Tag Archives: Cory Environmental

A Life in a Year – 10th June, Institute of Waste Management Annual Conference

I have written here before about my ten year career in waste management (1990-2000) with Cory Environmental and Onyx UK but I don’t think I really mentioned the Chartered Institute of Waste Management annual conference that used to be held every June in Paignton in Devon.

The Institute of Waste Management is a sort of professional trade union.  When it started almost anyone could join but over the years it has become an exclusive club that you have to pass pointless exams to get in. Let me put this into some kind of perspective – this is not about being an architect, or a solicitor or a teacher, waste management is about picking up shit and chucking it into the back of a smelly dustcart!

In June 1991 the company (Cory Environmental) made arrangements for all the managers to attend the conference and exhibition and we stayed at the Maycliffe Hotel in St Luke’s Road in Torquay.  I had already started to become accustomed to uncontrolled drinking bouts at the expense of the company whilst staying in hotels but the annual IWM conference was the equivalent of the FA Cup Final or the Eurovision Song Contest because at this event everyone went crazy.

We were there for three nights and as well as the ludicrous extravagance of the company with people simply drinking themselves stupid there was unlimited hospitality because all of the big supply companies were there and wanted to impress and sell and were prepared to pay for it.  The big event and the one everyone lusted to get a ticket for was the Dennis Eagle banquet because this promised good food and high class entertainment but there was also plenty of food and drink from their competitors Jack Allen and the street sweeping vehicle manufacturers Johnson and Scarab.  As well as the big events there were lots of fringe companies trying to impress, wheelie bin, plastic sacks, protective clothing and tyres and they all hospitality budgets that we were eager to help them spend.

I went to the exhibition five times with Cory and then continued to go after I had left and moved to Onyx UK.  When we weren’t hanging around suppliers looking for free hand outs we would spend lunchtimes at the Inn on the Green and consume more beer and charge it to our company expense accounts.

I didn’t complain of course because Cory and Onyx were equally unfathomable when it came to spending unnecessary money.  We stayed in expensive hotels and hung out in bars and nice restaurants but what was better about Onyx was that once a year we all assembled at Waterloo station and they put us on Eurostar train and took us through the tunnel to Paris for an annual conference which was much, much better than Torbay, even though we still went there as well.  One year when they were really showing off after buying out a competitor they took us to the Moulin Rouge for a special treat and we had champagne to drink and watched pretty ladies dancing on stage.  And they called this work!

 

Even with poor financial performance the Company kept spending unnecessary money and one day in February 1997 my boss Percy telephoned me to tell me that he had heard of a new type of refuse collection vehicle with impressive labour saving innovations that offered huge operational savings and that he was interested in finding out more.  He asked me if I would be prepared to visit the factory where they were manufactured and give him my opinion.  To be honest I had very little interest in bincarts or how they are made but fortunately, before I could decline, he happened to mention that the factory was in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America and as quick as a flash my lack of interest transformed into complete and total enthusiasm.  Did I want to visit Phoenix to see some dustcarts?  You bet I did!

I couldn’t believe my luck and enjoyed four days in the United States where as well as having to visit the Heil refuse collection truck factory, which quite frankly was a bit of a bore, I also got to visit the Grand Canyon and enjoy some top class hospitality.  This was a really good trip and on reflection I decided that refuse vehicle manufacture was actually rather interesting after all.  We posted the report of our visit (missing out the drinking bits of course) and offered our availability for any similar official trips in the future.  This was a good move because the following year I was sent to La Rochelle in France to look at Semat refuse trucks and later in the same year I went to Milan to see the Brivio factory.  It’s amazing how interesting refuse trucks can suddenly become when there is an all expenses overseas trip involved.  Later the Company set up a centralised procurement unit under a greedy little man called Rob Stubbs that saved the best gigs for themselves and that was the end of the factory visits and the overseas travel but believe me I enjoyed it while it lasted.

I continued to go to the IWM conference and exhibition even after I left Onyx UK but to be honest without the heavy drinking at someone else’s expense and the hospitality which wasn’t really extended to local authority delegates it all began to lose its appeal and the very last time I went was 10th June 2003.

I don’t think the IWM has a conference and exhibition any more but they were extremely good fun while they lasted.

A Life in a Year – 5th June, Cory Environmental and Hotel Bar Bills

Cory Environmental started out in 1896 as William Cory and Son Ltd, transporting coal into London on the River Thames.  Coal was the lifeblood of the city and they made a fortune and in the 1920s they diversified and began to transport waste using the City’s waterways.  In the 1980s however the union riddled coal and oil distribution services were sold, and the business decided to expand into and concentrate upon waste management .  In 1990 the company was renamed Cory Environmental and it appointed Blunders and Bodger to run the municipal division.

In the first year they made a huge number of mistakes but then these two pygmies of the business world went a step further than ever before and were jointly responsible for the biggest catastrophe of all when they bid for and won the Southend contract in Essex.  They had been so determined to win this contract because they had both worked for the previous contractor, BIFFA, who had let them both go (if you know what I mean?) and they wanted to get their own back!  And they did so in spectacular style and within weeks of starting operations the contract was losing money at the running rate of over one million pounds a year.  Bodger was exposed as completely inept, he actually had no idea about vehicles at all and he couldn’t organise refuse collection or street cleaning routes to save his life and Blunders pressed the panic button.

He called for Mike Jarvis who had an impressive track record of success and, because, to begin with, we had been doing quite well at the Gedling contract (mostly down to good luck it has to be said) I was drafted in to assist him.  It was a complete shambles and it was all the achievement of Blunders and Bodger.   No matter how good they might have been no one, not even Mike, could possibly correct the mistakes that these two clowns had made and in spite of everything that was done there was no magic solution and the contract kept losing thousands of pounds and eventually David Riddle, the Group Chief Executive, had had more than enough and invited Blunders to reconsider his career path.

They both should have gone of course but no one would ever describe Bodger as loyal or reliable and he knifed poor old Blunders in the back (several times I seem to remember) to save himself.  After being bitten by an adder at the depot Mike went back to Bethnal Green and I got a substantial pay rise and stayed on as contract manager at Southend and Cory Environmental paid for me to live in the Camelia Hotel on Eastern Esplanade in Thorpe Bay for the rest of the Summer.

Camelia Hotel, Thorpe Bay, Southend on Sea

The Company now needed a replacement Managing Director (someone who knew about running a waste management company would have been useful) but we got a man called Jeremy Smith who was considered suitable on the dubious basis that he had been running one of the Company’s shipping divisions somewhere in Colonial Africa.  It turned out that Cory needed somewhere to put a loyal long serving senior manager and to be fair Jeremy was a great bloke but he was an expert in ships and docks and just wasn’t suited to collecting council rubbish.  To make his job even more difficult he didn’t have the support of Bodger who sharpened his knife and did his best to undermine him at every opportunity.

Just like Blunders, Jeremy needed more business, preferably something profitable, and he won his first contract in Woodspring in Somerset.  As usual there was great initial optimism about what was expected to be a spectacularly profitable contract especially after the brilliant appointment to contract manager of an ex Ginsters door-to-door pie salesman on the basis that he was familiar with the area!  Unhappily the honeymoon period didn’t last very long, neither did the pie man and soon it was the familiar old story of wretched financial performance and more losses to add to the company woes.

I was glad that they had won Woodspring because by now the Company had accepted that I had done just about all that I could do at Southend by getting the contract to break-even (only for one month it has to be said, and with a great deal of ‘creative accounting’) and I found myself called upon more and more often to join the ‘putting things right’ team and there was a great deal of work for them that was for sure.  In 1992 I spent a very pleasant summer at the Royal Pier Hotel in Weston-super-Mare alongside Mike Jarvis and Paul Ammonds (who was obliged to be on the team to try and put right what he had put wrong in the first place), Gary O’Hagan (Contract manager for three years running) and just about anyone else who happened to be available for additional weekend seaside duties.

Hotel Royal Pier, Weston-Super-Mare

On the whole we didn’t mind this because to compensate us the Company used to put us up in smart hotels and there was always an open bar which resulted in some very large bills I can tell you.  This was how daft the Company was because despite the fact that the financial position was completely dire they never clamped down on excessive bar and restaurant bills and we just added to the problem that we were there to try and solve.  For example, every year in June we all turned up to the Institute of Waste Annual Conference in Torbay, booked into nice hotels and got stuck into the bars and no one ever had the brains to stop it.  One weekend I took the whole family to Weston-super-Mare for a long weekend just because there was a bit of work to do on the Saturday morning.  We never sorted Woodspring out and the accounts were still leaking like a sieve several months later but even though we were spectacularly unsuccessful we still kept getting the emergency calls to other locations which meant more hotels, more bars and more restaurants.

Sadly, the Royal Pier Hotel burnt down in a suspicious accident on 5th June 2009 while it was waiting redevelopment.

One summer Bernard at Carrick lost the beach cleaning tractor in the sea and I was sent to Truro to help him out.  I liked Truro and found more and more reasons to return to the city and stay in the best hotel in town, the Royal on Lemon Street, as many times as I could.  I especially liked to go there during the summer, walk around the town and drive around the Lizard and all the holiday villages visiting the beaches.

 

Royal Hotel, Truro, now renamed Mannings Royal.

A Life in a Year – 11th February, Thatcher becomes Leader of the Tory Party and I become a Dustman

On 11th February 1975 the Conservative Party choose Margaret Thatcher as their new leader and when she eventually became the first woman Prime Minister the country was engulfed in a wave of neo-Nazism that as usual picked on local government for a real good kicking.

In the 1980s and 1990s because Margaret Thatcher thought that the private sector was, by definition, much more competent and efficient in these matters than the public sector and local authorities were required to offer certain services for open competition under what was called ‘Compulsory Competitive Tendering’.  If only she had known the truth!

Rubbish collection was one of these services and so that the waste management companies could cope with all the new work and local authorities couldn’t cheat, the Government set out a phased three year programme and one by one local authority services were thrown into a private sector pond full of hungry piranha ready to strip the flesh off of public services, cynically reduce service standards and hopefully get fat at the council tax payer’s expense. As soon as the waste management companies spotted a contract they took a liking to they would express an interest, obtain the tender documents and specifications and go to work sharpening their pencils.

This was never a scientific process and the first thing the tendering manager did was to get up early one Monday morning and sit outside the council depot and count the dustcarts and the number of men in them as they left to go to work.  And that was about all there was to it and half an hour later over a bacon butty and a cup of tea he would write this down on the back of a fag packet and by mid morning he would have a price in his head.  Nothing else in his head, just the price!  Sometimes, if he was being especially thorough, he would go back on Tuesday morning just to check his calculations but this would be quite unusual.

The tendering manager at Cory Environmental was called Tony Palmer and for Tony arriving at the tender price was gloriously simple.  If the Council had ten refuse collection rounds, the company would do it with nine, and just in case the Council could do it for nine then they would do it with eight so that would immediately undercut the Council price by 20%.  Just to make absolutely certain they would find out how much a refuse collector was paid each week and then they would reduce that by 20% as well.  If the Council had three mechanics to keep the fleet running they would do it with two and so on and so on. There was no way these boys could fail to win tenders!

I worked for the private sector waste management companies for ten years between 1990 and 2000 and then thankfully was able to return to local government where services are provided properly through direct delivery so imagine my horror when ‘son of Thatcher’ David Cameron became Conservative Prime Minister in 2010 and has embarked on a similar dismantling of public services and twenty years after my first painful experience in the incompetent world of the private sector I find myself facing the same prospect all over again.