AN internal investigation has concluded Wiltshire Council’s troubled £250 million highways maintenance contract is performing satisfactorily but has highlighted several areas which need improvement.
The council’s scrutiny committee carried out the investigation into the controversial contract, which attracted widespread criticism last summer when it was taken on by Balfour Beatty Living Places.
Residents and parish councils were unhappy as verges and hedgerows went uncut, and roads were left unswept, with concerns raised over lack of staff and equipment.
In October Balfour Beatty confirmed it had lost £1 million since taking on the contract, and announced a series of redundancies across its maintenance teams.
The contract was called in for scrutiny before Christmas, with a full report presented on Tuesday.
It calls for greater communication between the contractor and the council, along with evidence “the most appropriate grass cutting equipment is available, personnel are fully trained to use the equipment, and productivity has improved.”
Coun Jeff Osborn first called for the contract to be investigated.
He said: “With a major contract like this you expect to have hiccups and you have to process through it and we accept all that.
“However I do want to publically put on record a tribute to the council staff and contractors for their considerable and much-valued work in response to the recent flooding.”
Coun Jon Thomson, cabinet member for highways said changes to the management of the contract will be introduced, along with a new map to confirm which areas the council has responsibility for.
He said: “There have been issues with the contract, but no one’s going to die from grass cutting.
“There is never a right time to change from one contract to another, but imagine trying to do that now with all the flooding we’re dealing with. It was the right time to do it in terms of the change of contracts. We aren’t out of this yet, and there is still work to be done.”
The scrutiny committee will look again at the contract in March.
Staff morale is just fine says leader
WILTSHIRE Council will conduct no further investigations into staff morale, despite calls from some councillors for an independent review.
Independent councillor Jeff Osborn led calls for a detailed investigation to be conducted after 252 redundancies were announced last year and, shortly after, corporate and service directors were awarded pay increases of up to 16 per cent.
Leader Jane Scott rejected the calls at Tuesday’s oversight and scrutiny committee meeting, blaming any low morale on external criticism of the council, and political infighting.
She said: “I talk to probably more staff than anybody in this organisation, and they are fed up with this council being pulled apart in the press and with councillors criticising their work.
“Officers tell me they are doing their best but they feel it’s not good enough when they are getting constant niggles from councillors.
“We are very good at throwing bricks, but not good at giving bouquets.”
Wiltshire Liberal Democrat leader Jon Hubbard said: “If you look at sickness rates among council staff you’ll see they are actually declining, so I think morale has been improving, rather getting worse.”