Bin collections are being hit by coronavirus staff shortages as local authority leaders warned councils could be forced to prioritise services to protect the most vulnerable.
Authorities in Bath and North East Somerset, Stoke-on-Trent, Oxfordshire and Harrogate have warned of waste collections being disrupted as staff were forced to self-isolate due to Covid-19.
And the Local Government Association (LGA) has urged ministers to clarify who may qualify for exemption from self-isolation.
James Jamieson, chairman of the LGA, said councils were working hard to keep services running, “however, the large numbers of close contacts being required to self-isolate is having an impact on some council services due to staff shortages”.
Bin collections appeared to be the worst affected, but road repairs, leisure facilities, and park maintenance could also be hit, the LGA said.
And Mr Jamieson warned of the strain directors of public health were already under following the publication of the Government’s exemption scheme for critical workers.
“Directors of public health, working in councils, are already under huge pressure as a result of the need to sign off on self-isolation exemptions for social care staff as well as many daily enquiries from other employers in their local area who believe their staff should be exempt,” he said.
“Clarity is urgently needed about what their role will be with regards to the application of exemptions locally while messaging from Government must be crystal clear to avoid raising unrealistic expectations. The exemption approval process must also be quick and clear to understand.”
He added: “While we continue to discuss with Government the implications of this guidance for local government, it appears it will not help alleviate the pressure on some important – albeit non-critical – local services.
“Residents will need to bear with us if they experience disruption to some services if councils are forced to prioritise services that protect the most vulnerable in their communities.”
Stoke-on-Trent Live reported that the city’s council leader, Abi Brown, warned that bin collections may be delayed. The website reported that she said: “We may find that some of our services are impacted should staff need to self-isolate, but we will be working hard to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum.”
And the Oxford Mail reported how Vale of White Horse District Council said in a statement: “We are very sorry if your bins were not emptied as expected in the past couple of weeks.
“Our waste collection services are still facing some disruptions, and we are also sorry to say that we expect the disruption to continue for a while longer.”
In Harrogate, North Yorkshire, borough council leader Richard Cooper told a meeting that as well as bin collections, leisure facilities could be affected.
The Harrogate Advertiser reported that he told a meeting: “Many of the services that have reopened such as pools, gyms and the whole of the leisure sector employ people who are predominately young – and these people are those who have either had one or jab or no jabs yet.
“With infection levels rising, it may be that the pressure seen in other industries – retail, hospitality and what have you – may affect us.”
Bath and North East Somerset Council told the Bath Echo that 10 members of staff were either off sick or self-isolating, which had caused a delay to garden waste collection.