BCC and member columns in the news

The British Cleaning Council and members write monthly columns for both Cleaning and Maintenance and Tomorrow’s Cleaning magazines. You can read recent columns below.

To read the columns as they originally appeared, please visit https://cleaningmag.com/issues and https://www.tomorrowscleaning.com/back-issues

Appalled by Downing Street’s treatment of cleaning staff

By Jim Melvin, Chairman British Cleaning Council (BCC). (This article was first published in Tomorrow’s Cleaning in July)

The recent Sue Gray report into Downing Street parties contained some appalling revelations about the way cleaning staff were treated in Government.

The report into what has sadly become known as ‘partygate’ revealed how one cleaner had to scrub red wine from a wall after one of the parties that violated Covid restrictions.

She wrote: “I found that some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly.

“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.”

It is absolutely appalling and upsetting to hear that cleaning staff were being treated with such contempt by people who sit within Government and the civil service.

Cleaning staff are hardworking, professional and deserve to be respected in their vital work, just like anyone one else, and certainly how the people concerned would expect to be treated.

This treatment came from people who are supposedly powerful, well-educated people who should be setting an example. People who, frankly, should know better but clearly do not.

Instead they abused the fortunate position they found themselves in and frankly looked down their noses at ordinary, hard-working people. It is too much to expect politeness and a little appreciation for cleaning staff? The answer is that it is not.

This happened during the Covid pandemic, when cleaning and hygiene staff were on the frontline in the fight against the virus, going out to work day after day, putting themselves at risk to maintain high standards of hygiene and to ensure that key workers and the public were safe and well during the pandemic.

In fact, the string of parties at Downing Street arguably might well have actually put some of the cleaning staff working there at risk of contracting the virus.

And in some parts of the cleaning industry, the demand for increased standards of hygiene during the pandemic has combined with severe staff shortages to drive many colleagues close to burn out.

So what cleaning staff needed and deserved was support and recognition from the Government, not to be treated with such arrogance or disrespect.

The Prime Minister did thank cleaning staff in Parliament during the pandemic. But that pales into insignificance when you consider how cleaning staff were actually being treated at the time.

Shortly after the Sue Gray report came out, I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, to formally ask for a meeting to review in detail both these allegations and the steps that have been taken since to deal with them.

We’ve been trying to engage with the Government for around two years now on key issues affecting the sector and whilst we have had an acknowledgement from Mr Case, at the time of writing we await a meeting date.

Perhaps this dismissive attitude in Whitehall indicates why those in power have not yet listened to us.

But we won’t stop trying to engage with Government until our key messages are understood.

The Government will ultimately need to realise that the cleaning and hygiene sector is one of the biggest and most important in the UK, with skilled, professional and trained staff.

The role of cleaning and hygiene personnel is frontline and essential to keeping the public healthy, safe and well.

And that the industry was a key component and absolutely vital during the fight against the Covid pandemic and is vital to returning to normality safely and hygienically, as well as being prepared for and helping to stop any future variant or pandemic.

If there is one good thing to come out of the partygate scandal, it would be for the Government to give our industry the respect it deserves and listen to what we have to say.

Cost-of-living crisis the latest challenge for domestic cleaning businesses

By Karen Bradney, Head of Members Engagement and Panel Member, Domestic Cleaning Alliance (DCA). (This article was first published in Tomorrow’s Cleaning in July)

The cost-of-living crisis which has impacted so many different parts of the UK economy is adding to a number of short-term and long-term challenges faced by parts of the domestic cleaning sector.

Research shows that domestic cleaning has been devalued in the UK over the long-term, with the average amount paid by a household for a house cleaner falling substantially.

In 2006, the average cost of hiring a domestic cleaner in and around London was up to £20/£25 per hour.

By 2015, this had fallen to less than £15 per hour with some agencies offering cleaning services for as little as £10 per hour if booked online.

It doesn’t help that people generally think the role is easy, as most people do some form of housework themselves.

But it takes dedication and a keen eye to clean someone else’s home and domestic cleaners have to manage customer’s expectations.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of domestic cleaning companies closed their doors when they could have carried on trading. They were misinformed by Government guidelines which never made this clear.

Some DCA members are now back to relative normality but others have had to rethink their business and how it works for them.

Some small businesses have had to completely remodel how they employ and recruit staff or use self-employed workers and subcontractors.

The general feeling within the industry is that Brexit is causing problems finding and employing staff and self-employed workers

According to British Cleaning Council (BCC) research, before Brexit over 40 percent of cleaning operatives were migrants, many of whom were EU nationals.

The domestic cleaning industry, like other parts of the sector, has seen many cleaning staff originally from overseas return home, leaving us struggling to fill a large number of job vacancies.

Some small domestic cleaning companies are turning to family and friends to help keep the business running but for a few, the lack of staff has forced them to fail or close their doors.

Now the cost-of-living has risen to a forty-year high, causing disposable incomes to fall.

It would seem, however, that the more affluent areas around the country are not feeling the squeeze on their pockets as much as working class parts of the UK.

In some better off parts of the country, demand for domestic cleaning has returned to pre-pandemic levels but that isn’t the case everywhere.

For some households, it is not financially possible to return to the kind of life they had before the pandemic. They cannot afford the standard of living they may be accustomed to. Not everyone can get a higher paid role or take on another job as one Government minister advised people to do.

Some of the most vulnerable in the local community who, due to ill health or old age, desperately need household help for tasks like changing bed linen to cleaning the toilet, are having to give it up.

Others, who enjoyed a couple more hours per week free time to spend with family, friends or for themselves, are now having to spend more of their time doing household cleaning.

This fall in demand for our services is putting a further squeeze on some domestic cleaning businesses.

However, the BCC is working tirelessly to win recognition and respect for cleaning and hygiene staff in the UK and help build a robust workforce back in the UK.

And despite the issues and concerns our sector faces, we only need to think of the suffering caused by the conflict in Ukraine to put everything into perspective.

BCC progress behind the scenes

By British Cleaning Council (BCC) Chairman Jim Melvin. (This article was first published in Tomorrow’s Cleaning in June)

We remain disappointed at the traction with Government and via the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Cleaning and Hygiene Industry so, behind the scenes, myself and colleagues at the BCC are working on a number of initiatives which we hope will bear fruit later this year.

This includes looking at ways to boost our programme of lobbying, which is crucial for influencing and educating Government and legislators about our agenda and the essential work of the cleaning and hygiene sector as a whole.

In recent times, we’ve been reaching out to a range of MPs, ministers, civil servants and Government bodies on a number of issues, such as arguing for help for the sector to deal with severe staff shortages and for more recognition for the vital work that cleaning and hygiene staff faithfully and professionally complete to all our benefit.

We haven’t seen as much progress as we would have liked on this agenda and so we are considering how to bring in professional lobbying support.

Knowing who to contact on a particular issue and how to grab their attention are key to successful lobbying. It is wholly common for large organisations and sizeable firms to employ a specialist lobbyist with this kind of expertise, but it does not come cheap!

Therefore, as an industry, we are considering how to fund that kind of operation and whether there is a consensus across businesses and associations to join and support a collective effort to make sure the voice of the industry is heard at the highest levels.

Another major issue for us is to make sure the incredible and critical work of the cleaning and hygiene sector and staff during the Covid-19 pandemic is not forgotten and that we continue to play a major role in being prepared for and helping to stop any future variant or pandemic.

In that regard, we have a duty to make sure the country has learnt the lessons of the pandemic or there will always be the threat of it happening again with the same mistakes or incorrect judgement calls.

During the last two years, the UK public has been reminded how important good standards of hygiene are to the nation’s public health, which provides a clear opportunity that must be taken to ensure that high standards are maintained and enshrined as crucial going forward.

Therefore, we are working with key industry partners on the feasibility of a white paper on the lessons to be learned from the pandemic across all facets of our great industry.

It will include opinion and evidence from public health experts and the cleaning and hygiene community in order to agree a set of recommendations on the conclusions.

We hope the white paper will be considered and fully supported by both the APPG and Government as part of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

We are also hoping for good news in autumn on the bid for the Cleaning Hygiene Operative apprenticeship, which has now been submitted.

If it gets the greenlight, the Apprenticeship-Levy funded training programme and apprenticeship will ensure significant amounts of funding currently lost to the cleaning and hygiene industry can be fully invested in training for our teams, which will improve recognition for the skills that sector staff have as well as getting rid of this generic and frankly ridiculous narrative that is thrown out on the industry being ‘low skilled’.  It will also remove what is effectively a stealth tax on the industry.

It must be stressed that all these initiatives are still at various stages, and whilst it is too early to wholly determine the outcomes, we remain fully determined to drive progress.

I will continue to update as we are able and my sincere thanks and appreciation go to those who continue to work hard, assist and support our industry aims.

Cleaning and hygiene sector makes good progress on key issues

By British Cleaning Council Chairman Jim Melvin. (This article was first published in Tomorrow’s Cleaning in June)

Over recent months, we’ve seen the cleaning and hygiene sector make significant progress in a number of areas.

The BCC and our members are constantly driving to highlight the vital and important role of the sector and staff.

Our recently released research report for 2022 again reinforced our message about the true scale and importance of the cleaning, hygiene and waste sector to the UK economy.

Latest figures show that 1.47 million people are employed in the industry, approximately five per cent of the UK workforce, ensuring it remains one of the country’s top ten biggest.

According to the latest information available, it contributed £58.9 billion to the UK economy in 2019, up from the previous year. All subsectors, bar landscape service activities, saw a year-on-year growth in turnover up to 2021.

It is difficult to draw conclusions about the impact of the pandemic and staff shortages on the health of the industry today, in 2022, from these figures as the data is not completely up to date.

Nevertheless, the figures clearly demonstrate why our calls for the voice of the industry to be recognised should be listened to. Our sector is massively important to the economic health of the nation.

This message about the economic clout of the sector is one of the key messages in our recently launched We Clean, We Care campaign.

At the Manchester Cleaning Show earlier this year, we launched We Clean, We Care by offering free badges emblazoned with the logo to attendees.

The campaign highlights how the role of cleaning and hygiene personnel is frontline and essential to keeping key workers and the public healthy, safe and well and that sector staff are skilled, professional and trained to a high standard.

Over the next few months, it will also reiterate another key message about how our industry has been a key component and absolutely vital in the fight against the Covid pandemic and will continue to be essential in returning to normality safely and hygienically, as well as helping to stop any future pandemic.

The We Clean, We Care badges we first dished out at the Manchester show have proved to be hugely popular, with orders for several thousand more badges coming in from BCC members.

The logo can be downloaded for free from the BCC website and we hope the industry will adopt it in future.

The launch of the We Clean, We Care campaign is only one of recently developments that are very promising for the future of the sector.

We’ve seen BCC member the Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners (WCEC) launch its Chartered Practioners Register, which will help highlight the expertise of sector staff. Another member, the Cleaning and Support Services Association (CSSA) launched Clean Start, which aims to encourage people outside the industry to consider a career in the sector.

We are also hoping for good news on the bid for the Cleaning Hygiene Operative apprenticeship in autumn, though it is still too early to say for sure.

If it gets the greenlight, the training programme and apprenticeship will ensure significant amounts of funding currently lost to the cleaning and hygiene industry can instead be invested in training for personnel. It will also improve recognition for the skills that sector staff have, which as I said earlier, is one of the BCC’s key aims.

It is wonderful to see such good progress on these key sector issues.

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