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Covid-19: Waste Collection Staff

Volume 675: debated on Tuesday 28 April 2020

What guidance his Department has provided to local authorities on safe working practices for waste collection staff during the covid-19 outbreak. (901973)

May I begin by sending my thanks to all those working in local government? Their efforts in every village, town and city across the country is making the difference in this national endeavour. Thank you.

Our binmen and women have done a fantastic job, maintaining the vast majority of collections. The Government published advice to councils on how to ensure the safety of refuse collections on 7 April. Today I am announcing that I am asking councils to plan the organised reopening of household waste collection sites. I expect this to happen over the coming weeks, and I will be publishing amended guidance shortly.

Earlier today we paid tribute to key workers who have lost their lives during the pandemic, and those who take away our rubbish and thereby protect the health of our communities are certainly key workers. The Secretary of State will know that their unions—Unison, the GMB and Unite—have been working with councils and contractors to agree safe working practices and the provision of personal protective equipment. The advice and guidance from his Department is welcome, but what steps is he taking to ensure that this is actually spread out right the way across the country and that best practice is being followed to protect these key workers?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Our binmen and women have done a great job. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and they deserve to have both the advice that they need and the protective equipment where that is required. Public Health England has published guidance for those working in the sector, recommending that where the 2 metre distance rule cannot be adhered to, staff should make sure that the windows of their vehicles are open for ventilation, and they should wash their hands for 20 seconds or longer before getting in and out of the vehicle, or use hand sanitiser where handwashing is not possible. We will ensure that councils follow up and adhere to that advice so that those key workers are properly protected as they go about their work.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The new online portal for councils to order PPE has still not gone live. Despite being promised that it would be open three weeks ago, we are now told it is likely to be another three weeks. The first duty of any employer is to keep their staff safe while working. Councils are desperately trying to buy, and are asking for donations of, PPE because their stocks are dangerously low. Can the Secretary of State tell me when the portal will be open, and will he give councils a cast-iron guarantee that they will be given all the PPE they need to keep them safe?

It is absolutely right that everybody working on the frontline of this crisis has the protective equipment that they deserve. Of course, those working in local government, and particularly those working in care homes, deserve the best possible care. We have been working to ensure that PPE reaches them through our local resilience forums, which my Department is responsible for. That has delivered over 50 million items of PPE in the past three weeks, the vast majority of which—36 million items—have gone to care homes. Of course there is more that we need to do. The online Clipper service is now being piloted in care homes and in general practice, and it will be rolled out, as the Health Secretary has said, in the coming weeks.