to play.
33.40 Question 14
What do you think are the key advantages that come with the LATCo structure?
The model allows companies to make a profit but then it re-invests that money into the services to make the city better. This is unusual and I treasure this value for money and running a lean and efficient business. Any sacrifices we make go back into providing a better service and this makes it worthwhile.
The council supports us in improving our service and making everything we do better for residents.
37.48 Question 15
Do you think the LATCo structure lends itself to quicker decision making and a flatter structure in terms of organisational design? Do you think those benefits are there?
Huge benefits as we have a board, a flat structure and a senior leadership team. We still have a structure in place that means we have to get approval from our holding company, which assesses us and ensures we do the right thing. We invite council auditors to audit the business so there are no surprises.
39.36 Question 16
What are the 1 or 2 key lessons you have learned in dealing with the
current challenge you can share with our listeners from other LA’s and LATCo’s?
Simplicity, great communication, building trust and if things do not go right discuss this with stakeholders.
Keep it simple.
Finally, looking forwards, what are your hopes and plans for Bristol Waste Company
and what does the future hold for Tony Lawless?
It is not about me, just the team and the amazing efforts they have made over the last few years.
Bristol Waste needs to carry on as it is going and keep delivering on its plans and match the tough challenges it sets itself. This includes the third household reuse and recycle center.
Also look at new innovation and bringing new technology in the business and this is really important.
Look at the basics. reducing waste at source, trying to reduce vehicular movement throughout the city, which will help with congestion and Nitrous Oxide levels. Something we are working hard to do.
Most important to me is ensuring staff remain safe and treat them well as they are the business.
Farooq closing statements. Thank you for tuning in and we have conversations open with leaders to get them booked for the next podcast.