Wiltshire Council highways contract passes scrutiny test...but improvements are needed (From Swindon Advertiser)
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Wiltshire Council highways contract passes scrutiny test...but improvements are needed
Updated 3:27pm Tuesday 7th January 2014 in News
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 across the county 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 today.
It calls for greater communication between the contractor and the council, along with evidence that “the most appropriate grass cutting equipment is available, that personnel are fully trained to use the equipment, and that productivity has improved.”
Trowbridge councillor 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.
“There are many areas where they have done good work, like with tarmacing, but like lots of things in life it’s the small issues that cause concern.
“There is still more work out there to be done, particularly at parish council level.
“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 John 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 a lot more work to be done.”
The scrutiny committee will look again at the contract in March.
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