‘No strategy, no quality control’: Report slams £30m roads contract

A pothole repair team in action
A pothole repair team in action

The county’s pothole-ridden roads are being ‘mismanaged’, despite £30 million a year being paid to contractors, a damning report has revealed.

Bucks County Council does not have the resources to make sure contractors are doing a good job and much of the work is short-sighted, a select committee report said.

Committee members recommended more long-term planning be introduced and that a probe be launched to make sure taxpayers are getting value for money.

Council leader Martin Tett said he welcomed the ‘first class’ report and that most of the recommendations would be implemented.

Ringway Jacobs has provided highway and transport services for the council since 2009, with the eight-year deal extended until 2019/20.

During this time there have been growing complaints about the state of the county’s roads, although Mr Tett said this has largely been down to several winters of ‘terrible’ weather.

One of the environment, transport and locality services select committee’s main concerns was the lack of checks on the work of the contractor because of cutbacks at the council.

The report said: “We feel that there needs to be a further review to ensure that the council is receiving value for money from the contract.

“We feel that the contractor is struggling to meet efficiency saving targets each year, that there is insufficient evidence that regular 
benchmarking is taking place, and that a lack of client capacity has resulted in 
minimal check and challenge of the contractual obligations.”

Responding to these concerns, Mr Tett said he hopes to be able to employ more people in the transport department to keep an eye on the contractor’s work.

Mr Tett said: “Once we know how much money we are going to have, I have asked Janet Blake (cabinet member for planning and transport) to bring forward proposals for an increase in the number of people on the client team who keep a check on the contract.

“It will mean somewhere else will lose out but we want to put money into this because it’s really important.”

The report also said there needs to be more long-term thinking, with plans currently prepared on a yearly basis.

Liberal Democrat county group leader Avril Davies said there was a ‘complete lack of strategy’ on the roads.

Mrs Davies said: “It absolutely terrifies me. Unless you plan in advance you’re just living hand to mouth. They need to have a long-term strategy on how to manage transport in Bucks.

“They’re not managing that contract properly.”

Mr Tett said proposals are already afoot to introduce more long-term planning.

He said: “The biggest problem is the lack of certainty on funding.

“What I’m doing now is putting in place a clear budget for the next four years. Then we will be able to tell residents that certain roads will be fixed next year or in two years’ time.”

The report also recommended having more politicians on the board overseeing the contract management and changes to how money is allocated across priorities.