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Fighting over the scraps

Fighting over the scraps

Waste collectors claim Government putting businesses at risk

Anton McNulty

When Mayo County Council decided to privatise their household waste collection service in 2007 it was an opportunity for Stanley Bourke of Bourke Waste to invest and expand his business. He now employs 24 full-time staff from his headquarters in Westport and collects household waste primarily in the west of the county but also in areas of Ballina and Crossmolina.
The business was going well until he heard a rumour that the industry was going to be altered considerably and this was confirmed in June when a discussion document released by the Department of the Environment proposes to introduce a franchise-type system.
Under the current system, the householder has a choice of what provider they want but under the proposed system, the local authority will oversee a tender process for the exclusive right to offer a waste collection service in a given area, for a given period of time.
The tendering process will be open to any waste provider in Ireland or Europe and according to Stanley Bourke will force the small providers out of business. He told The Mayo News that they would not be able to compete financially against the larger companies and compared it to a small shop taking on Tesco.

Only one winner

“The likes of me and many of my other competitors would have little hope in a tender situation. It is like a Tesco against a small shop, there is just no watch. Once they win that tender, it will mean my licence for household collection would be revoked and no longer allowed to collect household waste. That will mean I will be broke and gone plus the 24 full-time jobs. Obviously I have made borrowings to develop the business and up to now we have been in profit but now it will be taken away from us.
“There can only be one winner and this big time favours the major operators who may decide to use their financial muscle to win this tender. They are going to see this as an opportunity to take control of the waste market because up to now if any other operator was to come into Mayo, he would have to fight with us and advertise for costumers. That is too much hassle for them because they are not guaranteed anything. This way if he wins the tender he is guaranteed the lot and that is a serious difference,” he said.
The matter was raised at last weeks Strategic Policy Committee meeting on the Environment by Cllr Peter Flynn who said there was a concern that franchise bidding could result in job losses in the sector and they will have to be careful how it is managed.
Mr Paddy Mahon, Director of Services with Mayo County Council explained that 80 per cent of households only avail of a waste collection service and the department feels franchise bidding may be the best way of increasing that figure.
Garry Loftus of Loftus Recycling is in the same position as Bourkes and feels he will have to ‘pack it all in’ if he loses the household collection market. He explained he has invested half a million euro in a new facility in Killala and would have to shut down with the loss of 25 jobs if the new structures are introduced.
The Discussion Document claims that the franchise bidding process will reduce cost and will also be more environmentally friendly and sustainable, and is the norm in many European countries.

Not environmentally friendly

Michael Joyce, the co-ordinator of the Connacht Waste Management Scheme explained that under EU directives, Ireland has to reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfill. He said the current situation whereby there are three or four operators to one area was not environmentally friendly. He added the big difference between Ireland and the rest of Europe was that householders in Ireland did not pay tax to cover the cost of waste management and had no obligation to avail of a service.
The Irish Waste Management Association who represent the waste management companies are threatening legal action if the plans to change the structure go ahead. Mr Bourke said they feel what the government is trying to do is unconstitutional and illegal and they won’t be backing down.
“They are changing from competition in the market to competition for the market. Not alone will we go broke and go out of business but when it comes to the next tender a lot of the competition will be out of it. All of a sudden within Ireland a couple of big players will be in total control and the prices will go up. There will be short-term benefit but it will be long term loss,” he said.