“DISGRACEFUL” ground maintenance service and graves left 'in a sorry state' has prompted an apology from Royal Borough’s contractors.

For months, “distressed” residents have voiced their anger and accused contractors Tivoli of being “disrespectful” for leaving the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead’s cemeteries with overgrown grass, hedges, litter, and graffiti.

Complaints and contacts regarding the contractors spiked during the summer growing season but the backlog has been caught up and the standard has been within expectations for the last eight weeks.

At a communities overview and scrutiny on Thursday, November 18, Tivoli, which has been with the council since 2018, explained to councillors and residents they have faced “the toughest year yet” due to a plethora of reasons.

Staffing shortages were a primary factor as the ‘pingdemic’ forced workers to self-isolate for 10 days when they came into contact with a Covid-positive person.

READ MORE: Councillor apologises over state of grass across Windsor & Maidenhead

Brexit also “hurt” the company as they found it “very difficult” to quickly recruit this year and it has caused difficulties to find suppliers to supply vehicles, machinery, and parts.

Climate change also played a role where Tivoli is seeing a major growth rate once every three years. Major grass and hedge growth happen once every 12 years, the meeting heard.

The council spends about £1.2m a year on the contract – but it has entered with Tivoli as representatives have said the contract value doesn’t cover the costs for the contractors to fully deliver its end of the bargain.

They said the contract lost Tivoli £400,000 in 2019/20 due to overstaffing and unionisation. A restructure was made but still made the company a loss of £125,000 last year.

Slough Observer: Tivoli representatives explained what went wrong with the serviceTivoli representatives explained what went wrong with the service

Former Tory councillor Ed Wilson described Tivoli’s cleanliness and maintenance of cemeteries as “disgraceful,” while Boyn Hill Cllr Gurpreet Bhangra (Con) said parts of the Royal Borough were in a “sorry state” and “embarrassing” to visit.

Tivoli’s chief operating officer Spencer Rock said: “We are not perfect, and we don’t ever profess to be perfect, but we are making best endeavours to get this situation back on track.

“You have my personal apologies and the apologies of our business specifically for the cemeteries. We do look after military dead; we do look after the graves, and it is something we take as the highest priority.”

Councillors also expressed anger that reporting problems via the ‘report it’ function fall into a “black hole” where no response is received if the issue has been resolved or not.

To tackle the issues, Tivoli representatives said they will be rolling out a ‘skills based pay’ programme in August at a cost of £500,000 that enhances people’s pay based on their skills, which was said to retain and attract staff.

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Temporary staff and short term machinery and vehicle hire will be used during the search for permanent staff and suppliers.

Council officers will also look into the ‘report it’ function to review the system and make improvements if problems are identified. They have also entered weekly talks with Tivoli to resolve the contract dispute.

Cabinet member for environmental services, Cllr David Coppinger (Con: Bray) rejected calls for the council to scrap its contract with Tivoli, saying: “It is always better to work with a current supplier because you never know what you’re going to get if you change.”

Reports will come back to the panel to give updates if Tivoli’s issues and the contract’s problems have been resolved or progressed.