Staff shortages and the Mayor of London have been blamed for a spate of missed bin collections that sparked a deluge of complaints over the Christmas period.

A Barnet Council report into the recent shake-up of the borough’s waste collection service reveals the number of staff off on sick leave over the Christmas and New Year period was nearly three times the usual level.

This meant the council was not able to carry out all of the planned collection rounds – and there were no agency staff available to plug the gaps.

Conservative members of the environment committee also blamed Mayor of London Sadiq Khan for challenging the council’s decision to stop separate food waste collections – meaning the roll-out of the changes had to be delayed until shortly before Christmas.

But Labour members of the committee questioned whether adequate preparations had been made ahead of the shake-up.

Barnet Council rolled out sweeping changes to bin rounds on November 4 in a bid to make the service more efficient and help save £750,000 a year.

The report reveals it received nearly 2,500 formal complaints about missed collections during the second week of the new round system.

Complaints started to drop off before spiking again over the Christmas and New Year period, when around 1,800 reports of missed collections were received in just one week.

The council came under fire after missed rounds led to the build-up of a ‘garbage mountain’ on an estate in Colindale during the first week of January – a scene that was compared to the Winter of Discontent.

On Thursday (March 14), Jamie Blake, the council’s strategic director of environment, told the environment committee the number of missed bin collections was now back to where it was before the shake-up.

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He said losing 22 staff over the Christmas period would have been a big problem during any year, but the fact that it happened at the time of the round changes made matters worse.

The staff shortage came on top of other problems such as lorry breakdowns and paper-based round information that made it hard to locate bin stores at some blocks of flats.

Mr Blake added: “We were not able to get additional agency staff because there were none.

“A lot of them are European and go home for Christmas, and a lot of them were working as delivery drivers because they can get more money.

“It was worse because of the changes, but we would have had a really difficult time with or without these changes over the Christmas period.”

Cllr Peter Zinkin, Conservative member for Childs Hill, said: “The thing that caught us out, which was entirely the result of Mayor Khan’s intervention, was that Christmas occurred much earlier in the process relative to the start date – because the start date was delayed.”

Cllr Zinkin said this worsened the disruption, which he claimed was due to “due to staff absence and not inefficiency in the process”.

But Labour environment spokesman Cllr Alan Schneiderman asked whether the problems were in fact down to “inadequate preparation”.

Committee chairman Cllr Dean Cohen replied: “Like anything, the more you prepare, the smoother it would be. There is always room for more preparation.”

Cllr Zinkin added: “We went as far as possible to make clear there would be some disruption. We knew this would be a difficult process.”

Cllr Schneiderman said it seemed like the council was blaming staff for the problems with bin rounds.

Cllr Cohen replied: “On the contrary, I have thanked staff on a number of occasions – and not just frontline staff.”

Labour members of the committee also questioned whether the planned savings would be made due to additional spending on agency staff carrying out extra collections.

Mr Blake insisted the council was making savings and said spending on agency staff had already been high due to the inefficiencies in the old round system.

The environment chief also rejected a call from Cllr Schneiderman to consider going back to the previous collection scheme, claiming the new system was working and staff were seeing benefits.

Cllr Zinkin proposed carrying out a “detailed financial report” showing what progress was being made towards achieving the savings, and this was agreed by the committee.