SOMERSET councillors will soon decide on whether to negotiate extra payments to its waste contractor SUEZ, despite already paying £24million per year.

In spite of this huge annual figure, SUEZ has reportedly recorded "significant annual losses", and has sought more money from the council through "a number of contractual claims" which are currently under dispute.

However, Somerset Council states that without an increase in payments there is a risk that SUEZ may exit the contract, meaning the county would be without a waste collection service.

At the council’s Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday, May 8, it has been recommended to give the council’s Chief Executive a mandate to negotiate with SUEZ to broker a deal which would stop the company from exiting the contract.

This option would then be brought back to a future Executive meeting to weigh up against all other options.

These include bringing the service in-house, or finding a new contractor through a tendering process – both of which the council feels are also likely to come with additional costs and the risk of disruption to collections.

SUEZ secured the Somerset contract in April 2020 following an open tendering process which was supported by independent consultants with expertise in the sector - as of 2024, the contractor has six years remaining on the contract.

Somerset Council say that the ongoing rerouting of collections is helping make rounds more efficient and as cost effective as possible, but even with these changes, SUEZ considers the contract unviable.

Councillor Dixie Darch, lead member for the Environment and Climate Change, said: “This is a deeply frustrating situation but it is clear that we cannot sit back and do nothing.

"All the options come with extra cost and if an acceptable agreement can’t be reached with SUEZ there is also the risk of widespread disruption to a crucial frontline service which will affect everyone.

"It’s a situation we have to deal with and our focus must be on finding the best way forward that minimises the cost while also protecting a much valued service."

The current contract with SUEZ is due to end in 2030, with the option for a ten-year extension.

It covers all kerbside collections of refuse, recycling, and garden waste, delivery of waste containers as well as operation of waste transfer stations which move waste on for recycling.

In response, Mark Taylor, South West Regional Director for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, put the losses down to issues such as the pandemic and the following HGV driver shortage.

He said the SUEZ is 'very mindful' of the council's ongoing financial crisis.

"We have been operating the Somerset contract, one of our largest and most important collection contracts in the UK, since April 2020, and we are proud of the improvements that we have made over that time in terms of both the service and recycling levels," Mr Taylor said.

"These past four years have also been a time of unprecedented change, including the pandemic and the HGV driver shortage that followed, and we are working through the impacts of this on the contract with the council.

"As we do this, we are very mindful of the financial pressures that Somerset Council is facing, and we are actively working with council officers to agree a way forward. 

"In terms of our front line collection services it is very much business as usual, and our teams continue to deliver essential services to households across Somerset."