Covid-related staff shortages across England are causing “terrible” rubbish collection delays, local politicians have warned, with bins in some areas left “overflowing” with waste from the festive period.
Chelmsford City Council confirmed 23 members of staff were absent and cancelled three days’ worth of food waste collections.
North Somerset Council said they had been unable to pick up 1,000 recycling bins on New Year’s Eve as crews remain “stretched due to staff sickness”.
Stephanos Ioannou, a Conservative councillor in Enfield, said the number of complaints about missed bin collections was roughly double the average for this time of year.
“I’ve been driving round my ward and seeing bins overflowing and Christmas trees are left outside,” he told the PA news agency.
“Over the Christmas period, usually I get on average 30 emails a week on waste services.
“I checked my inbox yesterday… and had about 50 or 60.”
Enfield resident Matt Brooks, 40, said: “Christmas recycling still hasn’t been collected.
“When I contact the council to report it (I’m) faced with disinterest and just told to report it again if it happens.”
Gloucester has been hit with “terrible problems” as bin collectors work in close-knit teams and quickly pass the virus onto one another, multiplying the number of staff off sick at one time, Liberal Democrat councillor Declan Wilson said.
Mr Wilson said recycling collections were stopped altogether over Christmas, caused by a combination of Covid-related absences and driver shortages.
“The reason for it is driver shortages and Covid as well.
“It’s Brexit and Covid as well. We have brought this up in council meetings.
“What they tell us is they’ve got the drivers working in cells so there’s two or three working together, so one of them gets Covid and that means two or three of them are off.
“It hasn’t been great.”
Gloucester City Council and Enfield Council have been contacted for comment.
Several London boroughs have announced there may be future delays to services, with Haringey Council warning the “uniquely challenging times” had impacted their workforce.
Newham Council has temporarily suspended the collection of bulky waste items due to “higher than normal levels of staff absence”.
Green food and garden recycling bin collections have been cancelled “until further notice” by Manchester City Council due to the number of staff in isolation.
Residents are being told to put food waste into “grey general waste bins” and store garden waste until normal collections resume.
Meanwhile Birmingham City Council apologised for missed collections over the festive period, saying crews had been affected by Covid in the week leading up to December 30.
It comes after ministers asked public sector leaders to make “contingency plans” for worst-case scenarios in which up to a quarter of staff would be absent.
Asked on Times Radio whether such shortages were likely to occur, Health Minister Edward Argar said: “I think we model a range of scenarios up to things we think are highly unlikely, but you still do it because that’s what a responsible Government does in preparing for all eventualities.”
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils across England, said crews have been badly impacted by the spread of the Omicron variant and called for workers be prioritised for Covid tests.
An LGA spokesman said: “As cases of Covid-19 rise in light of the omicron variant, councils are concerned that these existing staffing issues may get worse.”