Rat population increase could be due to lockdown
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
An increase in Bridgend county borough’s rat population could be due to lockdown, according to council staff.
Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) has revealed an increase in demand for pest control linked to rats, which may have been caused by high numbers of people staying home during the pandemic.
Councillor Nicole Burnett, cabinet member for social services and early help, she is “getting daily messages and photos” from residents of rats in their homes and gardens.
“There does seem to be an increase in the rat population in residential areas, particularly residential areas close to town centres.”
The Morfa representative said the increase in rats in people’s homes may be due to the closure of restaurants and other eateries in that rats have gone elsewhere to find food.
A report by the council’s interim chief officer for finance, performance and change Gill Lewis states there has been a significant increase in pest control requests since March 2020 because “more people are at home and seeing more pest activity than they usually would”.
The report also states pest control requests in Bridgend county borough have increased by 47 per cent since 2016.
Ms Lewis said Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan are also experiencign similar trends in their rat populations.
Across the UK, pest control inquiries increased by 22 per cent between April and June 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, according to Rentokil.
In July 2020, Cardiff Council revealed there had been a rise in pest control incidents, particularly in affluent parts of the city.
BCBC currently provides a pest control service via Rentokil, which covers treatment for rats, mice, bedbugs and cockroaches. Residents must pay a fee for treatment of fleas and wasps.
The local authority pays Rentokil £63,400 per year for domestic pest control and the contract is due to expire in April this year.
Council officers predict a future contract cost is likely to cost around £95,000 per year, based on a 47 per cent increase in activity.
BCBC also has a sewer baiting programme that is fully funded by Welsh Water. This costs £16,474 each year, based on 2,500 baitings per year.
Cabinet members discussed the council’s pest control service during a meeting held on Tuesday January 19.
Ms Lewis said the council’s contract with Rentokil has been “really unpopular” due to varying levels of satisfaction with delivery, largely because call outs can take three days.
According to Ms Lewis’ report, before the pandemic, 40 per cent of calls to the pest control service were aborted, a figure which was lowered to 20 per cent during lockdown due to more people staying home.
Dhanisha Patel, cabinet member for wellbeing and future generations, said the number of calls shows the pest control service is actually “quite popular”.
“But I do agree that 40 per cent abortive calls is not right,” she added.
Pest control is not a mandatory service for local authorities to provide.
Ms Lewis’ report states seven out of 22 local authorities in Wales do not provide a pest control service at all, while 11 charge residents for the treatment of all pests and three charge for all pests except for rats.
In 2019, 58 per cent of respondents to a council survey said they do not think BCBC is suited to provide a pest control service at all.
Three options for delivering domestic pest control in the area were drawn up by council officers, before the cabinet agreed to reconsider their next steps and suspend the contract procedure rules:
1) Discontinue providing a pest control service at the end of the current contract (expected to save £63,400).
2) Re-tender contract to continue providing domestic pest control service and introduce charge to residents (expected to cost £57,000 to £95,000).
3) Re-tender contract to continue providing domestic pest control service free of charge as per current contract (expected to cost £95,000).
Cllr Patel asked if the council can come up with an alternative pest control strategy to those suggested.
Cllr Charles Smith, cabinet member for education and regeneration, said none of the three proposed options seem to cover the wide-ranging pest control issues recently experienced by people living in Bridgend.
He said a “hybrid” option would be preferable and recalled having to pay to have a wasps nest removed from his own home, years before the council covered such costs.
“This is not an easy nut to crack but I don’t think we have got the answer in those options as they stand,” he added.
Deputy council leader Hywel Williams said he did not like options 2 and 3 and suggested a “nominal fee” “might be acceptable” for pest control.